Entertainment News

Viral Momo Challenge hoax, based on sculpture by Japanese artist, being turned into Hollywood horror film

by Alex Martin

Staff Writer

Momo, the goggle-eyed creature created by a Japanese artist that triggered a viral social-media hoax terrifying children and parents alike, is receiving a Hollywood makeover.

Orion Pictures, a U.S. film producer owned by MGM, tweeted Wednesday that a film is in development.

“The legend is real. Prepare to meet MOMO, coming soon from #OrionPictures,” it said.

The tweet also included a link to an article on Deadline that said Orion Pictures is partnering with “It” producer Roy Lee’s Vertigo Entertainment and Taka Ichise, the producer behind the “Ju-On” (“The Grudge”) Japanese-American movie franchise, to develop a horror film based on the creepy sculpture that inspired a disturbing online phenomenon called the Momo Challenge.

The “challenge” was supposedly shared via messaging apps like WhatsApp, where the devilish face of Momo pops up alongside chilling messages and commands. The phenomenon was amplified by unverified reports of children being enticed by the fictitious Momo into performing dangerous tasks involving self-harm and even suicide.

The Momo Challenge is also the inspiration for “Getaway,” an upcoming horror film from Emagine Content and November 11th Pictures.

The Japan Times contacted Keisuke Aiso, the special effects artist who created the sculpture of the girl-like monster, who said he had earlier sold the rights to use Momo’s image to MGM. “I’d like to see how the film turns out,” he said.

A longtime fan of the grotesque and the occult, Aiso created the silicone sculpture that inspired Momo three years ago as an extension of a series of ghoulish artwork he calls the Grudge Girls Collection.

Based on the ubume, a supernatural creature which appears in both Japanese and Chinese folklore as either a ghost of a woman who had died in pregnancy or a mysterious feathered creature that croaks like an infant and harms children, the 1-meter-tall figure with bird-like feet and human breasts was featured in an exhibition at Vanilla Gallery in Tokyo in 2016.

But unbeknownst to its creator, pictures of his artwork from the gallery display posted online had been cropped and used to propagate the Momo Challenge, which has been likened to the “Blue Whale Challenge,” a similarly unsubstantiated social media phenomenon dating from 2016 asking participants to engage in increasingly harmful conduct.

The Momo Challenge was soon linked to numerous reports and rumors of youth suicides in South America, Europe, India, Mexico and the U.S., leading school administrators and police forces to issue warnings.

The mysterious trend eventually subsided but it was rekindled earlier this year when rumors began surfacing in the U.K. that Momo was finding its way into mass media, including children’s program “Peppa Pig” and popular video games like Fortnite, in videos posted to YouTube. The rumors prompted celebrities like Kim Kardashian West to urge her Instagram followers to ask YouTube to take down the purportedly disturbing content. YouTube said it found no evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on its platform.

While the original sculpture of Aiso’s ubume was thrown out last year after being damaged beyond repair, there will still be an opportunity to see an exact replica.

Aiso said he is making a new ubume using the original mold used to create it. The sculpture will be displayed once again in Ginza’s Vanilla Gallery on Sept. 13 as part of his Grudge Girls Collection.

“I’m short of funds for the exhibition, so I’m hoping the movie gets made,” he said.

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