Jiufen Old Street, nestled in the mountains northeast of Taipei City, is often claimed to be the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece, “Spirited Away.” While that may not be entirely correct, there are plenty of spirits housed in one building in this warren-like complex of charming lanes and staircases.
Tucked away up Shuqi Road (really just a staircase leading from the bustling Jishan Street alley), surrounded by restaurants and lanterns, you’ll find a creepy but colorful collection of masks hanging around a doorway. The door leads to sculptor Wu Jyh Chyang’s museum of over 1,500 self-made ghost masks, chillingly titled the “Painful Life Mask Exhibition.”
The masks depict a wide variety of disfigured creatures, seemingly attempting to warn us of the indulgences that have led to their gruesome deaths. The characters shown in the masks range from the simply absurd and humorous to the downright disgusting. Some look more human, others quite demonic, and each is given a unique name: “Smoking Ghost,” “The Boss,” “Coward Ghost,” “Goat Horns Man,” and so on.
Imagine, if you will, a set of props from the cult classic horror movie Hellraiser, only these masks have been doused in bright (albeit now a bit dust-covered) primary colors and adorned with real-life objects such as cigarettes and animal hair. You may even recognize a few, as it seems current political figures have provided just a little inspiration for some of these disturbing creations.

The museum is located on Shuqui Road just off Jishan Street, across from the A-Mei Tea House. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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