Saturday, 11 October 2014

31 Days of Horror: Tokaido Yotsuya Kaiden (aka The Ghost of Yotsuya)(1959)

Tokaido Yotsuya Kaiden (aka The Ghost of Yotsuya)(1959)
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
Starring: Shigeru Amachi, Noriko Kitazawa and Katsuko Wakasugi
Running Time: 76 min

I dig Samurai flicks and I dig horror, so putting these two genre together is going to be a gross bloody tasting peanut butter and jam tale of terror. Not the best analogy, but let's just say I'm pretty excited.  This story was originally a kabuki play written in 1825 and has been adapted over 30 times to films.  Also, this is the same director who attempted to created an accurate visual representation of Hell in one of my favourite film, "Jigoku".  This these two elements, I'm looking forward to a terrific taste of terror. I shouldn't write while I'm hungry.

Iemon is a lowly Ronin, who more than anything wants to marry his one true love, Iwa.  Unfortunately, her father will not allow it and after an argument on the street one late night, Iemon demonstrates what he thinks of his father in-law and murders him and his body guards.  Whoops!  Fortunately, there is only one witness, Iemon's lackey Naosuke, who devises a plan to blame another family for the murder, so Iemon can marry Iwa and he can marry her sister, Sode.  So, they go home, tell the family what happened but now the sister's and their brother, Yomoshichi want revenge.  fuck.  So, they all go searching for revenge and after months of traveling, Iemon and Naosuke decide to ice Yomoshichi to put an end to it.  So, they lie to the sisters and the three of them, Iemon, Naosuke and Yomoshichi head for a waterfall for water or something.  At the waterfall, Naosuke stabs Yomoshichi and Iemon pushes him over the falls.  They go back and tell the girls, that they were attacked and Yomoshichi was killed.  That was easy.  Iemon and Naosuke grab their girls, split up and move to Edo, where the sisters have no contact with one another.
  Unfortunately, Iemon and Naosuke are still poor as hell and there love life isn't as great as they were hoping.  Iemon is married to Iwa and they have a child but there is still no work for him as Ronin.  Until... just by chance he happens to save a wealthy business, who is being mugged.  The business man is pleased with Iemon skills and invites him to become his personal bodyguard and to marry is beautiful daughter.  Torn between his love of Iwa and being rich, Iemon speaks to Naosuke, who convinces him that killing Iwa in an adulterous scandal with her masseuse would probably be the best way for him to handle this situation.  Iemon agrees and kills his wife.  However, Iwa is having none of that and comes back to haunt Iemon's ass for his murderous ways.  Can Iemon escape his horrible past and move on as a wealthier happier man or will Iwa drive him to the brink of madness and get the revenge that she so richly deserves?

  I find that after watching these old school Japanese horror movies, it's quite incredible to see how far ahead of the game they were.  Director Nobuo Nakagawa (The Depths, Jigoku (aka The Sinners from Hell) adapts the hell out of this terrifying ghost story.  The look and feel of the film is incredible and the gruesome make up effects of the ghosts in this film, which is more than 50 years old, are better than you see in some now a days.  It is a slow build in the beginning but still fascinating to watch Nakagawa reveal his characters and see Iemon scheme with Naosuke and watch his honour deteriorate to nothing. However, once Iwa dies, she starts haunting his ass immediately.  The way the ghost exacts her revenge is genius and how she manipulates him into creating a worse situation for himself is extremely gratifying.
  Shigeru Amachi (Jigoku, The Tale of Zatoichi) gives a very good performance as the stoic and devious, Iemon.  So does Noriko Kitazawa (The Depths, Black Cat Mansion), who plays the sister, Sode.  However, I think that Shuntaro Emi (Ghost of Hanging in Utusunomiya, Meju) who plays the manipulative friend and schemer, Naosuke, really takes the film to the next level.  When he discover the Iwa ghost, it's scary and humorous at the same and he really sells how terrified he is at that moment.  Equally fantastic is Katsuko Wakasugi (The Depths, Black Breasts) who plays the Iwa, wife, mother and ghost.  She is now one of my favourite apparitions and she is truly one scary mama!

  There isn't really any issues with this film.  The only thing that come to mind is the the baby's storyline is not as clear as it could be.  Like most child characters they throw into a show as a plot point, the child doesn't seem to matter.  It's not mentioned or shown but I assume that Iwa kills the baby just before she dies but I'm surprised that this doesn't cause a greater reaction fro Iemon.  However, I understand that killing a baby or child on screen is tough, even now a days and there could have been a very negative reaction to it.  As for Iemon, he was already moving on to a new life and this probably conveys how little he cared for his wife and child. Such a swell guy.

This film is now up there as one of my favourite classic ghost films, like The Haunting, The Uninvited and the Innocents.  What makes this one so great is that you actually see the ghost on screen and it isn't an tomentee isn't just screaming at air.  Nakagawa forces Iemon and the audience confront what he has created and we share the terror with him.  This is definite must for any spookactular nightly ghost films.

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