Saturday, October 6, 2012

Yotsuya Kaidan

Original Folklore
Yotsuya Kaidan directed by Nobuo Nakagawa. Starring Shigeru Amach. (1959). 
This is one of the most famous Japanese tales of ghostly revenge in folklore. It has been adapted countless times and I am a massive fan of Japanese folklore and Noh Theater, so I knew I'd be able to hack it. For those that are looking for blood drenched Baby Cart/ Lonewolf and Cub shenanigans, look elsewhere! Kenji Misumi who directed half of the LoneWolf and Cub series made his own version of the Ghost story the same year. The original is a five act kabuki play and I'll admit it, I've fallen asleep a couple of times late night watching this,(it’s available on HuluPlus) I know better not to watch a foreign film late at night cause reading makes me sleepy.
            This 1959 version is the most admired adaptation of this story, which has been told since 1825. The film opens with an ominous warning "The fury of a woman driven mad is one of the greatest horrors of all". Three wandering samurai's are interrupted by Lemon, the protagonist who is detested as an uncouth Ronin and the class war is already established, He is angry because others won’t let him rise above, but there is more complication going on then you'd think. They are annoyed by him and say he haunts their property like a stray cat.
                He wants to gain entry into the samurai system and marry up into the ranks of order, but is rejected. You never have time to feel sorry for Lemon as you become acquainted with him because you realize he can only murder to sustain his self-confidence. He murders a lot through out this film, at first it's very theatrical in an orchestrated delicate style (which sounds ridiculous)! But it increasingly turns more graphic and there’s a division between the first act and the last. It starts off very slow but builds into a ghastly good time. Naosuke is Lemon’s servant and has an Iago (as in Othello) like personality he only seems to inspire Lemon to kill everyone surrounding them. He is dominated by Naosuke in the guise of friendship and calculates all his motives to murder, there is no explanation as to why he listens to his fake friend.
            They both consistently lie in order to cover up their senseless murders, it’s as if they are murder junkies. You’d think with the high body count there would be more blood flowing (the play is more graphic then the film see link

            Lemon is an inhuman monster with no conscience or compassion for his wife Iwa and has no problem poisoning her with a toxic skin cream. Her masseuse, a trusted friend betrays her and acts like a frightened child (he feels guilty) after being paid to poison her. He cowers in the corner as her face melts into black sores and boils, this moment doesn’t happen till about 42 minutes in but it made up for lost time. Screaming in pain, she holds her son and asks how can Lemon be so cruel and in an act of mercy kills her child (off screen). The masseuses’ arm is lopped off by Lemon as the SPFX team cracked open the make- up kits finally!  Lemon seems to delight in murder and deserves a brutal revenge punishment that sadly is not delivered. The coolest part of the film for me was the watery zombie approach to ghostly revenge, it reminded me of The Tide segment of Creepshow. The ghosts in Yotsuya are never transparent but can hide anywhere and usually bring rivers of bloody water and pesky snakes. Lemon still deserved a more horrific death, but it’s pretty funny that he stabs through ghosts and hits living flesh (people behind the ghosts).The film is a bit tedious like certain Criterion bores (like Masaki Kobayashi’s overrated Kaidan which I found very dull and not scary).
            Nobuo Nakagawa pioneered extreme graphic violence during the early 60’s with Jigoku and this film. Psychotronic’s Michael Weldon praised his work for beating H.G. Lewis to the stomach churning punch before Blood Feast. It’s in no way a comparision but still pretty rewarding for a samarai ghost story. Yotsuya Kaidan is very much influenced by the Technicolor style of early Hammer films (like The Curse of Frankenstein). I think Chas included it because of it’s gore pioneering status and Hammer film inspired quality.
Available on Huluplus