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The Ghost of Yotsuya

Posted by martinteller on October 13, 2012

Iemon (Shigeru Amachi) is a disreputable samurai who asks for the hand of the beautiful Iwa (Katsuko Wakasugi) in marriage.  The old man refuses, and Iemon kills him.  Iemon and the father’s servant Naosuke (Shuntaro Emi) cook up a story about a rival samurai, and they set out with Iwa’s sister Sode (Noriko Kitazawa) and brother Yomoshichi (Ryûzaburô Nakamura) to “avenge” the father’s death.  Iemon and Naosuke quickly dispatch with Yomoshichi, cook up another story about the rival samurai, and then go their separate ways on a quest for “revenge”, each with one of the sisters in tow.  Iwa and Iemon wed and have a child, but Iwa’s nagging about vengeance for her father drives him into the arms of a much wealthier woman (Junko Ikeuchi).  The two conspirators — who have been meeting in secret, neither Iwa nor Sode knowing that the other is in the same city — once again hatch a scheme.  They set up Naosuke’s pal Takuetsu (Jun Otomo) to make it look like he’s been fooling around with Iwa, and Iemon murders them both.  But in her final moments, Iwa learns the truth… and then the haunting begins.

Ghost stories (kaidan) are quite popular in Japanese culture, and this is one that’s been adapted many times to film.  Like many such tales, a lot of time is spent on buildup, but the buildup is agreeable enough stuff, as Iemon’s diabolical deeds keep piling up.  By the time we come to the third act, we’re quite ready to watch him get what’s coming to him.

I’ve seen one other movie by Nobuo Nakagawa, Jigoku from the following year.  Like that film, this one ratchets up the insanity at the climax, bringing a lot of creepy gothic horror to the table.  Iwa’s hauntings are really very clever, and some of the material is quite horrifying/disturbing.  It gets pretty macabre, and Iwa’s death scene is especially gruesome.  The film is occasionally confusing (either I missed it or they never said what happened to the baby) but for the most part manages to keep its fairly complex story and character dynamics comprehensible.

The movie is nicely photographed, although some of the outdoor sets look a bit too stagey.  The score is evocative and the performances are effective, especially Wakasugi.  Not as striking or memorable as more renowned films in the genre like Kobayashi’s Kwaidan, but an enjoyable and well-crafted spook story.  Rating: Good (77)


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