THE GHOSTS OF YOTSUYA (tokaido yotsuya kaidan) (1956 JAPAN) D: MASAKI MORI W: HIDEO GUNI/TORAO TANABE P: MITSUGU OOKURA
The well-known oft-told supernatural tale of vengeance commonly known as Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan was probably first performed by storytellers in the 17th century (when the real Lady Oiwa was said to have lived). It told of the jilted Oiwa at the hands of her mean out-of-work samurai lover Iemon, her murder (and that of her child) and the curse that seemed to plague the wrongdoers. In 1825 a highly influential Kabuki play written by Tsuruya Namboku IV crystalized it, and the cinema has been very kind to it. About twenty versions (including a 1949 two-parter) were produced in the first half of the 20th century. This is the earliest version i`ve seen (and probably the earliest that`s easiest for viewers to see), and makes no bones about the supernatural elements (apparently earlier versions tended to be more vague and psychological). Tomisaburo Wakayama (in Kabuki-like make-up) is Iemon, the destitute samurai courting the daughter from a wealthy family, but refusing to marry into wealth out of obligation to his common-law wife Oiwa (Chieko Souma) and child (not that he teats them too well). His scheming mother (along with others, including a blackmailer who knows something else about Iemon) plot to poison, disfigure and kill Oiwa (not the only one who ends up dead). Iemon becomes more and more complicit, until Oiwa`s corpse ends up nailed to a wooden door and thrown into the swamp. The subsequent haunting scenes are nicely grotesque set pieces, captured by Hiroshi Suzuki`s b/w photography. I also like the music. Not a bad little programmer from Ookura, who seems to have been a prolific Corman-like skinflint producer for Shin-Toho films. With Haruo Tanaka, Shigeru Ogura, Unpei Yokoyama, Ko Gohashi and Kikuko Hanaoka. Wakayama played Iemon again in the colour 1961 version KAIDAN OIWA NO BOREI. The definitive version (there were many more, and they`re still making them) is probably 1959`s GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA directed by Nobuo Nakagawa (also backed by Ookura for Shin-Toho).

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