|Black Cats and Haunted Castles
- Classics of Japanese Horror and the Supernatural
With the recent, astounding proliferation of Japanese horror
and ghost films (RING, JU-ON, DARK WATER, PULSE, etc.) and attendant obsession for remakes
by American studios, what better time than Halloween weekend to take a look at some of the
earlier spine-tingling classics of Japanese cinema?
Although numerous kaidans ("stories of strange
things") had been lensed since the silent era in Japan, it wasnt until
the early 1950s that a veritable post-war boom in movie production boosted the number of
scary, supernatural pictures. All the Japanese studios joined in, but fledgling,
poverty-row Shintoho led the pack with a handful of classic horror opuses by macabre
maestro Nobuo Nakagawa, including such classics as HELL (JIGOKU) and BLACK CAT MANSION
(BOREI KAIBYO YASHIKI, 1958). When Shintoho went belly-up in 1961 from financial woes,
other studios like Daiei, Toho and Toei expanded their horror film output to fill the gap.
While current Japanese horror movies are primarily set in the modern
world, kaidans lensed in the golden age of the 1950s-1960s, often set in-period,
utilized age-old legends, folk tales or erotic/grotesque kabuki plays as their
source material yarns of disfigured, black-haired female ghosts wronged by their
samurai lovers, tales of cat-ghost vampires, disembodied phantasms, female snow spirits
and specters of murdered masseurs. Japanese horror films of this period frequently matched
the baroque frissons of UKs Hammer Studios and the creepy ambience of such classics
as THE INNOCENTS and THE HAUNTING.
Were excited to present this Halloween weekend of Japanese
horror and supernatural classics what really amounts to a mere sampling
including such acknowledged bone-chilling masterpieces as Shiro Toyodas PORTRAIT OF
HELL, Masaki Kobayashis KWAIDAN, Nobuo Nakagawas HELL and Yasuzo
Masumuras BLIND BEAST.
Friday, October 29 7:30 PM
BLACK CAT IN THE FOREST (KURONEKO),
1968, Toho, 99 min. Director Kaneto Shindos demented follow-up to his
surprise arthouse/horror hit, ONI BABA, is also shot in shimmering black-and-white and is
even more overtly supernatural in tone. After being murdered by a roving band of bestial
mercenaries, a mother (Nokuko Otowa) and daughter-in-law (Kiwako Taichi) return as
avenging cat-ghost vampires, bent on destroying every samurai that crosses their path.
They suffer more torment when long-lost son/husband Gintoki (Kichiemon Nakamura) returns,
dispatched by the brutal local lord, (Kei Sato) to stop their killings.
PORTRAIT OF HELL (JIGOKU HEN),
1969, Toho, 95 min. Adapting a story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (RASHOMON), director Shiro
Toyoda conjures a beautiful and eerie medieval parable of the consequences of
oppression, conceit and decadence. Proud, indentured Korean artist Yoshihide (Tatsuya
Nakadai) sees Hell materialize on earth when arrogant Lord Hosokawa (Kinnosuke
Nakamura) not only commissions a painting of paradise, but also begins lusting after his
only daughter, Yoshika (Yoko Naito). With breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography by Kazuo
Yamada and phantasmagorical production design by Shinobu Muraki.
Saturday, October 30 5:00 PM
KWAIDAN, 1964, Janus Criterion,
164 min. Master director Masaki Kobayashis legendary quartet of ghost stories
was adapted from the writings of Lafcadio Hearn, a Greek-Irish immigrant to Japan and
collector of the nations folk tales. First, "The Black Hair" with Rentaro
Mikuni and Michiyo Aratama, followed by "Woman Of The Snow" with Tatsuya
Nakadai and Keiko Kishi, "Hoichi The Earless" with Katsuo Nakamura and
Tetsuro Tanba and "In A Cup Of Tea" with Kanemon Nakamura. KWAIDAN creates an
eerily fantastic, dreamlike ambience, largely through superb direction, painted production
design and Toru Takemitsus awe-inspiring score. If youve never seen it on the
big screen, this is not to be missed!
Saturday, October 30 8:30 PM
BLIND BEAST (MOJU), 1969,
Kadokawa-Daiei, 84 min. A deranged, sightless sculptor (Eiji Funakoshi) kidnaps an
artists model (Mako Midori) and introduces her to his rural warehouse of horrors: a
forest of giant, sculpted female body parts. Before long, Midori finds herself succumbing
to a deliriously tactile shadow world where sight is replaced by touch. Master director Yasuzo
Masumura chisels a monument of erotic terror from Edogawa Rampos perverse short
HELL (JIGOKU), 1961, Kokusai Hoei,
100 min. Dir. Nobuo Nakagawa. This horrifically surreal vision of the underworld
resembles Disneyland designed by the Marquis de Sade. Shigeru Amachi stars as a theology
student led astray by nihilistic pal Yoichi Numata; their reckless pranks lead to the
hit-and-run driving death of a drunken yakuza and the eventual poisoning of a group of
party guests after which everyone is sent straight to Hell! The last half-hour of
the film, featuring grotesque ogres, burning wheels of fire and mist-filled rivers of the
damned, must be seen to be believed. Highly recommended!
Sunday, October 31 5:00 PM
THE MASSEURS CURSE (KAIDAN
KASANE GA FUCHI), 1970, Kadokawa-Daiei, 82 min. This spooky fable of a money-lending,
blind masseur - murdered by a duplicitous samurai only to rise from his swampy grave - had
been filmed many times since the 1920s, including a version by Nobuo Nakagawa. Director Kimiyoshi
Yasuda had himself helmed another (much tamer) black-and-white version in 1960. But
here he lenses the yarn in color, amping up the blood and letting the violence rip. With a
great cast, including Kenjiro Ishiyama as the ghostly masseur, Saburo Date as the craven
swordsman and Ritysu Ishiyama as his cursed son. With Reiko Kasahara, Maya Kitajima.
THE HAUNTED CASTLE (HIROKU
KAIBYODEN), 1969, Kadokawa-Daiei, 83 min. Ghost-cats avenging spirits, usually
of wronged handmaidens, incarnated after their cats lap up their spilt blood (!)
are a staple of Japanese ghost stories as well as the nations classic horror cinema.
Scores of Japanese kaibyo (or ghost-cat) films have been made since the silent era.
Director Tokuzo Tanaka, like his studio-mate Kimiyoshi Yasuda, was an accomplished
genre specialist (and veteran of many Zatoichi blind swordsman films). Here he spins his
rip-roaringly macabre take on the ghost-cat mythos, a tale of the suicided sister of a
murdered nobleman returning to avenge herself on guilty Lord Nabeshimas samurai.
With Kojiro Hongo, Naomi Kobayashi, Rokko Toura. [Note: This, the
only surviving print of the film, is slightly faded.]