Monday, April 16, 2012



Colleen Wanglund

Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa (JIGOKU {1960}) TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1959) is based on the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time which was written by Nanboku Tsuruya in 1815 for Kabuki Theater. Iemon Tamiya (Shigeru Amachi-who starred in JIGOKU)) is a ronin, a masterless samurai who has been refused the hand of Iwa (Katsuko Wakasugi), the woman he loves, by her father. Enraged, Iemon kills the girl’s father along with another man; Naosuke, the only witness tells Iemon he will help him. They tell Iwa and Yomoshichi that another man attacked and killed their fathers. Iemon marries Iwa and vows to avenge her father’s murder. While on a pilgrimage to pray at a shrine Iemon and Naosuke stab Yomoshichi and throw him over a waterfall. They then tell Iwa and Sode (Iwa’s sister) that the same man who killed the fathers also killed Yomoshichi.

Some time has passed and Iemon and Iwa are living in Edo (Tokyo) and they have a son. Naosuke and Sode are also in Edo, but neither of the sisters knows this. Iemon and Iwa are poor and he has grown tired of Iwa asking when he will avenge her father’s death. Iemon meets the daughter of a wealthy samurai and wishes to marry her; but he is already married. Naosuke devises a plan to get rid of Iwa and clear the way for Iemon’s marriage. Iwa is poisoned and dies, taking her son to the grave with her. Her body is disposed of and Iemon marries his new bride. Out of grief and betrayal Iwa’s spirit haunts Iemon and it affects everything he has lied, schemed and murdered to attain. Iwa has vowed revenge and she will have it.

TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN is not the first film adaptation of the original play but it is the most faithful, following the story almost exactly as it was first written. It is a beautifully directed movie with a suitable dark atmosphere throughout. The sisters are very sympathetic characters and Iemon and Naosuke are truly villainous. The special effects are fantastic with Iwa’s face becoming “monstrous” after drinking the poison and her ghostly image is very scary. This is a movie for the horror purist and fans of good old fashioned ghost stories. Director Nobou Nakagawa is a genius of the horror genre in Japan and is considered by many to be the father of Japanese horror movies. What also stands out is the story itself (both the original and this movie) is based on two real-life murders that took place during the samurai period in which it is set. The first crime involved two servants who murdered their masters and the other involved a samurai who murdered his concubine after learning she was having an affair. The story also takes place during a time when women were seen as merely possessions and they suffered greatly. The ghost represents the spiritual power of the woman allowing her to take revenge for her bad treatment. THE GHOST OF YOTSUDA is a little hard to find on DVD/Blu-ray but it is definitely worth the hunt.

76 minutes

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