Ghost Story of Yotsuya is the opening night film of Into the Shintoho Mind Warp: GIRLS, GUNS & GHOSTS from the Second Golden Age of Japanese Film, the latest Globus Film Series at Japan Society NY. The series, which runs through March 10th, will feature eight rarely screened features from the studio that was created in 1947 as an offshoot of Toho. (Yotsuya, as best I've been able to determine, refers to a neighborhood in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, where part of the story is set.)
Nakagawa's film is but one of the more than thirty cinematic adaptations of a classic kabuki play written in 1825 by Tsuruya Nanboku; it is widely considered to be the best film version.
The story centers on the ambitions of a master-less samurai named Iemon Tamiya (Shigeru Amachi). When his plans to marry the lovely Iwa ((Katsuko Wakasugi) are thwarted by her father's lowly regard of him as a libertine, Iemon resorts to murder. His marriage to Iwa, which has produced a son, does not improve his lot in life nor lead to personal happiness. A weak man, Iemon is spurred on by his attendant Naosuke (Shintaro Emi) to murder again. The result is that he is haunted by his victims, driven mad and consquently commits even more acts of carnage.
Director Nakagawa has here produced a film that ranks close to, if not right up there with, Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan and Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu, ghost-themed films that are better known in the West and both of which are available from The Criterion Collection. (Indeed, I'm beginning to see this series of Shintoho films as a promising candidate for Criterion's Eclipse series. Here's hoping.) The emotions of the main characters, Iemon and Iwa, are magnificently brought forth by stellar performances from Amachi and Wakasugi, respectively. And Nakagawa's use of colors, particularly reds and greens, is masterful, providing visual metaphors to emotional and physical states of being.
ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very highly recommended.
Wednesday night's screening of Ghost Story of Yotsuya will be followed by the Enka Ecstasy party. Guests are encouraged to wear black-and-white outfits, with two accessories of color, in keeping with the spirit of the retrospective and to celebrate the six black-and-white and two color(ful) film rarities the series is showcasing. The party features a live performance by New York-based Japanese soul music band Neo Blues Maki.
For information about the complete GIRLS, GUNS & GHOSTS film series and to order tickets, click here. The series is comprised of selections from Nudes! Guns! Ghosts! which was curated by film critic and author Mark Schilling for the 2010 Udine Far East Film Festival. After its run in New York, the series will tour North America at Philadelphia's International House (March 28-30), San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (dates TBD) and Vancouver's Pacific Cinematheque (dates also TBD).
Also be sure to check out the terrific series trailer by Benjamin Wright.