Ghost of Yotsuya is arguably a conventional horror film, though it’s one that also takes a little bit to get to the spooks. Like Kwaidan, it’s an adaptation of an existing horror story, in this case, one from a Kabuki play.
The film follows Iemon Tamiya (Shigeru Amachi), a ronin who seeks the hand of the daughter of a noble – Oiwa (Katsuko Wakasugi) – and after her father, Samon, disrespects him, Iamon kills him, and Samon’s friend Sato. A small time crook, Naosuke (Shuntarō Emi), was carrying a lantern for the two now-victims at the time, offers to help cover up the murders, in exchange for helping him out in return. The two frame another criminal, Usaburo, and then murder the fiance of Oiwa’s sister Osode (Noriko Kitazawa) so Naosuke can marry her (also framing Usaburo for the crime).
The two murderers end up, with their prospective brides, in Edo, and after a time skip, Iemon starts feeling dissatisfied with his place in society, and starts courting another nobleman’s daughter, Ume (Junko Ikeuchi) behind his wife’s back. In order to marry her, he has to get out of his existing marriage, which means he gets in touch with Naosuke again, to plot Oiwa’s murder.
They frame a masseuse they know, Takuetsu (Jun Ōtomo) for adultery, poison Oiwa, and then kill Takuetsu. And this is where the spooky starts – the poison used on Oiwa causes horrible facial boils before she dies, and she dies cursing her husband. Shortly after this, the ghost of the deformed Oiwa haunts Iemon and Naosuke as he prepares for his wedding, ultimately driving him into madness.
First off, the make-upon the deformed Oiwa is incredibly effective. It has a very real sense of Body Horror – not in the sense of depicting a deformity as horror, but in the sense of viewing the act of being deformed as horror. Second, Iemon has some solid Don Giovanni energy – he’s a scumbag who sees women as prizes to claimed, or as mechanisms to his own social advancement. He has a few moments over the course of the film where he has near-clarity, and almost realizes that he’s kind of a scumbag, but never decides to change his behavior.
Because the film is a brisk 80-ish minutes, it also gets to the horror relatively quickly, and what isn’t explicitly the ghost story is used to set up the ghost story.
In all, this is a really solid ghost story, and I’m really glad I gave this a watch.
Ghost of Yotsuya is currently available for streaming on the Criterion Channel.
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