Genre: Classic Japanese Horror
review in one breath
The blind Soetsu lives with a loving wife and their young daughter in an adequate home supported by Soetsu's skill as a masseuse. On a wintry eve, Soetsu decides to visit a neighboring nobleman to who he had lent money over a year ago in the hopes of having the sum returned to him. But upon hearing Soetsu's request, the arrogant and ill-tempered samurai murders Soetsu and has his body dumped in nearby Kasane Swamp. This sets off a chain of events which not only drive the samurai to madness but will also take from him and his entire household what they hold most dearly.
|other films by Nakagawa Nobuo|
|The Ceiling at Utsunomiya||Kaii Utsunomiya Tsuritenjo||1956|
|Ghosts of Kasane Swamp||Kaidan Kasane ga Fuchi||1957|
|Mansion of the Ghost Cat||Borei Kaibyo Yashiki||1958|
|The Lady Vampire||Onna-kyu Ketsuki||1959|
|The Ghost Story of Yotsuya||Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan||1959|
|Snake Woman's Curse||Kaidan hebi-onna||1968|
|Quick-draw Okatsu||Yoen dokufuden: Hitokiri Okatsu||1969|
|Okatsu the Fugitive||Yoen dokufuden: Okatsu kyojo tabi||1969|
In 1859 author Sanyutei Encho wrote a traditional horror novel entitled Shinkei Kasane ga fuchi or "Reckoning at Kasane Swamp" (my translation). It became a very popular tale, telling of how an injustice inevitably leads to far greater sorrow and ultimately karmic retribution from beyond the grave. It is a sad tale which struck at the core of Japanese notions of human relations, (in)justice and supernatural/divine judgment.
Sanyutei Encho (1839 - 1900) witnessed first-hand the transition from the Edo period to the Meiji period and wrote extensively in the traditional kaidan/kwaidan genre, telling supernatural tales of the older eras. In addition to Shinkei Kasane ga fuchi, perhaps the most familiar of Sanyutei's publications in the West would be Kaidan Botan Dorou (Tale of the Peony Lantern) which Lafcadio Hearn immortalized by bringing it to Western readers through his 1898 In Ghostly Japan. Sanyutei's Botan Dorou subsequently became a favorite narrative and appeared in several Japanese films such as Haunted Lantern.
Thus far there have been seven films entitled "Kaidan Kasane ga Fuchi" (or something very similar) ranging from 1928 (!) to 1970. There have also been three separate TV versions following the 1970 film. The film under review here is the fourth iteration of the tale, a 1957 film by classic horror director Nakagawa Nobuo (1905 - 1984). As I've mentioned elsewhere, Nakagawa was a prolific director and has proven critical to the development of Japan's contemporary horror genre.
His Ghosts of Kasane Swamp has been the most popular and well-known of the handful of versions making it to the West and remains an excellent example of traditional Japanese moral sentiment wrapped in a supernatural ghost tale. Though I have not seen the other versions, I have read that Nakagawa's contribution to the tale is his focused empathy with the characters in the tale. As noted above, this is a very sad tale which encompasses generations and thus involves the karmic fate of those who had no hand in the initial wrong-doing. He effectively conveys the humanness and bewildered peril of his characters even as they descend into horrible moments. Nakagawa's tale focuses on the tragedy which can befall otherwise normal human beings due to the sins of their ancestors.
The film is set in the mid-Edo Era (1773) in the small town of Hanyu in Shimosa Province (northerly portion of modern day Chiba prefecture). It is shot completely in black and white but many of the panoramic scenes and complex sets prove very effective. In characteristic form, Nakagawa here attempts his own early versions of cinematic "special effect" when depicting the hauntings of his ghosts and ghoulies.
The blind masseuse Soetsu hopes that the snowy eve might bring him luck in collecting a sizable debt from a neighboring samurai. So he bids his wife and young daughter Rui goodbye and silently treks to his borrower's home.
But the arrogant samurai, who has neither the money nor the patience to hear Soetsu's sincere request, suddenly cuts the terrorized blind man with flailing sword. When the murderous deed is done, Soetsu's scarred body is thrown into the nearby Kasane Swamp so that no man may find him.
Fast forwarding 20 years, we find Rui, the grown daughter of Soetsu and Shinkichi, the adult son of the samurai, unwittingly falling in love with each other. Though it would seem, of course, that such innocent love ought develop unhindered by the past, it quickly becomes apparent that a deeper, sinister force is at work in shaping their destiny.
And this destiny, you'll find, has no regard for either innocence nor person.
This is in fact a very famous traditional Japanese ghost story. And the most accessible film depicting it is this particular film by Nakagawa. Thus as to whether or not you would want to see this likely boils down to how badly you want to see the story.
As far as contemporary standards of horror or spookiness go, this is indeed a rather early film and does not achieve any truly creepy or shocking moments. Rather, this is probably best appreciated as the classic film it is, telling a popular ghost story and directed by one of the leading figures in early Japanese horror. Definitely a must for nostalgia fans.
Version reviewed: Region 0 subtitled DVD.
|Classic early Japanese Horror by director Nakagawa Nobuo based on the well-known tale of Kaidan of Kasane Swamp.||Sword violence and ghostly monstrosities, circa 1957.||Some Edo-Era shoulder baring... and you know what THAT means!!||Here's a well-known classic Japanese Horror film by cult director Nakagawa Nobuo|