The Ghosts of YotsuyaTatsuya NakadaiEijiro TonoMariko Okada
The Ghosts of Yotsuya (1965)
Also known as: Illusion of Blood
Medium: film
Year: 1965
Director: Shiro Toyoda
Writer: Toshio Yasumi, Nanboku Tsuruya
Keywords: The Ghosts of Yotsuya, horror, ghost, samurai
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Tatsuya Nakadai, Mariko Okada, Junko Ikeuchi, Mayumi Ohzora, Keiko Awaji, Eitaro Ozawa, Masao Mishima, Mikijiro Hira, Eijiro Tono, Yasushi Nagata, Yusuke Takita, Shinichi Nakano, Sen Yano, Toru Uchida, Kinji Omino, Akiko Nomura, Shotaro Nakamura, Kanzaburo Nakamura
Format: 105 minutes
Website category: Japanese old
Review date: 19 July 2013
It's another version of Yotsuya Kaidan and I liked it a good deal. Ignore the English-language title of Illusion of Blood, which has been pulled from someone's arse.
What makes this one interesting is the fact that they're downplaying the ghosts. Oh, they're not gone. We still talk to dead people. This isn't one of those adaptations that completely eliminates the supernatural, but the script thinks it's more dramatic to have a realistic narrative in which the killings are due to people rather than visitations from the afterlife. Naturally I approve. I've been saying for ages that the spooks tend to be the weakest part of this story. The results work well and indeed I think there's only one apparition (the one to Osode and Naosuke) that I'd argue is objectively real. Everything else we see might of course be Oiwa's ghost, but seems just as likely (if not more so) to be all in Iemon's increasingly deranged head.
Apart from that, it's surprisingly faithful. The first half is pretty much bang on with the 1825 original, complete with the full plot role for Naosuke. The poison comes correctly from the Ito family, although there's still a credibility gap when Iemon knows what it is when he gives it to Oiwa. Well, I can live with that.
It's the second half that diverges. The Ito family doesn't get slain en masse in a supernatural holocaust, instead taking us into far more interesting plot developments. Iemon only kills one family member under the spell of Oiwa, then afterwards tries to brazen it out with the others! Obviously they're all going to die anyway, because it's Yotsuya Kaidan, but what we have here is far nastier and more interesting than what I'd been expecting. Iemon takes a third wife! (I don't blame him. Oume's mum is hot.)
There are downsides of this, though. The biggest is that the girls lose out. Both Oiwa and her sister Osode have famous last scenes that you won't see here, or at least not in full. Oiwa doesn't curse Iemon and dies by accident instead of by her own hand. (Okay, yes, that's in line with the original kabuki, but let's not forget the later traditions too.) Meanwhile Osode's death is a "whoops". No incest revelations either, but I'd have been astonished to get those. I like the fact that most of the killing here has nothing to do with the supernatural and instead simply involves people sticking samurai swords in other people, but there are also quite a fair few deaths that just sort of happen. No one does anything bad. It's just an accident. He tripped and fell. The baby is a particularly big missed opportunity, I think, although I've yet to see an adaptation that really goes for the gross-out there.
The acting is a big deal. It's possible to come out of Yotsuya Kaidan emotionally shredded (the 1955 film) or alternatively bored and annoyed by Another Sodding Samurai (the 1959 film). Fortunately the big man here is played by Tatsuya Nakadai, who would soon become Akira Kurosawa's new regular leading man after the latter's famous falling-out with Toshiro Mifune (after Red Beard, which also came out this year). He's good, obviously. He can show his emotions without forgetting that he's a samurai. He's subtly disturbing even in his opening scene, then over the course of the film takes Iemon so far into haunting and madness that you'll find yourself wanting to believe that Oiwa's ghost must be all in his head.
Meanwhile Naosuke (Kanzaburo Nakamura) gives us a hamster-like sort of evil, with a funny bit where he's arguing with a dead man's marker on a household shrine. Junko Ikeuchi had also been in Nakagawa's 1959 adaptation of the same story, although alas in a different role. Everyone's good, really.
I'd recommend this. It's down-to-earth, giving a strong impression of the realities of its characters' lives. A samurai who loses his lord really is a pathetic bastard, isn't he? You'll understand the poverty of Oiwa's family and of Iemon and what a big deal it is that Iemon might get a letter of recommendation from his future father-in-law. What I'll remember best is the simple, character-based directness of this approach to a samurai-era violent tragedy... but that's not to say that the ghosts are negligible. Naosuke and the comb was spooky. I'm tempted to say that this Oiwa's more effective for being more elusive and less of a killer puppetmaster. There's a deceptively difficult balance to be struck with Yotsuya Kaidan, but I think this 1965 version basically got it right.