Criterion Prediction #4: Ghost Story of Yotsuya, by Alexander Miller
Title: Ghost Story of Yotsuya
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
Cast: Shigeru Amachi, Noriko Kitazawa, Katsuko Wakasugi, Ryuzaburo Nakamura
Synopsis: The Ghost Story of Yotsuya is one of Japan’s most enduring and well-known ghost stories of all time, as well as the subject of countless film adaptations. After murdering his father in law, a fiery young Ronin, Iemon Tamiya, constructs various schemes and betrayals resulting in adultery, betrayal, and murder. Matters only worsen for the devious Iemon when the ghosts of his victims return to haunt Iemon as the targeted prey become predatory from beyond the grave.
Critique: This grisly murder tale is a classic for multiple reasons; the depiction of the Bunsei era (1818-1830) was a subject of interest (socio-economic reasons) and the narrative inclusion of classism and sexism are indeed relevant to the period, thus providing another window into Japan’s past. Most importantly Ghost Story of Yotsuya is legendary in the world of horror because it is genuinely scary and rife with atmospheric design. Nakagawa utilizes kabuki style staging/blocking as well as lush color schemes counterpointing the histrionic hush of kabuki theater with bravura cinematic technique that conveys a sense of style and terror without calling attention to itself.
The Ghost Story of Yotsuya is one of Japan’s most enduring and well known ghost stories of all time, as well as the subject of countless film adaptations. Of the various Yotsuya Kaidan adaptations, Nakagawa’s 1959 version reigns supreme.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: In 1959 Nakagawa directed two films (one of them already in the collection), his Dante-esque exploration of hell, Jigoku, and Ghost Story of Yotsuya. Thanks to the Criterion release of Jigoku, Nakagawa’s work has reached a wider audience and Ghost Story of Yotsuya is just as, if not more, compelling and likely to receive the same level of acclaim. This might sound like cheating (to some Criterion completists), given that this entry is featured on Criterion’s Hulu channel. h\However Criterion hosts a wide variety of titles via Hulu. While they present many great movies there, not all of them are guaranteed a spine number. Yet some are selected for a release. Nevertheless, if there’s a title that merits the Criterion treatment, it’s this one. Also, Ghost Story of Yotsuya isn’t available as an official DVD/Blu-Ray, so the timing, rights, and avenue are all aligned. Let’s hope they take advantage of the opportunity. If any distributor should be the sole proprietor of this film it should be Criterion.