|Oct 31 2013
Teruo Ishii’s Kyôfu kikei ningen: Edogawa Rampo zenshû, aka Horrors of Malformed Men, or sometimes Horror of a Deformed Man, is a movie that touched sensitive nerves in Japan when it was released. Not only was it gruesome and somewhat erotic, but the malformed men were a direct reference to Japan’s post-nuclear nightmare. The fact that their physicality mimicked Japan’s Butoh dance form, a type of performance emphasizing bizarre movements, made the movie even more disturbing. So much so that it was banned upon release and really only gained widespread availability upon being licensed for DVD. It premiered in Japan today in 1969, which brings us to the point of sharing it with you—it’s Halloween in the US, and in Latin American countries it’s the beginning of Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Japan celebrates neither holiday, but we can’t imagine anything serving as better homage than Japanese horror posters. Below you’ll find an unlucky thirteen of them for movies released in Japan between 1954 and 1969. Information on each appears below the art.
Bin Kato’s Kaibyo Oumaga-tsuji, aka Cat Ghost of Ouma Cross, 1954. Japanese horror is rife with ghost cats, presumably because the concept dates back to early folklore. In this movie a kabuki actress is murdered via ingesting poison, and when a cat licks up some of her blood it becomes possessed by her very angry spirit. We never thought we’d see another blood-swilling cat. We were wrong.
Yoshihiro Ishikawa’s Kaibyô noroi numa, aka Ghost-Cat Cursed Pond, 1968. Both the standard promo and the panel length art appear above. This one is a period piece set in the 1600s, and the mechanism this time involves a woman who, rather than accept a forced marriage to the man who brought about her husband’s death, instead drowns herself and her pet feline. Cue mayhem.
Kinnosuke Fukuda’s Kaibyo karakuri tenjo, aka Ghost-Cat of Karakuri Tenjo, also sometimes referred to as Ghost Cat in the Ceiling, 1958. We haven’t seen this one, and neither has anyone else, apparently, because we can’t find anything on it. But if the cat in the ceiling is anything like this one, we’re terrified.
Kenji Misumi’s Kaibyo Noroi No Kabe, aka Ghost Cat Cursed Wall, also sometimes referred to as Ghost Cat Wall of Hatred, 1969. In this one, a noblewoman accused of an affair is sealed behind the wall of a mausoleum with—wait for it—a cat. Pretty soon an image of the cat appears on the wall, and the fact that it can’t be removed is an indication of the catastrophe—oh no we didn't—to come.
Kazuo Mori’s Akadô Suzunosuke: Mitsume no chôjin, aka Red-armored Suzunosuke: Three-Eyed Birdman, 1958. We cleverly transition from cats to birds with this poster. The movie, which was adapted from a comic book and led to a film series of which this is the seventh installment, is the tale of a samurai battling an evil gang of demonic beasts led by what looks like a demented Foghorn Leghorn. We waited all film, but not once did it quip, "I say, I say, I say, boy, chicken cordon blow me."
Katsuhiko Tasaka’s Kaidan yonaki-doro, aka Ghost Story: Crying in the Night Lantern, 1962. This one we haven’t seen, but it seems to be the story of a man who exposes a crime and ends up buried alive for his troubles, a terrible punishment referred to in the States as being "Manninged." No word on whether there’s a cat in there with him.
Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s Kaidan Kasane-ga-fuchi, aka The Depths, The Ghost of Kasane, and The Ghosts of Kasane Swamp, 1960. This is complicated to explain. Basically, a demand to repay a debt leads to murder, followed by the victim’s body being dumped in a swamp. The victim’s ghost rises from the swamp and tricks the murderer into killing his own wife, which leads to him drowning himself in the same swamp. The story then leaps forward to examine the consequences on the victim’s daughter and the murderer’s son, Romeo and Juliet style: “My god—your dad disappeared in Kasane Swamp too? It’s like we were made for each other!”
This poster is for a triple feature of Michio Yamamoto’s Noroi no yakata: Chi o suu me, aka Lake of Dracula, Nobuo Nakagawa’s Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan, aka Ghost of Yotsuya, and a third movie that has something to do with a swamp (though presumably not Kasane Swamp), and maybe hell too. We won’t get into synopses for these, but you can see a trailer for Lake of Dracula here, and for Ghost Story of Yatsuya here.
Tokuzô Tanaka’s Kaidan yukijorô, aka Ghost Story of the Snow Fairy, or sometimes The Snow Woman, 1968. In this one a sculptor and apprentice venture into the mountains seeking a special wood they plan to use to build a statue. A snow witch (standard in Japanese folklore) kills the sculptor but spares the apprentice, who continues his life and work, but with the whole icy episode hanging over his head. Soon he meets a beautiful young woman, falls in love and marries her, thus condemning her to that special brand of hopeful impoverishment reserved for the talented poor. Oh, and more witch.
Hiroshi Matsuno’s Kyûketsu dokuro-sen, aka Ghost Ship: Living Skeleton, or sometimes just The Living Skeleton, 1968. Cited as an influence on John Carpenter’s The Fog, the story opens with a massacre aboard a ship and the rest deals with events of supernatural justice set into motion by relatives of the murder victims. Since living skeletons don’t really figure into this, it should probably just be called “Ghost Ship,” like the 2002 American horror flick that ripped it off.
Nobuo Nakagawa’s Kaidan hebi-onna aka Snake Woman’s Curse, 1968. As you have doubtless noted, revenge is a strong motif in Japanese horror, and this one is no exception. When an old man dies in debt to a rich landowner, his wife and daughter become, according to feudal law, indentured servants. The landowner is astonishingly cruel, which means the widow and daughter suffer all the expected indignities and violations—multiple times—but just when he thinks he’s going to get away with his misdeeds things start to go pear-shaped for him. Trailer here.
We’ll have more Japanese poster collections down the line. Happy Halloween/Day of the Dead everyone.