Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Ghost of Yotsuya

The Ghost of Yotsuya is one of Japan's most enduring horror stories. First a Kabuki play, it's been adapted to film dozens of times. Most people hold that Nobou Nakagawa's 1959 adaptation is the best version. It's a hell of a picture, but I've just finished Keisuke Kinoshita's 1949 version, and I'm convinced it's not only the best version of the story, but one of the best Japanese films ever made.

And here's four reasons why:

Kinoshita's skill with the dolly is dizzying. In this, the first shot of the film, we follow a man to his death and leave him to survey the rest of the battle. This shot goes on for a prohibitively long time to turn into a gif. This is just a sample - we watch the man jump from the wall behind him to the ground, free a bunch of prisoners, hop onto this wall, die, and then we track along the wall and watch guards beat down the rest of the prisoners all in a single straight line dolly.

Kinoshita is considered the mentor of Masaki Kobayashi (who write this script), but I see a lot of Kurosawa in it as well. Look at his Kurosawa-like approach to sword violence. People trip, panic, and flail about in mortal terror of the blade. I remind you, this was a year before that famous duel in Rashomon. This has got to be an inspiration - so too is the physical presence of weather which would become a Kurosawa trademark

The little moments are often really touching. Such attention to the small Raymond Carver-esque heartbreak of day to day life.

 And it's also just plain beautiful, of course.

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