I don’t believe in ghosts at all (an unapologetic non-flaw of mine), but I do believe in a good ghost story when it works flawlessly in delivering the spine-chilling stuff that leads to a restless night. That said, Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1959 masterpiece Tōkaidō Yotsuya kaidan (Ghost Story of Yotsuya) is one of the more frightening horror films I’ve ever seen. Given that it’s based on Japan’s most popular ghost story (written as a kabuki play and originally performed in 1825), Nakagawa’s film is memorable on a few fronts, melding its stage origins with the director’s perfectly placed camera as he brings us a tried and true tale of murder and vengeance, Japanese style.
You may initially feel sorry for rōnin Iemon Tamiya (Shigeru Amachi) as he begs for the hand of Iwa (Katsuko Wakasugi), but that feeling will vanish about a minute later after Iemon kills Iwa’s father and retainers and his scheming lackey Naosuke (Shuntarô Emi) disposes of the bodies and comes up with a perfect alibi. He later goes to visit a grieving Iwa, but she and her sister Sode (Noriko Kitazawa) want revenge on the man Iemon claims murdered her father. Of course, this doesn’t happen and instead, a respectable samurai named Yomoshichi (Nakamura Ryozaburo) who had a chance with Iwa is tossed off a waterfall thanks to Iemon and Naosuke wanting the two women for themselves. Clearly, Iemon and Naosuke are right bastards, ladies and gentlemen.