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Film / The Ghost of Yotsuya

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The Ghost of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan, "Ghost Story of Yotsuya in Tokaido") is a 1959 horror film from Japan directed by Nobuo Nakagawa.

It is based on the 1825 kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan, which became hugely famous in Japan and is probably the Trope Maker for Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl. The film is set at the time of the play. Iemon Tamiya, a ronin samurai, approaches Samo Yotsuya for the hand of Samo's daughter, Oiwa. Samo has accurately sized up Iemon as a "libertine" and basically a dirtbag, and so he scornfully refuses. But when Samo calls Iemon a fool, Iemon freaks out and kills him, and his traveling companion.

He does not, hoewever, kill Samo's servant Naosuke. It turns out that Naosuke isn't all that broken up by the death of his master, himself wanting Samo's other daughter, Osode. They hit upon a scheme. Samo's traveling companion was the father of a nice young man named Yomoshichi, himself a samurai, and Osode's fiance. Iemon and Naosuke accuse a bandit named Usaburo of the murders and set off after him along with Yomoshichi. However, once they are safely away from the sisters they murder Yomoshichi and pin that crime on Usaburo as well. Iemon and Naosuke each claim a sister for their own and go their separate ways.

Cut forward a couple of years. Both couples are living in poverty. Iemon has fathered a child with Oiwa but has grown tired of her. Oiwa remains the dutiful wife, but she's well past the Despair Event Horizon. When Iemon more or less accidentally prevents the kidnapping of a lovely young noblewoman named Ume, he becomes a favorite of Ume's noble father, Ito. Iemon and his once-again partner in crime Naosuke see a way out of their dead-end lives—but there remains the inconvenient presence of Iemon's wife.


  • Accidental Murder: Iemon sees Ghost Oiwa on the bed mat looking all gross. He stabs her with his sword, only to find that he has really killed his new wife Ume. Then he sees Ghost Takuetsu approaching and runs him through with his sword, only to find that he has really killed his father-in-law Ito.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Before finishing off Takuetsu, Iemon slices his whole arm off with one slash of the sword.
  • As You Know: Iemon introduces himself to the audience by kneeling in front of Samo and saying "I, Iemon Tamiya, come to you to ask again for the hand of your daughter Iwa in marriage," thus identifying three characters in one sentence.
  • Body Horror: The poison that Iemon gives Oiwa doesn't just kill her, oh no. First it more or less melts half her face off, her skin erupting into a ghastly sheet of boils, her hair falling out in chunks.
  • Broken Bird: Oiwa, left broken and despairing in a miserable marriage to Iemon, but still doing stuff like fanning him as they lay down to sleep at night.
  • Catapult Nightmare: How Yomoshichi is revealed to be alive, as he has a nightmare of Oiwa's ghost.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The first scene, minus the introductory kabuki bit, runs four minutes without a cut. Samo and his companion stroll down a path as the camera tracks them. The camera zips behind a tree as Iemon jumps out from concealment and pleads his case with Samo. Then, when an enraged Iemon attacks Samo and his companion, the camera goes back the way it came, following Iemon as he chases them down.
  • In the Back: Naosuke's favorite maneuver. This is how he stabs Yomoshichi before flinging him off a cliff, and how he murders Usaburo the bandit when pretending to get revenge for Samo.
  • Jidaigeki: Namely, the early 19th century period, several decades before the shogunate was ended and imperial government was restored. Sword-wielding samurai abound.
  • Jump Scare: Averted. The ghosts' arrivals are heralded with ominous drumbeats and visual cues before their appearance, rather than a simultaneous sudden appearance and Scare Chord.
  • Murder Into Malevolence: Oiwa in life was a cringing Broken Bird. Oiwa in death is a very angry ghost bent on Iemon's destruction. The ghost of Takuetsu is there to help out.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Ends with Yomoshichi and Osada, led to Iemon's monastery hideout by Oiwa's ghost, killing him. Yomoshichi says he's there for his father and Osada says she's there for her father and sister. Oiwa helps out during the fight as well; at one point her dead hand rises out of the earth and grabs Iemon's foot just as it seems that Iemon is about to whack off Osada's head.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Yomoshichi when Osade finally finds him again. Getting stabbed In the Back and thrown off a cliff didn't kill him; he was discovered by an old woman and nursed back to health.
  • Snakes Are Sinister: They sure are when they keep appearing in large numbers to the murderers.
  • Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: Although the trope is said to date back to an 18th-century painting, the original kabuki play is probably the real Trope Maker. Dead Oiwa certainly fits all the tropes, soaked in water (Iemon threw the bodies into a river), clad in white with wet stringy hair, and a horrifically disfigured face just for giggles. Different from many other instances of this trope, however, in that Oiwa is focused solely on the man who killed her (though she does trick him into killing innocent people if it will hurt him to do so), rather than lashing out against random people like, say, the ghost in Ringu.
  • Taking You with Me: Non-vengeful version; after discovering that Iemon has poisoned her, the dying Oiwa declares that leaving her son in the hands of such a monster would be unforgivable, so ensures that he dies with her and moves on to a peaceful afterlife. It is implied by the fact that the son's ghost does not haunt Iemon, and is only seen in the final shot in the arms of his mother after she has achieved vengeance, that she succeeded in giving her son peace.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Iemon is a bad guy all on his own, murdering two people in a fit of rage, emotionally abusing his Broken Bird wife, lusting for another woman. But Naosuke is the one who tends to urge him on to his worst deeds, like plotting the murder of Yomoshichi and poisoning his own wife.
  • Villain Protagonist: The story follows Iemon, a murdering samurai who poisons his wife when she becomes inconvenient. While his partner in crime Naosuke comes across as The Sociopath, Iemon does seem to have a guilty conscience, as seen when he begs his wife's ghost for forgiveness at the end.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: An angry confrontation between Iemon and Naosuke ends with Naosuke, who has grown tired of both Iemon's moping and Iemon's hostile attitude, daring Iemon to strike him down. Naosuke mocks Iemon for being a badass samurai but not actually having the guts to kill him. Then Iemon strikes him down and kills him.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Once Oiwa is dead and he no longer needs her to be seduced/raped to give him a pretext for divorce, he Iemon kills Takuetsu with a sarcastic quip about punishing him for the "adultery" (which he had paid Takuetsu to commit).