Snake Woman’s Curse (1968)

Director: Nobuo Nakagawa

I don’t know an awful lot about Nakagawa, and this is only the second of his films that I’ve seen, but if this and Jigoku are indicative he may have had a thing for killing off his characters that George R.R. Martin would recognise. In this film, that includes killing off the ones we’re supposed to sympathise with (there’s one whose death seemed a bit ambiguous at first, but given that he vanishes from the film until the very end the ambiguity faded). I’ve seen one other review that compares the plot to a Lars von Troll film, which seems not far off the mark… basically, the setting is early Meiji-era Japan, the point where the country is starting to modernise but there are pockets still run as ever by feudal landlords; the film takes place in an area ruled by the Onuma family, one of the worst of the lot. When one of Onuma’s tenant farmers dies, leaving behind an awful debt, he takes the dead man’s wife and daughter and basically makes slaves of them on his own property, where they have to contend with the heinousness not only of the working conditions but Onuma’s ghastly wife and son (Takeo’s hat is one of the few signs of western influence in the film). Factor in a couple of accidental deaths, one suicide, and some madness, and yeah, not too far removed from little Lars… just with a few more ghosts than he usually provides. Unfortunately, even at just 85 minutes, Snake Woman’s Curse struck me as kind of thin and dry; as the DVD booklet essay observes, Nakagawa’s ghosts are kind of passive and take no direct action themselves, and so could be viewed as externalisations of the character’s bad consciences as much as actual supernatural manifestations (although the film does, I think, still come down pretty clearly on the latter side). I don’t know, something about it just didn’t click with me, a bit of a flatness to the storytelling and characters (none of whom are actually especially interesting, and the daughter’s love interest, one of the good guys, comes across at a kind of crucial juncture almost as badly as the rapist thug Takeo) that stopped me engaging more with it.

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