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November 19, 2021

The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch


Hebi musume to hakuhatsuma
Noriaki Yuasa - 1968
Arrow Video BD Region A

In a quote found in IMDb, Noriaki Yuasa relates how he found it traumatic as a twelve year old boy that one of his teachers switched from being nationalistic to an ardent communist. Yuasa's most famous film series, Gamera, was aimed for children with a hero, even if he was a giant flying turtle, that was consistent and trustworthy.

For ten-year old Sayuri, none of the adults that are part of her new family are particularly trustworthy. Some of the story elements probably were never meant to be looked at too closely. Believing herself to be an orphan, Sayuri is reunited with the couple who claim to be her biological parents. That same day, the scientist father is called to Africa to investigate a rare, venomous snake. The mother has suffered from memory loss and initial calls Sayuri by a different name. The housekeeper sets strict limits when Sayuri starts exploring her new home. And who is spying on Sayuri from the hole in the ceiling?

The voyeurism may bring to mind the work of Edogawa Rampo, but there is no weird sex here. There are snakes, giant spiders, a mysterious sister who was snake bitten, disembodied laughter, and unexplained events. The story was adapted from the manga by Kazuo Umezo. Both the manga and the film are in black and white. It does seem unusual that in a genre film that was part of a horror double feature presumably designed primarily for a teen and young adult audience would have a pre-teen girl as the protagonist. This is a horror film from the point of view of a young girl, and for Yuasa, the fantasy elements emphasize the disorientation of a home that turns out to be neither stable nor fully welcoming.

David Kalat, a specialist in Japanese horror films, goes more deeply into how childhood trauma played a part in Yuasa's films. There is the usual coverage of the main cast members as well as some of the production crew. Kalat also places The Snake Girl . . . in the contexts of Japanese folklore as well as genre filmmaking. The most intriguing part of Kalat's commentary track is in questioning how much of what is shown in the film can be taken at face value or may be the exaggerated imaginings of Sayuri. The blu-ray also includes a supplement with manga specialist Zack Davisson that provides some history into Japanese folklore, especially stories of snakes that transform into women, and the origins of manga horror prior to the introduction of comic books in Japan. Writer Rafael Coronelli provides an essay that also discusses the folklore roots of the manga and film. The blu-ray includes a dedication to composer Shunsuke Kikuchi who died this past April. Kikuchi's score for this film features the theremin, helping create the appropriately creepy atmosphere.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 19, 2021 06:26 AM