Saturday, June 2, 2012

Kaidan chibusa enoki (1958)

... aka: Ghost of Chibusa Enoki
... aka: Ghost Story of Chibusa Enoki
... aka: Ghost Story of Breast-Nettle-Tree
... aka: Mother Tree, The

Directed by:
"Goro Katono" (Gorô Kadono)

Shigenobu (Asao Matsumoto), a very busy and popular painter whose work is so good that many feel it brings them good luck to hang in their homes or businesses, must leave Edo for several weeks to paint a dragon mural at a temple. He's just taken Namihei (Akira Nakamura), a former samurai (uh oh!) who lost his position because of his interest in art, under his wing as a pupil and apprentice. Because Namihei seems kind and trustworthy, Shigenobu decides to leave his beautiful young wife Kise (Katsuko Wakasugi) and his newborn baby Mayotaro in his pupil's care, which turns out to be a huge mistake. Driven by his desire for Kise, Namihei threatens to kill her and the baby if she doesn't "submit" to him. Feeling she has no other choice, Kise complies with his wishes, but that's not nearly enough for Namihei, who promptly kills, kills and kills some more to get his way. He strangles the maid Hana (Machiko Mizuhara) when she discovers what's going on and then bullies elderly servant Shosuke (Hiroshi Hayashi) into helping him with future schemes.

When Shigenobu returns from his assignment, Namihei lures him into the woods, kills him and then throws the body into a lake. Immediately, a fireball emerges and begins to follow him wherever he goes and he has visions of ghostly Shigenobu threatening him. Under the circumstances, Kise refuses to marry Namihei, which only pisses him off further, and for some strange reason she's unable to produce breast milk because of her husband's death, so she follows one of the fireballs to a magical "Mother Tree," which produces milk for it instead. The ghosts of Shigenobu and the maid continue to appear and after Namihei tries to get Shosuke to throw the baby into the lake, the vengeful spirits finally give Namihei what he has coming to him. It all leads to a tragic ending.

Based on the story Kaidan chibusa-no-enoki by Enchô San'yûtei (adapted by Torao Tanabe), this is one of the weakest kaidan I've seen thus far. It's corny and predictable, the editing and continuity are frequently off, many shots are overlit and the performances are either forgettable or annoyingly melodramatic. One of my biggest gripes though is with the characters. Not only are they underdeveloped, but nearly everyone is weak and annoyingly comply with whatever the bully - who holds no sway or real power in the village - says. During the floating fireball sequences, you can frequently see the strings holding them up in unintentionally hilarious scenes of the heavy swinging his sword around in a fury like some kid with a stick trying to bust open a pinata. The film begins on a lovely note though, with fireworks, paper lamps floating in the river and such. Too bad it's all downhill from there.

Just off the top of my head, UGETSU (1953), THE GHOST OF KASANE SWAMP (1957), KWAIDAN (1964), ILLUSION OF BLOOD (1965) and BAKENEKO: A VENGEFUL SPIRIT (1967) are better examples of this particular subgenre. Director Kanodo also made the kaidan SEVEN MYSTERIES (1957) and GHOST OF THE GIRL DIVER (1960). They go on the back burner for now.

It has never been released in America.


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