Movie Review

HAKUJA KOMACHI / WHITE SNAKE WOMAN 1958

aka: SHIRO HEBI KOMACHI / WHITE SNAKE WOMAN

This DAIEI film is a stunning period atmospheric ghost (yokai) story. It's initially a story of love denied. While transporting a bride-to-be in a closed carriage (kago) while during a thunderstorm, a group of servants and onlookers suddenly come upon an apparition of a ghostly white-draped female figure floating down to the ground. As she turns to face the crowd, the woman reveals the disfigured right side of her face. As the procession stands in utter horror, the ghost then takes flight again and down a side street. After the shock wears off, the bride is checked on and everyone is safe in the group. Once the wedding party finally arrives at the groom's home, they apologize for the delay... and proceed to open the kago, only to realize that the bride-to-be is now missing... and all that's left in the carriage is a single white snake slithering about.

Cue the title sequence and eerie theremin music score. The future father-in-law then reveals a bit of his past privately to his son, about the fact that he is cursed by a woman named Omiyo (RUMIKO KOMACHI), a servant that worked for his family years ago. Basically, the curse is that he will no longer be able to marry, and either will his sons. The father reveals to his son that he and Omiyo were in love, but he was forbidden by his family to marry her. Then a mysteriously strange accidental(?) fire occurs, and horribly scars the woman's face. Although not made perfectly clear in the film, she commits suicide over being distraught about her disfigured face and her forbidden relationship.

Enter the sensuous carnival snake charmer Okon (IKUKO MOURI) and the plot develops, especially after the estranged brother Genjirou (SHOUJI UMEWAKA) gets involved and begins to suspect foul play. Even though this film is presented in Japanese dialogue only, you will appreciate this vintage horror gem for the cinematography and fantastic eerie atmosphere! HAKAJU KOMACHI has everything you need in a movie including swordfights, murder, deception, mystery, romance, assault and several ghostly apparitions along the way and also... quite a few white snakes, which all combine into a delirious and highly entertaining Z-Grade gem. This is the first movie in the Hebi (Snake) series of films featuring glamour girl IKUKO MOURI. In the course of making this first film, producer SHIN SAKAI came to discover that Ikuko loved the slithery reptiles and quickly she became known as the "snake actress." She plays Okon, a geisha vixen who performs in a carnival act with snakes. In the film, she handles a lot of live snakes and also on hand is some surprisingly near nudity in a few scenes. Ten years later, she was the woman monster with a snake-like neck (a Rokurokubi) in the classic DAIEI gem YOKAI 100 MONOGATARI (100 MONSTERS).