A Few Bakaneko mono
ghost cat movies
An early film by Kenji Misumi was The Cursed Wall (Kaibyo noroi no kabe, Daiei, 1958), its original poster shown here on the right, it's re-release poster from two years later shown on the left. Cursed wall is a rather workmanlike handling of the ghost-cat theme, but nevertheless exciting.
It features a young Shintaro Katsu in pre-Zatoichi days as Takeuchi Kyonosuke, brother of the cruelly slain young Shino (Mieko Kondo), a lady-in-waiting who due to machinations of rival ladies at court is wrongly accused of an illicit affair with Lord Maida's retainer Tadokoro Tenzen (Shosaku Sugiyama).
Shino is slain & sealed inside the wall of a mausoleum, along with a black cat the image of which soon after begins to appear in the plaster & cannot be expunged by any method.
Weird occurrances begin to trouble the castle while court intrigues proceed, & Shino's brother arrives to uncover the truth & help lay his poor sister's soul to rest.
The story is overly complicated with all the court intrigue, hence a bit hard to follow, & no classic. But The Cursed Wall never lacks for spooks & action, & the swordfight choreography is praiseworthy.
This story was first filmed in the silent era (1918) & the first talkie was Kazuo Mori's Kaibyo akakabe daimyojin (Ghost Cat & the Red Wall, 1938). See also the review of Kaibyo nori numa (Bakeneko: A Vengeful Spirit, 1968) for a varient of the tale of the wall-ghost cat.
Bin Kato's Ghost Cat of the Okazaki Upheaval aka Terrible Ghost Cat of Okazaki (Kaibyo okazaki sodo, 1954) is the most accessible film about the Okazaki cat. The tale regards a woman's cat-witchcraft at the temple of Okazaki along the Tokaido Road.
In this 47-minute film, the ghost-cat haunts a spooky mansion seeking, as usual, revenge for a wrongful death. The jewel case for its digitally remastered dvd release is shown near this paragraph.
The Okazaki cat legend is based on an 1827 kabuki play & on an episode of Jippensha Ikku's serial novel Tokaidochu hiza kurige available in English from Tuttle Books as Shank's Mare).
The legend is a comic interlude, so not as horrific as, say, the Arima ghost-cat legend, or the Saga Upheaval ghost-cat legend, or the Kasane Swamp ghost-cat legend, each of which inspired scarier films.
The Okazaki cat found her way into films early in the silent era, in 1912, 1914, & 1916. The 1914 version was directed by the "father of Japanese cinema" Shozo Makino.
Its was also filmed as Yaji Kita Okazaki neko taiji (Yaji & Kita's Cat Trouble, Daito, 1937) directed by Misao Yoshimura. The titles alluding to the baffoonish heros of the serial novel Shank's Mare. Fourteen minutes of this latter film have survived.
Ghost Cat of the Okazaki Upheaval was a starring vehicle for Takako Irie who became a major box office draw specifically as a "bakaneko actress" or monster-cat star.
She can also be glimpsed in the Akira Kurosawa films Sanjuro of the Camellias (Tsubaki Sanjuro, Toho, 1962) as Motsuda's wife & The One Most Beautiful (Ichiban utsukushiku, 1944) as Tokuku. She has the central starring role in Kenji Mizuguchi's The Water Magician (Takino Shiraito, 1933).
But in the 1950s her fame was considerable for her ghost cat films, the others as follows:
1) Ryohei Arai's Kaibyo arima goten (Ghost Cat of Arima, Shochiku, 1953) is a 49 minute film available on digitally remastered dvd, co-starring Michiko Ai, Kotaro Bando, Yoshitaro Sadato, Shosaku Sugiyama along with Ms. Irie.
A contemporary poster for this film is shown near this paragraph, above left, plus a still here at the right showing a vampiric pose. In 1983 it was remade for television, directed by Doi Shigeru.
2) Ryohei Arai's masterful Kaidan saga yashi (Ghost of Saga Mansion, Daiei, 1953), also available on dvd, & one of several films about the cat of Saga prefecture, which are discussed in a separate article.
3) Bin Kato's Kaibyo oumagatsuji (Cat Ghost of Ouma Cross, Daiei, 1954). An onna-kabuki actress is murdered by poison. Her pet cat laps its mistress's blood & becomes the demonic cat possessed of the vengeful murder victim.
It co-stars Shintaro Katsu & Chieko Murata. This bakeneko-mono is available as a digatally remastered dvd, the jewel case for which is shown with this paragraph.
4) Katsukiko Tazaka's Kaibyo yonaki numa (Ghost Cat of Yonaki Swamp, Daiei, 1957), literally "Ghost Cat of the Marsh of Night Cries," is available as a digitally remastered dvd.
It's a full-length feature co-starring Shintaro Katsu & Tokiko Mita. This one was to be Ms. Irie's last bakeneko film. A still showing an actor with noh mask is reproduced near this paragraph.
Besides 1953's Ghost Cat of Arima noted above as available on video, an earlier version is also on dvd, namely Arima neko aka Kaiden arima neko (Ghost Cat of Arima, Shinko, 1937), directed by Mokudo Shigeru (aka Kito Shigeru). A 1937 poster for it is shown with this paragraph.
This version of Ghost Cat of Arima starred "Japan's first queen of horror," Sumiko Suzuki. She was once a greatly beloved bakeneko actress & appeared in numerous ghost-cat films, most of which are not available for viewing, consisting of the following:
1) Mokudo Shigeru's Saga kaibyo-den (Legend of the Saga Cat Monster, Shochiku, 1931), Ms. Suzuki's first role in a bakeneko-mono. This one regards the often filmed tale of the cat-ghost of the "Nabeshima Upheaval" & based on a famous kabuki play. Ms. Suzuki's co-star is a very young Ryutaro Otomo who was still a pretty big chambara star in the 1950s.
2) Shichinosuke Oshimoto's Kaibyo gojusan-tsugi (Cat-ghost of the Fifty-three Stations, Shinkoku, 1938) with Hideo Otani co-starring. It was remade for Daiei Studios, 1956, by Bin Kato, & featuring Tokiko Mita in the ghost-cat role opposite a young Shinataro Katsu.
A contemporary poster for the latter version is shown near this paragraph, followed by art from the jewel case for the digitally remastered dvd.
"Gojusan-tsugi" alludes to the fifty-three rest-stations along the Tokaido Road connecting Kyoto & Edo, used almost exclusively by foot-travellers, & the setting of innumerable period adventure novels & films.
3) Kazuo Mori's Kaibyo akakabe daimyojin (Ghost Cat & the Red Wall, Shochiku, 1938; remade as Kaibyo noroi no kabe by Kenji Misumi in 1958, this latter discussed above.
4) Hujiwara Tadasi's Yamabuki neko (Shinko, 1940) which I gather means "Cat of the Yellow Rose," a yamabuki being a riverside shrub called kerria in the west.
5) Kiyohiko Ushihara's Kaibyo nazo no shamisen (Ghost Cat's Mysterious Shamisen, Shin Toho, 1938). This seems to be one of only two of Suzuki's ghost-cat films available as import dvds (although 1950s remakes of some of the films are available as a set).
The lovely spooky still-photo at the very top of the page is for this 1938 short film, in which Suzuki plays the onna-kabuki actress Bando Mitsue, who kills young Okiyo & her pet cat over an illicit romance. Okiyo's younger sister Onui is able to avenge her sister with help of the black cat's curse.
6) Suzuki came out of retirement for one last go at the role in Kinnosuke Fukuda's Kaibyo karakuri tenjo (Ghost Cat of the Karakuri Tenjo, 1958) which appears to mean "Ghost Cat of the Marionette Ceiling" though alas I've no idea of the story.
Yashihiro Ishikawa's Ghost Cat of Otama Pond (Kaibyo otama ga ike, Shin Toho, 1960) stars Shozaburo Date, Noriko Kitazawa, Namiji Matsuura, Hiroshi Sugi, Fujue Satsuki, Torahiko Nakamura, Youichi Numata.
Based on the horror novel Watashi wa Norowareteiru by Soto Tachibana, it's a fairly standard tale of a haunted swamp & a cat transforming into a frighteningly empowered woman who haunts a woodland hut, desirous of avenging a murder that occurred in an earlier generation. An illustration from the remastered dvd issue is shown near this paragraph.
As must by now be evident, there were sufficient numbers of plays & tales of this sort that they had their own genre category of Neko sodo mono or "Cat Trouble Tales" transformed into a cinematic & television genre called Bakeneko mono or Monster-cat Tales.
The most famous example in the west is Kaneto Shindo's Kuroneko discussed in a separate article. See additionally the companion articles Ghost Cats & Blind Masseurs & on sundry versions of The Yotsuya Ghost Story.
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