One of Japan’s most famous ghost stories is that of the Snow Witch, a ghostly woman of pale skin who lives in the hardest snow terrains. While she was alive, she was badly treated by her husband, so she lives as a walking curse. She falls in love with men and proves to see if they are good: if you are good, you live. But if you do anything to wrong her or break her heart, the Snow Witch makes you freeze to death. It’s a story so famous that it even appears in children’s entertainment, like Yu-Gi-Oh! It’s most famous incarnation is in the 60’s Japanese anthology film, Kwaidan, as it’s second story.
It’s curious, however, that after Daiei produced Kwaidan, they decided to give this story the full-length treatment, and they make a masterful job of it. It was directed by one of the studio’s greatest, Tokuzo Tanaka, who made many of the Zatoichi films from that era. He gives the production design and the special effects a lot of care, giving the film a lot of terror and atmosphere. It looks both real and artificial, but not artificial in a way that it detracts from the movie. It reminds you of the Universal horror films, in that it’s not about being realistic, it’s about taking you to another world, a different world. The Snow Witch is played by the beautiful Shiho Fujimura, who also appeared in several Zatoichi films but is probably most famous for the film “Wrath of Daimajin” (reviewed in this blog).
This movie is rare as hell, and I was able to find it without subtitles. But don’t be afraid, the lack of subtitles do not rob it of it’s power to scare or leave a mark. It’s one of the greatest horror films to come out of Japan, and it’s only a matter of time before it gets it’s due.