Now showing is Northwest Film Forum’s Shintoho Schlock Series through August 9th. Produced by Japan’s Shintoho Studios, these eight films were once considered campy, cheap and corny. But today, they stand as glimpses into a rapidly modernizing, post-war Japan that adopted Western customs like smoking cigarettes and making vampire movies.
The eerie organ music that opens “Ghost Cat of Otama Pond” is a big clue that something scary is about to happen. Sure enough, a well-dressed couple emerges from the woods, walking in circles around a pond. Lost and distressed, they snipe at each other. Although they start out purposeful, they become hopelessly trapped by the pond and the black cat stalking them. Sagawa — in his pressed Western suit and crisp pocket square — intends to ask Keiko’s father for permission to marry his daughter. And Keiko — in her pink dress and white gloves — wants to accept. That is, until they begin arguing about finding their way home, and Keiko faints from fever.
Soon, she’s prone in an old house while a Shinto priest conducts an exorcism on her. Explaining the curse of the cat and pond, he informs Sagawa that their ancestors were opposing samurai in a conflict over two young lovers forbidden to be together. As a result, he and Keiko must work out their differences. As the priest tells the story, viewers are taken back in time to watch the warring families and events unfold.
Despite its inclusion in this series, “Ghost Cat” is actually a riveting, well thought-out story directed by Ishikawa Yoshihiro in 1960. With elements of Kabuki styling, its only real schlock is the bubbling, blood-red pond.
Not so for “Yellow Line.” In fact, some of this 1960s film’s schlock is rather shocking, especially when certain characters appear in blackface. And, even though a train scene factors heavily at the beginning, “Yellow Line” is not the name of the railway route. Instead, the title refers to the Asian (yellow) prostitutes sold to foreign men.
The opening features Spanish guitar music, while a hit man (Amachi Shigeru) kills an official in his hotel room. But when he tries to collect his money from the client, he realizes he’s been set up. Kidnapping a dancer in red high heels (Emi, played by Mihara Yoko), he uses her as a shield to board a train to Kobe.
Meanwhile, Emi’s journalist boyfriend Mayama (Yoshida Teruo) discovers she’s missing and pleads for an out-of-town assignment so he can look for her on the side. The clever Emi drops a lot of clues along the way, but most of them are found by anyone except her boyfriend.
Directed by Ishii Teruo, this action flick captivates with its lead actors, although others overact so much that their characters become caricatures. One such role is that of a suck-up hotel proprietor who begs for a “chip-u” or a tip. Located in a red-light district known as The Casbah, the hotel is a front for a brothel, where a white actress in blackface plays a prostitute called The Moor. Speaking terrible Japanese, she asks Mayama when he turns up, “Are you a reporter?”
Her question is laughable, as he never once removes his trench coat — a garment most reporters wore back then. Teeming with Chinese, East Indian and Japanese characters in blackface dancing to the beat of African drums, The Casbah is nothing if not disturbing. With foreigners running rampant in its streets, it’s a marketplace for trading drugs, women and black market cigarettes.
“Vampire Bride,” on the other hand, is pure schlock — that is, whenever protagonist Fujiko (Junko Ikeuchi) turns into a cross between a vampire and werewolf.
As a dance student, Fujiko incurs the envy of her classmates after winning a competition. When they all go on a picnic together, the jealous women decide to do her in, but only manage to scar her formerly flawless face. Angry and bitter, Fujiko seeks the assistance of a mountain shaman and her mute son. Unfortunately, the shaman’s heavy hand results in horrifying consequences. Whenever Fujiko is upset, she grows thick clumps of hair on her arms, becomes really tall and has her face change into a man’s before biting victims on their necks.
Directed by Namiki Kyotaro, this 1960 film illuminates Ikeuchi’s performance as a believable Fujiko, but not as a believable monster.
Northwest Film Forum’s Shintoho Schlock Series in Seattle includes several double features, with showings from Friday, August 2nd through Friday, August 9th. More about showtimes and tickets at www.nwfilmforum.org/live/page/cinemas.