The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch BluRay review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Orphan girl Sayuri (Yachie Matsui) gets reunited with her family. She's happy to be with a new father, Goro Nanjo (Yoshiro Kitahara), a professor and biologist, and a mother, Yuko Nanjo (Yuko Hamada), who suffers from amnesia after a fairly recent car accident. The housekeeper Shige (Sachiko Meguro) will take care of her, after the last one mysteriously died from a heart attack. What Sayuri soon finds out is that her dad's research on venomous critters means there's a room with snakes in the house, which is off limits to her.
What is starting to bother her however are weird dreams she is having and her finding out that the creepy girl in the walls is not a bout of imagination or from her nightmbares, but apparently her sister Tamami (Mayumi Takahashi), even weirder since she can only come out when his father isn't home. Tamami however has something odd about her, and Sayuri starts suspecting that she is a snake, but nobody will believe her. When a silver haired witch appears in her dreams as well, things start getting really scary and she turns toh er friend Tatsuya (Sei Hiraizumi) from the nun orphanage for help....
This is by far the weirdest of my short adventure into this year's #Japanuary. The most important question up front: is this a children's movie? Uhm, not quite. It might just be too dark and twisted for children's eyes, but there's something about this movie that begs the question. It is about perspective. The film is mostly told from the little girl's perspective, and as with a good novel, this unreliable narrative perspective makes this movie rather puzzling. Children after all, may be afraid of snakes, of being alone in the dark, they have overly vidid imagination, they tend to experience that adults are likely not to believe them, and they have to confront their inner fears in all sorts of situations as is the substance of growing up. No there are no monsters under the bed, but until you muster the courage to look, there might be. And so on. So these themes in this movie may be all too familiar to the (young) viewer.
Basically then, it is a children's ghost story, with plenty of rubber snakes and spiders, some caleidoscope dream sequences, a mean spirited stepsister and the parents not fulfilling their adult obligations, leaving the little girl alone to her wits and bravery. But as the audience then we wonder, ss she imagining things, or is she correct in her suspicions? But what she sees is not what's really happening, with the "snake girl" thinking she is a snake and behaving as such. There's a second layer to this that makkes it very interesting. After all also, children are very impressionable and can also be longing for recogniation or be compensating for traumatic experiences. For quite some time in this film, we're not sure what is gong on.
The pinnacle of this puzzle is the silver haired witch. Who may not be who we think she is. Director Noriaki Yuasa, who also made a bunch of highly successful Gamera movies (from 1965's Gamera: The Giant Monster way into off an on, e.g. Gamera: SuperMonster in 1980, thanks to their success he could make this one), used his fame and knack for special effects to create this rather unique but also loose adaptation of a well known snake woman manga (an art form by the way of which I know next to nothing about). At 82 minutes it may feel like it drags, but it plays out perfectly, culminating in quite a wild climax that - if you had any doubts until then - surely is not for children's eyes. To put it in different words: a remake of this may be a blend of Guillermo del Toro and Alex de la Iglesia.
The disc offers nice looking black and white images with solid contrasts and blacks and lots of detail. The material seems to suffer from some minor wear and scratching, as well as occasional flicker, which shows sometimes but overall that is a marvellous presentation. The audio sounds totally fine, and the English subtitles read well and are optional.
The extras are pretty cool. The slightly spoilerific commentary (so watch the film first) by David Kalat. He is a film historian and author ("A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series" and "J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond") who loves the movie and dives deep into its making and context as well as its story. It is highly entertaining, analytical, knowledgeable and well presented. It's captivating and you might catch yourself listening to the whole thing even if you weren't blown away by the film itself (yes I am talking about myself). "This Charming Woman" with Zack Davisson is a featurette discussing the film and its roots in Kazuo Umezu's manga. At 27 minutes, it is very enlightening not just specifically related to this film but also popular Japanese mythology and culture. Highly recommended, also beyond this movie, Davisson is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. To round things off there is the trailer and an image gallery.
A highly interesting film presented on a top notch disc (both regions). Sold with a reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork by Mike Lee-Graham. If you manage to get a hold of any of the first pressings, it will hold an illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing by Raffael Coronelli.