The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch is a Japanese film from the 1960s, which was directed by Noriaki Yuasa. Noriaki is best known as the main director of seven of the original eight Gamera films. Gamera was essentially a Godzilla rip-off based around this giant turtle creature, produced by Daiei Film to cash in on Toho’s success with Godzilla. Noriaki also conceived of the monster.
This film is based on a manga by Kasuo Umezu. Taking some story ques from mostly Chinese folklore, with a bit of Brothers Grimm in there. In the original manga it’s the stepmother who is the baddie, but in the film it’s the maid instead. Noriaki made the film because he had gotten pretty burned out on Gamera movies.
It’s a weird story about a young girl called Sayuri who has been living in an orphanage when her father magically reappears. He asks to take her back, and she finds out that her mother is kind of crazy, their house is really strange, and there’s another girl living in the attic. Her mother says the other girl is her sister, but the attic-dweller, Tamami, can’t leave the house and Sayuri mustn’t tell her father about her.
Sayuri then starts having these weird dreams that are clearly influenced by the Salvador Dalí sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Tamami becomes increasingly cruel to her possible sister. It’s a pretty wacky film, and doesn’t completely make sense but that’s part of it’s strange charm.
The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch has some cool practical special effects, and the dream sequences are quite good. There are also a few ropy special effects, like one scene where the room starts to fill with spiders that are so obviously fake that it takes you out of the film somewhat. The plot is all over the place: for example, her snake-scientist dad disappears from the story almost right away, and some of the coincidences don’t add up at all. Still, it has a nice atmosphere, and it’s visually quite impressive with nice black and white photography by Gamera alumni Akira Uehara.
It’s genuinely creepy, even though it was clearly sold to kids in Japan and probably did well there. It looks like this Blu-Ray is the first time the film’s been on general release outside Japan. It’s definitely too scary for little kids, but too childish for some adults. There’s also a surprising scene where someone rips a frog in half—that comes out of left field…
There are a few extras: a commentary from film historian David Kalat, a filmed interview with manga and folklore expert Zack Davisson, the original trailer and image gallery. In the first pressing only, there is a booklet with an essay by Raffael Coronelli.