Raised as an orphan in the Megumi Children’s Home since the death of her mother, Sayuri never expected to be told she had another family, that there had been a mistake at the hospital when she was born. Relocated to the Nanjo household she is introduced to her new parents, Goro Nanjo, a herpetologist with a basement laboratory full of venomous snakes, and Yuko Nanjo, regal but distant following a car accident six months before which has caused her to suffer memory loss.
The young housemaid having died suddenly and her father summoned to Africa to retrieve an elusive snake, Sayuri turns to housekeeper Ms Shige for comfort in her nightmares, claiming a snake crawled into bed, that she saw a figure in her room with a reptilian mouth and fangs, but she is dismissed and belittled, her mother referring to her by another name, Tamami, mistaking her for a sister she didn’t know she had, finding herself a stranger in her own home.
Originally released in December 1968, The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (Hebimusume to Hakuhatsuma, 蛇娘と白髪魔) which now makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Arrow Films, has never before been released on any home video format outside of Japan, a coldly reptilian monochrome descent into deceit and madness as the innocent smile is driven from the gentle and trusting Sayuri (Yachie Matsui).
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa, on a well-deserved break having directed four films featuring cosmic turtle Gamera between 1965 and 1968 with another four still to come, The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch is an altogether different prospect, focused not on epic science fiction shenanigans but principally on a single location, the shadowed levels of the Nanjo domicile in which Sayuri finds herself exiled to the attic, decorated with sinister masks veiled under layers of cobwebs.
The screenplay credited to Kimiyuki Hasegawa based on the Manga by Kazuo Umezu, through surreal nightmare sequences of flying and encounters with both the titular characters and more conventional horrors of snakes and giant spiders the imagery is bold and unrepentant, though with her saviour a moped riding older boy and a burning-down-the-house final act there is much of the American B-movie in the mix, from How to Make a Monster to Corman’s Poe sequence as well as German expressionism.
The new edition containing the original theatrical trailer, an image gallery and a dramatic commentary by film historian David Kalat, the background of The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch is explored in depth by excitable folklore scholar Zack Davisson, a blending of Japanese mythology, Chinese stories and Indian legends merged over the centuries and European fairytales transplanted following World War Two.