Byaku fujin no yoren (1956)

aka Madame White Snake
Article 4245 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-7-2013
Directed by Shiro Toyoda
Featuring Ryo Ikebe, Shirley Yamaguchi, Kaoru Yachigusa
Country: Hong Kong / Japan
What it is: Chinese fairy tale

A lowly herb clerk is seduced and possessed by snake goddess in human form. A Taoist monk tries to help him see the woman for what she is. Who will prevail?

This co-production between the Shaw Brothers and Toho is actually Toho’s first color special effects movie, so it has a certain historical value. It’s based on Chinese legend, and despite certain horror elements, it’s more of a fantasy/fairy tale than anything else. In purely visual terms, it’s a lovely movie to look at, especially in the opening scenes. However, it’s also somewhat long-winded, and after the failed attempt at the exorcism in the middle of the movie, it starts to run out of gas. Interestingly, the snake goddess is played somewhat for sympathy; she is sincerely in love with the man and is devastated at the thought of losing him. You can see the hand of Eiji Tsuburaya in the movie’s main special-effects sequence, involving a storm summoned by the snake goddess to inundate a temple. All in all, though I can’t say I found the movie truly engaging, I do think it is quite interesting at times.


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