A little known stunner by Japan’s Masahiro Shinoda, whose visual
brilliance, audacity and fecund imagination are put to excellent use in
this spectacular Kabuki-styled fantasy.
It’s become quite obscure in recent years, but 1979’s
DEMON POND (YASHA-GA-IKE) is certainly one of the most impressive
features directed by Masahiro Shinoda, who’s known for classics like
DOUBLE SUICIDE (1969), SILENCE (1971) and BALLAD OF ORIN (1977). DEMON
POND also marked the acting debut of the popular female impersonator
Tamasaburo Bando, whose unique presence is indispensable to the film’s
In 2005 Takashi Miike remade DEMON POND, and that film
unfortunately remains better known than this one.
Summer 1933: a horrendous drought afflicts Japan.
Yamasawa, a school teacher on summer vacation, arrives in a secluded
village in search of drinking water. Leaving the village, he happens
upon a stream whose water revives him. He questions Yuri, a strangely
beautiful local woman, about the stream, and she informs him that it
springs from the “Demon Pond,” a poisonous body of water at the bottom
of which dwells a fearsome dragon. Yuri is overheard by her husband
Yagiwara, a colleague of Yamasawa who inexplicably disappeared from his
Tokyo home three years earlier.
Following this a most unexpected rain shower hits the
village, during which Yamasawa and Yagiwara are reunited. Yagiwara
explains that he left civilization in order to discover for himself if
the legend of the Demon Lake was true, and ended up settling down with
Yuri in the village.
We next meet two of the inhabitants of the Demon Pond,
a mud creature and a crab, who discuss how they’re kept in check by an
ancestral promise decreeing that a massive bell that must be rung three
times each day by Yuri. If she fails to do so the pond will become a
torrent that will completely submerge the village. A third inhabitant,
Catfish, appears, and the other two take him to their ice-bound lair
under the pond, where other humanoid animals reside. Among them is the
unearthly Princess Shirayuki, the personification of the dragon haunting
the area, who’s extremely anxious to break the spell confining her and
her fellow creatures to the Demon Pond.
The villagers, meanwhile, decide to sacrifice Yuri to
the pond’s denizens in order to bring rain. Yagiwara attempts to save
her, and in the melee the scheduled bell-ringing fails to occur…
In this film Masahiro Shinoda offers up a wildly
eclectic and at times unwieldy collision of styles, ranging from
hard-edged (if highly stagy) realism to hallucinatory fantasy to
Hollywood-worthy spectacle. This is in keeping with the narrative, which
encompasses horror, fantasy, screwball comedy and romance.
The proceedings are marked by patently stage-bound
sets, dominated more often than not by vast blood-red skies that will be
familiar to viewers of the Japanese horror classic KWAIDAN. That film
was inspired by Japanese mythology, and here too a vivid atmosphere of
legend and folklore dominates, imparted in no small part by the
deliberate artificiality of the scenery, and also the
The sight of patently human “animals” will be
disconcerting to Western viewers, but is fully in keeping with the type
of Kabuki drama referenced here--and actually makes for some extremely
compelling imagery once one adjusts. That doesn’t apply, however, to the
climactic special effects orgy, which is impressive by most any
The proceedings may be a bit on the talky side, given
the highly voluminous exposition that has to be laid out, but the
Technicolor visuals are sumptuous enough to hold one’s attention.
Another standout element is Tamasaburo Bando’s dual performance as the
virtuous bell-ringer Yuri and the dragon-woman Shirayuki. This “woman”
may actually be male, but in both guises “she” has an appropriately
unearthly air and look, appearing to have emerged intact from a classic
The one discordant element, I’m sorry to report, is the
Moog synthesizer score by Isao Tomita, which is a constant distraction,
and dates the film appreciably.
DEMON POND (YASHA-GA-IKE)
Director: Masahiro Shinoda
Producer: Seikichi Iizumi
Screenplay: Haruhiko Mimura, Tsutomu Tamura
(Based on a play by Izumi Kyoka)
Cinematography: Masao Kosugi
Editing: Zen Ikeda, Sachiko Yamachi
Cast: Tamasaburo Bando, Go Kato, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Koji Nanbara, Yatsuko
Tan’ami, Hisashi Igawa, Norihei Miki, Juro Kara, Ryunosuke Kaneda, Fujio
Tokita, Jun Hamamura, Megumi Ishii