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First U.S. screening of 80-year-old Japanese horror film to premiere at IU Cinema


Professor Michael Crandol discusses a Japanese horror film, “The Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen.” “This will be the first time this film will ever be shown anywhere outside of Japan on 35 mm film,” Crandol said.  Alex Deryn

“The Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen” was created during the boom of horror films in Japan, but now it is one of the few that has survived. 

The film will be brought to the U.S. for the first time this year on its 80th anniversary. The IU Cinema will be the first to premiere the film this month. Michael Crandol, a visiting assistant professor of Japanese film and literature, helped bring the film to the United States.

Crandol's research is about the history of Japanese horror films. He said bringing "The Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen" to IU was a passion project for him. 

"My research is about the history of Japanese horror films," Crandol said. "When I was conducting that in Japan, one of the things I learned was that there had been a tremendous amount of horror films that were made in Japan prior to World War II, literally hundreds of them. Because of the war and the bombing of Tokyo, 99 percent of them were gone.”

When Crandol did his research in Japan, he said that there were only around four complete horror films that had survived World War II and around a dozen films that were incomplete. They were kept in archives, but they weren’t being preserved or restored. The process to get the film to the U.S. was complicated, according to Crandol. It took around a year for him to receive a copy of the film from a Japanese archive. 

“I asked the people at the archive, ‘why aren’t these films being digitized or preserved?’ and the response I always got was ‘well we have limited funds for that, and these are stupid old horror movies, nobody cares,’” Crandol said. “So 100 years later they’re still suffering from the stigma that horror movies are cheap and stupid, and they’re not important.”

The film stars Suzuki Sumiko, a famous actress in early Japanese horror. Her character murders her rival in a love triangle and her lover’s pet cat. Her rival becomes a “Bake Neko,” or a ghost cat, and seeks revenge.

“IU Cinema is always looking to program unique opportunities for our audience, and this U.S. premiere screening of Ghost Cat does just that,” Jon Vickers, the Director of the IU Cinema, said in an email.

Once the film is screened in Bloomington, the rare 35mm print will be sent to New York for screenings at Metrograph, a premiere cinema program in NYC, Vickers said.  

“The Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen” will be shown at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 in the IU Cinema.  The film is a part of the East Asian film series at the cinema, called “Demon Cats and Deer Warriors.” The film will be shown on 35 mm film and will have English subtitles.

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