Directed by Noriaki Yuasa and written by Kimiyuki Hasegawa, a young girl named Sayuri is reunited with her estranged family after years in an orphanage, but discovers that her home-life involves an amnesiac mother, her sister is confined to the attic and begins to wonder if this is related to her father’s experiments with poisonous snakes. Starring: Kuniko Miyake, Yuko Hamada, Sachiko Meguro, Yachie Matsui, Yoshiro Kitahara, Sei Hiraizumi and Mayumi Takahashi.
There’s a particular charm to 1960s cinema that simply can’t be recreated today, trying hard but never taking itself too seriously. The technically challenged special effects hit hard on the nostalgia, visible wires, not even slightly realistic rubber snakes and ill-fitting masks. It adds a layer of silly that makes it more enjoyable, even if unintended. The visual style lands somewhere between thriller, sci-fi and horror, most likely influenced by its manga origins. It has a good dose of suspense, but it does move surprisingly slowly which works against the energy that creates.
That’s the one key issue with the story, it leaves all it has to reveal until much too late. It would have kept you hooked in more to drop clues or some classic horror style foreshadowing to nudge things in the right direction. That said, ignoring the pacing issues, the story works well, it may not be entirely unpredictable but there’s some nice turns along the way. Sayuri (Matsui) is a fantastic character, an absolute saint and yet still perfectly likeable, polite but curious and resilient. She may not have a hugely extroverted personality but the story is still brimming with suspicion and an almost Scooby-Doo-esque search for the truth.
It’s a tricky thing to rest your film squarely on the shoulders of two young girls but the casting did a great job. Yachie Matsui and Mayumi Takahashi make a great pair, they’re the complete opposite of one another, the former sweet and generous, the latter selfish and sinister. Not only do they have to establish those personalities, there is a genuine emotional journey for both of them which is much harder to achieve at that age and yet they both do it very convincingly. Sei Hiraizumi was a great addition, he adds a middle ground, a compassionate and reasonable voice among the chaos of snakes and witches.
The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch is a fun, quintessentially 60s adventure. It has its flaws with slow pacing and predictability preventing it from knocking any socks off but doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable. It’s a little silly, very suspicious and highly dramatic as would be expected, so if you’re looking for something to hit all the nostalgia marks, you can’t go wrong with this one.