“Snake Woman’s Curse” follows the plight of a Japanese family that is indebted to a feudal land owner and forced to work for him as slaves. After the father of the family dies, the land owner tears down the wife and daughter’s house, and forces them to work for him weaving clothing for the next ten years to pay off their debt. The mother is killed by the landowner while trying to rescue a snake from being killed and then the daughter kills herself after being raped repeatedly by the landowner’s son.
Although there are ghosts throughout this entire movie the real “horror” of this film is not found in it’s supernatural elements, but by experiencing the hopelessness of the wife and daughter who are made to work as slaves for a greedy landowner. They are forced to work in a sweat-shop sixteen hours every single day, and are constantly harassed to work harder by men who are coincidentally never seen lifting a finger.
As the protagonists of the film began to die, their ghosts began to appear and haunt the landowner’s family. This won’t be anything especially foreign to Western audiences, but that where the similarities between this and a Western horror film would end. We’re used to seeing people punished for their evil deeds, however the cultural and Buddhist roots of this film take the story in a much different direction. After the daughter is raped a second time by the landowner’s son, her fiancé finds out, and instead of protecting her he completely berates her for not fighting back harder. Following this, the daughter is encouraged by her dead mother to kill herself and she is told her suffering is so great that she would be much better off dead. After she slits her own throat a vengeful spirit takes revenge on the landowner and his family, to reward the mother who had been so kind to small animals like birds and snakes while she was still alive.
I would consider "Snake Woman's Curse" a second-tier film compared to many of the other Japanese classics that are easily available to American audiences. While the movie is interesting because of it’s strong Buddhist influences, and foreign cultural perspective, it ends up being much darker than it was originally intended.