GENRE: Period Piece Ghost Thriller
STATUS: Obake Neko was completed in 2023, for which the movie was screened at an invitation only premiere. Other screenings may be planned for 2024, including possible select local film festivals, before distribution to online platforms is expected to be pursued. Obake Neko was also selected for and screened at the 2023 Tokyo Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, the 2023 Toronto Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, the 2023 New York Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, the 2023 Los Angeles Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, the 2023 Paris Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, the Amsterdam Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, the 2023 Melbourne Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, the 2023 Sydney Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, and the 2023 London Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival.
COMPANY NOTES: Yellow Brick Studio has joined with filmmaker Denny Hironaga to aid in the distribution of his movie, Obake Neko, which is a production of his company, Hiro Films. Obake Neko is a screenplay written by noted Hawaii writer, Edward Sakamoto.
LOGLINE: Obake Neko (“Ghost Cat” in Japanese) is a tale of murder and revenge set in 1925 Hawai’i, where a Japanese woman, who befriends a black cat, is brutally beaten to death by her husband; and after the cat drinks the blood of the woman, it transforms into a ghostly hybrid human cat that haunts and torments the killer and his mistress.
IMDb: Obake Neko
The Official Trailer For Obake Neko As Edited By Denny Hironaga
“Obake” are a class of yōkai, or supernatural entities and spirits, in Japanese folklore (see yokai artwork to the right). Literally, the term means a thing that changes, referring to a state of transformation or shapeshifting. The word is often translated as a “ghost,” but primarily it refers to a living thing or supernatural being who has taken on a temporary transformation, and these entities are distinct from the spirits of the dead. “Obake Movies” were very popular in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s in Hawaii, when these movies, made in Japan and shipped to the islands, would make consistent appearances in a variety of local theaters that knew Japanese ghost movies would be popular with the nisei (second generation) and sansei (third generation) Japanese Americans. But their popularity actually stemmed from the stories that were passed down to them originally from the issei (first generation) Japanese immigrants, who told their haunting stories in the camps they lived in while on the sugar plantations. Of the many Obake stories that were passed around, one of the most prevalent involved the “Obake Neko.” “Neko,” in Japanese, means cat. So the combination of both words translates to “Ghost Cat,” and refers to a shapeshifting non-human entity that comes back from the dead to haunt the living. Two particular “Obake Neko” stories would be passed around the old sugar plantation camps back in the early 20th century. One involved an envious person who cuts off the head of a cat and throws it under the house of another person they wish to put a curse on. The spirit of the dead cat then rises up through the floors of the house and causes a woman to die, and then assumes the body of the woman and rise from the dead to become the “Ghost Cat.” The second story involved a man who kills his wife in the view of a cat. When the cats licks the blood of the dead woman, it assumes the spirit of the woman, which then brings her back as the “Ghost Cat” who seeks revenge against the man. It is this second version that ultimately would inspire Hawaii playwright Edward Sakamoto, who would go on to write the play, “Obake,” and then the screenplay, “Obake Neko.”
Considered by many to be Hawaiʻi’s most popular, most prolific and most beloved playwright, Edward “Ed” Sakamoto (1940-2015) was born in Hawaiʻi, graduating from ʻIolani School, and earning his B.A. in English from the Unversity of Hawaii at Manoa in 1962. He later moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for many decades as a journalist, at the same time honing his writing craft to become a prolific playwright. Sakamoto’s most popular plays included “Aloha Las Vegas,” about a widower contemplating a move off island, and “Our Hearts Were Touched With Fire,” a play about the all Nisei 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. His “Hawai’i No Ka Oi” trilogy (“The Taste Of Kona Coffee,” “Manoa Valley,”) follows a Japanese American family in Hawaiʻi for over a sixty-year period. Sakamoto’s plays were frequently produced in Hawaiʻi at Kumu Kahua Theatre and at UH Mānoa’s Kennedy Theatre. His plays were also produced at prestigious regional theatres such as the East West Players in Los Angeles, and the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York. Of the many plays he penned, one was “Obake,” which he wrote in tribute to the old Japanese Obake movies, “Obake Neko” (Ghost Cat) is a tale of murder and revenge set in 1925 Hawai’i. A Japanese woman, who befriends a black cat, is brutally beaten to death by her adulterous husband as the cat watches. The cat drinks the blood of the victim and transforms into a part human, part cat, but all ghostly apparition, who returns to haunt and hunt down both the man and his mistress. This play then premiered at the Honolulu community theater, Kumu Kahua Theatre, in 2003, under the direction of James A. Nakamoto. Of “Obake,” Sakamoto would write the following in the play program.
Notes from the Playwright… In Japan, if you say “ghost,” the reply usually is “yurei.” Japanese in Hawai’i answer “obake.” I grew up in Honolulu in the 1950’s watching black-and-white obake movies, especially those locally known as “obake neko.” And there was always that ubiquitous black cat. Sitting in the old Park Theatre at A’ala Park viewing obake neko films was creepy fun for a kid. Today I have little recollection of the actual stories. What do I remember? Mostly the spooky image of a ghostly female figure in a kimono standing beneath a weeping willow tree in the misty moonlight. Nowadays when people talk of Japanese ghost movies, they probably refer to Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1965), based on Lafcadio Hearn’s ghost stories. Hearn delved into Japanese folklore to create the supernatural tales. He was a naturalized Japanese citizen who took the name Yaumo Koizumi. He died in 1904, but his stories live on for future generations. Kwaidan is a beautiful, haunting film, but I chose to return to my youth for inspiration to write my obake play, adapting the Japanese ghost tradition for my purposes. First, I felt it should be in the shadowy past – the year 1925. Where to put the action? On the Big Island, noted for its ghostly spirits, and Kamuela near the Parker Ranch. Who? Japanese immigrant workers living a harsh existence in a foreign land. The obake spirit traveled across time and space to come alive in my mind. And the deed was done.
Obake – The Play
Ed Sakamoto’s “Obake” was produced by Kumu Kahua Theatre, in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 2003. Its run was from October 30th to November 30th, with show times at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday nights, and matinees at 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. The production was a huge success, drawing in capacity crowds, and elicited the following excellent review by local theater critic, John Berger.
The Inspiration & Opportunity
Ed had long envisioned turning one of his plays into a feature film, though which one had always been the contemplative question. As it would come to pass, two members of the crew who had successfully staged the production of Kumu’s “Obake,” Denny Hironaga and his wife, Karen Kuioka Hironaga (photo right), would prove to be the driving forces behind making a film version of the play. Denny and Karen, as long-time participants with, and supporters of, Kumu Kahua, had known Ed Sakamoto, the theater’s most successful playwright, for many years and it was after Obake closed in 2003, that the germination of Obake Neko, the movie, would begin, and though it would take some time, eventually these seeds of inspiration would come to bear creative fruit near five years later. But of course, back in the years just after they all finished Obake, the cost and logistics of filming a feature length movie were always the mitigating factors against “actually doing it.” Though movies, at the time, were transitioning away from being captured entirely on film and were beginning to appear in HD video, more than a mere modicum of financing was still needed to cover basic costs such as paying for locations, obtaining cameras, and paying the actors, the crew, and of course, covering the food for the production shoot. Of all of Ed’s plays, Obake, was not the one to immediately leap to the forefront. Set in 1925 Kamuela on the Big Island, it was a period piece thriller that would require, among other things, a set design of old plantation homes. Where in Hawaii could that be found without breaking the bank? Fortuitously, Karen had a friend who oversaw a ranch located up in the Koolau Mountains above Waipio/Gentry and Mililani in Central Oahu. Hovering at 1,000 feet above sea level with almost 168 acres of open pasture, the site offered a possibly ideal location to shoot a movie.
The Game Changer Location
In addition to the horses, there were roaming cattle, and of course, a species that had become too plentiful, mountain feral pigs. It was this latter animal population that was the reason for a number of hunting lodges. Upon having the occasion to see the property, a notion dawned on Denny and Karen. Could not the isolation of the location, which was literally an hour’s drive up a dirt road, serve to emulate Kamuela in the 1920’s? In turn, could not the hunting lodges serve as the plantation homes of that era? To Denny and Karen, the answer was a definite “yes.” Karen posed the question to her boss and she received an immediate approval. All they needed to do was to first give an estimate as to how long they would need to do their filming and then a window of time could be locked in when no one else would be using the hunting lodges. In addition, through their years of being associated with the local performing arts community in general, and more specifically with Kumu Kahua Theatre, they felt confident that they could recruit a willing cast and crew who would volunteer their time to make a movie. They posed the prospect to Ed and he found the concept appealing. For one of the ongoing challenges of independent filmmaking was the inability to control the sights and sounds of the shoot location. But up on on the mountain, the cast and crew would work in complete silence and the thousand foot elevation could might as well be the moon, for no one else would be bothering them during the shoot. And the best part? Karen’s friend was able to get the production to use the premises for free. Given all of the obvious advantages, Ed said he would provide a small budget, and would rewrite the script for filming on the mountain top. On April 17th, 2008, he produced the screenplay, “Obake Neko,” and plans got under way to film in June of that year.
In fact, after arranging the use of the property with Karen’s boss, Denny and Karen put together a 14-day production shoot schedule which began on Saturday, June 14th, 2008, and finished on Friday, June 27th, 2008. Writer Ed, having also financed the project, would serve as Executive Producer, Denny would direct the movie, and Karen, along with other members of their team – Kerri Chai, Michael Ng, Michael Prickett, Michael Sun Lee, Wayne Takabayashi, and Marya Takamori Prickett – would all serve as producers. Wayne and Mike Ng would serve as co-directors of photography, Mike Ng would serve as assistant director as well as be on second camera, Ken Tatafu would be the sound mixer, Dusty Behner coordinated costumes, Newton Koshi and Michelle “Mish” Raboteau handled makeup, and Denny, Wayne, and Mike worked together to set the lights. Abel Dulles served as a consultant on Butoh, which was a type of Japanese dance, for which the Obake occasionally breaks into. Karen also handled the responsibility of assuring the cast and crew were fed each day, which meant frequent shopping, a lot of cooking, and invaluable help from lots of friends and family. As for the cast, Amy Tamaribuchi played the ill-fated Kazue (the eventual Obake Neko), Eric Nemoto played the adulterous and violent Tamotsu, Nani Morita played the seductress Shizue, Shiro Kawai played the bumbling sidekick Hitoshi, Janice Terukina played the funny and concerned friend Aiko, and Eric Mita played the rascal lech Murata. In additional flashback scenes that Denny filmed to include in the movie, Reyn Sugai played the young Tamotsu, Allan Okubo played Tamotsu’s father, Marya Takamori Prickett played Tamotsu’s mother, and Dean Sadamune played the suitor, Ikegawa, who ushers Tamotsu’s mother away.
Amy Tamaribuchi As The “Obake” Prowls The Nighttime Forests Of Old Kamuela
The filming of Obake Neko turned into an incredibly successful shoot. Everyone involved eventually would call it the most rewarding creative experience of their lives. Denny and Karen had put together a very organized shoot and everyone gave of their time freely and pitched in wherever things needed to get done. Filming took place both during the daytime hours and at night depending on the setting of each scene. Shot in the middle of the Hawaii summer, the shoot was blessed with sunny skies and clear nights, which greatly facilitated filming, except when there was a scene that actually called for a rainy downpour, which was simulated using a garden hose that sprinkled water atop the actors in a close angle shot. Ironically, probably the most difficult aspect of the shoot was actually getting to the location. Cast and crew had to make their way to Mililani in the central part of the island, far from Honolulu, which was generally considered a long trek in of itself for most locals. Then, across the street from the Costco wholesale outlet located at 94-1231 Ka Uka Boulevard, they then would drive up to an iron gate where they would get out of their cars and locate the padlock that secured it. Making sure to dial in a combination code that was provided to everybody, they would get back into their cars and drive inside, get back out of their cars to close the gate and secure the lock, and then get back into their cars to begin the drive up to the location. The first task was to drive across a very large open expanse of the fine red dirt that Millilani was known for, creating a mini-dust storm in the wake of each car that had to travel it. The next step was to then embark on following an unpaved jeep trail up the mountain, which went through a series of dips and turns that took the driver higher and higher and with this, seemingly further and further away from civilization. Eventually, one would arrive at the entrance to the ranch, where another combination would be needed to open the gate and proceed upwards to the final destination. Base camp where everyone would first gather was the cabin that served as the house of Kazue and Tamotsu.
Passing The Second Gate – The Final Leg Of The Journey To The Obake Neko Set
As a generality, it would take approximately 45 minutes to an hour for most of the cast and crew to get from their homes to the gate across from Costco, and then another 45 minutes to follow the path up to where the day’s shoot would be taking place. But all told, it was an enjoyable inconvenience, for the experience was certainly not something one would do every day, except that during the shoot, many did do it every day and for as much as two weeks. With the trek would come surprises. Feral pigs, running wild, would frequently appear and often in herds. While cattle would be prevalent among the many horses, a couple of longhorn cattle, stood out from the rest. And while a daytime trek was preferable to a spooky nighttime jaunt, if one happened to drive up or down the trail during the magic hour of the early evening, some truly beautiful skies could be witnessed. As a whole, the setting for this period piece thriller could not have been better. Magnificent pine tree forests, large Irish green open meadows, and cliffs that overlooked beautiful valleys, were but just a few of the great sights that the movie shoot utilized. It presented an amazing backdrop for a great movie about one of Hawaii’s old plantation legends. Original concerns about shooting at night, in the middle of nowhere, about a movie dealing with the supernatural no less – particularly in Hawaii where legends of night marchers and Madame Pele are but a few of the scary local stories that everyone remembefrs – were quickly dissipated as the cast and crew never remotely felt the company of anything otherworldly, except that there was one time when a chirping gecko incredibly interrupted filming three consecutive times at exactly the same moment of the scene. But this, too, was eventually laughed off. And judging from the myriad of follow up emails that everyone traded to each other after the shoot wrapped about what a great time was had by all, the Obake Neko production was about as perfect a shoot as one could have.
Dusk Atop The Mountain
The Story Synopsis
It is in the early evening and we are in Kamuela, on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is 1925. A man runs frantically through the forest. He is afraid of something. He gets to his house porch, looks back and sees only the emerging night, and goes inside.
The next morning the man, Tamotsu, a particularly onerous person prone to degrading people, berates his wife, Kazue, for not having his coffee ready and no rice to go along with his miso soup. She wonders why he is late to go to work and he barks that it is not her business. They are visited by Kazue’s friend, Aiko, who mentions about the wind was howling the previous night, which was perfect for obake to come. Tamotsu scoffs at Aiko’s superstition and leaves. Aiko tells Kazue that Tamotsu is a bad influence on her husband, Hitoshi, that wherever Tamotsu goes and does, Hitoshi is bound to follow. Kazue then hears something outside. It is Kimi, a stray black cat she has befriended. She gives it some milk and laments that Tamotsu doesn’t like animals.
In the fields Aiko’s husband, Hitoshi, talks with Murata. Hitoshi tells Murata that he could never be Tamotsu’s friend. Murata tells Hitoshi he spies on the beautiful Sumi, when she bathes. Back with Aiko and Kazue, they continue talking and complain about their husbands. Aiko says Hitoshi is lazy. Kazue admits that Tamotsu is hard on her. They lament life in Hawaii and the matchmaker that promised that their husbands were good men. Later, Tamotsu and Hitoshi walk on a dirt path drinking sake. Tamotsu says he was fired from his job and shows Hitoshi a gun that he stole from the foreman. Half drunk he fantasizes about killing the foreman and Hitoshi isn’t sure if he’s only joking or is deadly serious. Later, Tamotsu surprises Sumi outside of her house and pulls her close. They talk and it is clear that they have rendezvoused before. As Tamotsu tries to get intimate, Sumi tells him not there for someone might see them. Later they talk overlooking a valley. Sumi cuddles up to him and says she admires Tamotsu’s strength. Tamotsu brags about being of samurai stock. They kiss passionately.
At night, Aiko returns to Kazue’s house to give her some vegetables. Kazue invites her to stay for tea but Aiko says she doesn’t want to be out in the night for fear of running into a Hawaiian night marcher or an obake. Aiko says she fears an obake is in her house and it is Hitoshi’s late mother. She feels that way because his mother used to always cook natto and occassionally she smells it. In fact, she sniffs and fears that her mother-in-law is watching over even while there. Kazue tries to tell her that she actually has prepared natto for dinner but Aiko panics and leaves, running into Tamotsu as he returns. Kazue gets Tamotsu his dinner, trying to be pleasant, but her husband is his usual boorish self. She asks him if he is busy at the ranch since he’s home late. He replies that he stopped off at a friend’s place to relax. She asks which friend and he again scowls that it is none of her business. Tamotsu takes out his gun and Kazue remarks that he’s always brandishing it lately and where did he get it? He responds that he found it. She tells him she doesn’t like it. He says she’s being a baby and says that he needs it to shoot kanakas, foremen, anyone that gets him mad. Kimi the cat then meows outside and Tamotsu becomes furious. He asks Kazue if she has been feeding it again and twists her arm to make her confess that she just gives it leftovers. Tamotsu bolts outside and shoots into the night and then returns saying that he missed it, but next time he won’t. He slaps and torments Kazue and tells her to get his food.
The next morning Aiko wakes Hitoshi to get ready for work. She laments the loser of a husband she says Hitoshi is. Hitoshi counters that he will make his fortune with Tamotsu. Aiko tells him that they will both end up in jail. Sumi pays a visit to Kazue, bringing tofu she said she got from Murata, saying that Tamotsu would like it. She asks about Tamotsu. Kazue tells her that he is at work. Sumi says that Tamotsu told her he quit. Kazue says that can’t be, that Tamotsu would have told her. Sumi asks if Kazue is happy in Kamuela. She responds that it is quiet living here and retorts that it must be even quieter for Sumi since her husband chose to leave for America. Sumi says she is glad to be rid of him and that she’ll just find another man. Kazue asks if there is anyone she likes. Sumi smiles and says she has her eye on one man. Aiko returns yet again and joins them. Sumi asks about Hitoshi, and how is he. Aiko says that he is good, that Sumi can have him. She tells Sumi that she’s seen Murata sneaking around her place. Sumi smiles and says that Murata is but a harmless little man.
Back in the open fields, Murata wakes a sleeping Hitoshi with some sake. He tells Hitoshi to give the sake to Tamotsu. Hitoshi asks if he thinks giving the sake will make Tamotsu like him, and Murata responds he could be a very good friend of Tamotsu’s if he’ll let him. Back with the women at Kazue’s house, Aiko and Kazue talke of their fear of the obake. Sumi says she doesn’t believe in such things. Kazue asks isn’t she afraid living all by herself? Sumi brazenly declares that she is never lonely, since all the men visit her, even Hitoshi and Tamotsu. Aiko asks Sumi what did she do back in Japan. She responds that she was a geisha, but the geisha house was ruled tyranically and there was constant jealousy so she left for adventure in Hawaii. Outside the black cat screeches again and Sumi remarks that it sounded almost human. Sumi leaves and offers to teach Kazue how to please her husband. Aiko remarks that Sumi only knows how to seduce weak minded men. Kazue offers that Tamotsu cannot show tenderness simply because he feels it will make him look weak. Aiko tells her that Tamotsu is hurting her, and that if he continues they should go to the Hawaiian policeman, Puunui. But Kazue begs her not to do anything, saying it’s not Tamotsu’s fault, it’s because she isn’t a good wife. Aiko sighs her concern.
Late in the afternoon, Tamotsu talks with Hitoshi about his plan to rob the Sato Store since they have left for Hilo for the weekend. Hitoshi asks isn’t breaking into the store against the law? Tamotsu retorts that of course it is, but this is there chance, for he knows exactly where Sato keeps his money, having heard him say so since he didn’t trust banks. Tamotsu works out a signal with Hitoshi for when he’s in the store in case anyone comes. Just then, Sumi comes around the corner and nothing else matters. Tamotsu kicks Hitoshi away. Sumi invites Tamotsu to her house later at night, but he begs off, saying he’s got business to do. But he tells her he’ll be there tomorrow. Sumi smiles and tells him she’ll have hot oil for his aching shoulders and saunters away. Tamotsu smiles at the thought of it all. By nightfall it is pouring rain and Tamotsu and Hitoshi are getting soaked as they hide in the bushes outside of the Sato Store. Hitoshi wants to call it off, but Tamotsu refuses, tells him to keep watch as he runs towards the store. In the dark Hitoshi is surprised by the sight of the black cat, whose shriek makes him scream out. Thinking Hitoshi is signaling him of an approaching person, Tamotsu comes running out of the store and trips over a crouching Hitoshi and they both fall face first into the mud.
Kazue is on the front porch petting the black cat when she sees Tamotsu approaching. She shoos the cat away and is stunned to see Tamotsu enter the house soaking wet and muddy. He complains that nothing went right. Kazue asks him what did he do, and he barks back to never mind. Again the cat shrieks and Tamotsu charges outside in a rage. Shots are fired and Tamotsu returns saying that the cat scratched him but that he thinks he hit it. Kazue worries that he might have hurt the cat and Tamotsu screams that she cares more for the cat than he does her. He drowns his sorrow in sake, and with Kazue sitting next to him, he laments about how things have never turned out for him, recalling his past, a troubled youth with a weak father and a mother who left them. He pulls a fearful and apprehensive Kazue atop his lap and suggests that if he had a son, things would be better. He tries to become intimate with Kazue but she stiffens and tells him that it just isn’t the right time. Tamotsu’s rage comes forth as he tells Kazue that she doesn’t love him, that in fact, she despises him, but that he will have his way. He pulls her up and starts to strip her kimono off, and when she resists, he violently pulls her into bed, and behind the veiled curtain, we see their shadows as Kazue screams while Tamotsu beats and rapes her. At Hitoshi’s house, Aiko tells him to take off his wet and muddy clothes. Hitoshi perks up, thinking something good is about to happen. But as he does he is met with water that Aiko shoots from their garden hose to wash him down. Walking back to his house in the pouring rain, Tamotsu is a picture of dejection and thinks about his youth and we see that his father was a cripple and his mother left him, resulting in him forever hating the idea of ever being weak and defenseless. Back at Aiko’s and Hitoshi’s, Aiko expresses her disgust at being married to a thief. Hitoshi explains that they didn’t succeed and that he couldn’t help it. Tamotsu forced him to do it.
The next day, Tamotsu sneaks up to Sumi’s window and secretly watches her as she bathes. Later, as she slips on her kimono, Tamotsu enters, and she tells him that she knew he was watching her while she was naked. Tamotsu tells her that he has plans to send Kazue back to Japan if Sumi will take her place. Sumi asks if Tamotsu will have the money to both send Kazue back as well as pay for her needs, for as a former geisha she has expensive tastes. Tamotsu scoffs at her present lot in life, where there are cows and horses in the pastures and the smell of manure in her nostrils. He tells her that he knows she was never a geisha. Sumi is hurt by the comment, saying that she was ruled by a taskmaster who never liked her because of her beauty. Tamotsu smiles and calls her a poor little flower and they kiss passionately. Aiko visits with Kazue again, bringing more vegetables for which Kazue laments that she has no money to pay her. Aiko waves it off, telling her this is not for money, and what are friends for? Kazue thanks Aiko for being such a good friend, and Aiko can sense something is wrong. She demands that Kazue open her kimono to see her badly bruised body. Aiko pleads with Kazue to leave Tamotsu and to tell Officer Puunui. But Kazue tells her she cannot, it would be too embarrassing, and plus it was her fault. Tamotsu only wanted to make love to her and she wouldn’t let him. She needs to learn to be a better wife. Aiko fears the worst will yet come.
Back at Sumi’s house, after making love, Sumi tells Tamotsu that she has to leave for a while. Tamotsu asks where? Sumi tells him that she must go to see a man named Johnson, and this infuriates Tamotsu. He tells her she needn’t become his mistress, and says the last Japanese woman he had as a mistress, became ostracized from the rest of the community which led to her committing suicide, and that Johnson did nothing, didn’t even help with the funeral costs. But Sumi counters she is just going to hear what he has to offer as she has to find a way to take care of herself, since Tamotsu doesn’t have any money yet. Tamotsu takes out his gun and suggests that he will find Johnson and kill him. Sumi worries about him doing such a thing and tells Tamotsu that if he sends his wife back to Japan she will be with him. Tamotsu tells her that this is all he wanted to hear, and they fall back into each other’s arms for another passionate kiss. Back at her house, Kazue tells Aiko that she is so afraid of Tamotsu when he gets angry, and that she did contemplate that maybe if they had a son things would get better, but the thought of having a child grow up to be like Tamotsu is something she cannot imagine. Aiko tells Kazue that everything would be fine if Tamotsu would just drop dead of some kind of disease, or if a crazy man would kill him. The thought begins to fester in Kazue’s mind. She asks Aiko what would happen to a crazy man who killed someone with a gun? Aiko says he probably would be put into the crazy house. Kazue contemplates what it would be like to live one’s life in a crazy house.
Hitoshi walks along a path when he is pulled to the ground by Tamotsu. Tamotsu tells him that they will again try to rob the Sato Store, for they have one more night with the Sato’s away, and there is no more rain expected. Tamotsu seems to be becoming more and more reckless as he says they should also go and beat up Murata for having watched Sumi bathe, and also that they might go and kill the Johnson man, since he’s trying to hire Sumi. Hitoshi is not a happy camper as he is pulled to his feet and must follow the obsessive Tamotsu on his quest to get money. Later at night, Kazue paces about and then takes out Tamotsu’s gun and looks at it and contemplates. She is then startled when she hears Tamotsu call out to her as he approaches the front door. Kazue hurriedly puts the gun back. As Tamotsu returns home it is obvious that he had been drinking. He is already drunk but unlike the other night, this time he is happy. He tells Kazue that they will celebrate. He takes out the sake and some cups. He places a burlap bag atop the table with items he stole from the store and takes out cash from his pocket and throws that onto the table as well. Immediately Kazue is suspicious. She asks him as to where he got everything from. Tamotsu tells her that the Sato’s gave him the goods for being their friend and the cash he won gambling. Kazue doesn’t believe him but her negativity, at least on this night, will not rain on Tamotsu’s parade. He chides Kazue that she is always worrying and forces her to drink sake with him. Eventually, Tamotsu falls asleep at the table and Kazue sees her chance. She retrieves the gun and points it at Tamotsu’s head. Kazue struggles internally and tries mightily to convince herself to pull the trigger. But in the end, she cannot, and she slumps back down onto her chair, and as Tamotsu continues to sleep, she weeps in despair at the hopelessness of her life.
The next day Tamotsu visits Sumi and lavishes her with gifts including whiskey. He tells her that he will take care of her and that he has the money to now send Kazue back to Japan. Sumi asks him how is he getting his money. Tamotsu tells her he has jobs he is doing, so to tell Johnson to kiss his donkey’s ass. Sumi offers herself up to Tamotsu and they kiss passionately once more. At Kazue’s house, Aiko, again visiting, asks Kazue if Tamotsu had beaten her again. Kazue tells her no but that she had very terrible thoughts in her head. Aiko again tells her she should report Tamotsu to Officer Puunui, but she won’t, the shame back in Japan would be too much. Aiko comes up with another idea. She and Kazue can leave both of their husbands and go to Honolulu. Kazue fears that Tamotsu will find her and beat her. But Aiko tells her that Honolulu is a big place and he would never find her. They will find jobs and they could even learn how to speak good English and have fun going to dances. Aiko’s optimism gives Kazue hope and she wonders if such a plan could ever materialize. Aiko says it could. All they have to do is come up with the money to get to Honolulu. Aiko tells Kazue to keep the faith as she leaves. Dreaming of what Aiko has just said, Kazue goes back inside and finds the can in which Tamotsu has stored his cash. She takes it out and fans it, contemplating the thought of taking the money and leaving Kamuela with Aiko.
Just then, the black cat screeches a cry, and Kazue’s attention is diverted to going outside to see that Kimi is alive and well. She talks to the cat and hope is evident in her voice. But then, she hears Tamotsu in the distance screaming for her to stay away from the cat. Kazue backs off and is frozen for a moment. But then she realizes that she had left the money on the table. She rushes in and grabs the cash and hurriedly stuffs it back into the can and puts it back onto the shelf. But in her rush to return things to normal a single bill falls to the floor which she is oblivious to. As Tamotsu enters, he is back to his usual drunk and ornery self. He senses something is wrong with Kazue as she discovers the lone bill that is under the table. Tamotsu asks her about it and she cannot answer. He turns and looks about and finds the bill on the floor. He picks it up and tells her Kazue that she had touched his money and that no one can touch his money! Tamotsu goes into an uncontrollable rage and begins to choke Kazue and bodily lifts her into the air, hanging her with the strength of his arms. He lets her drop and proceeds to beat her mercilessly as the wail of the black cat is heard coming from the outside. Even as she lays unconscious, Tamotsu cannot stop. He finds a wooden stump and brings it down upon the helpless Kazue, killing her. He continues to shout out how he will return her to her stinking family as he drinks more sake heartily. After he passes out, the black cat enters from outside, and licks the blood off of Kazue’s face.
At Sumi’s house, Hitoshi and Murata try to spy on Sumi as she bathes by looking through a hole in her house wall. They try to push the other away to look, causing a commotion. Sumi, hearing something outside calls out as to who is out there. Hitoshi and Murata panic and run away. As they walk through the forest they come across a weeping willow tree, and standing next to it is Kazue, only she has now transformed into the Obake Neko. Hitoshi and Murata call out to the woman who they think shouldn’t be out alone by herself. But as they see her ghostly appearance they scream in terror and run away. Back at Tamotsu’s house, Tamotsu wakes up and calls for Kazue to massage his neck. From behind him Kazue’s apparition, the Obake Neko, rises and begins to roughly knead his shoulders. Tamotsu grunts his approval but admonishes her to watch her nails. But a moment later the spectre digs her nails into the skin of his back and violently scratches downwards, causing Tamotsu to scream in agony.
A few days later, Aiko is readying to go to find Officer Puunui to tell him about Tamotsu and how he beats Kazue. She chides Hitoshi that he and Murata didn’t really see an obake at night, that they were probably drunk. She tells Hitoshi to go to Tamotsu’s and ask him about Kazue, whom she hasn’t seen lately. On his way to Tamotsu’s, Hitoshi senses someone is watching him. Someone is. It is the Obake Neko. Yet everytime that Hitoshi turns to look, the Obake Neko vanishes from view. Hitoshi finds Tamotsu in a haggard state, and terrified of Kazue, saying she has changed. His fear makes Hitoshi more afraid and as he tries to leave, Tamotsu implores him to stay. But the more he tries to leave the more Tamotsu tries to keep him from leaving. And then the Obake Neko appears to both and Tamotsu is frozen in his fear while Hitoshi runs off. Later, Sumi visits Tamotsu and finds him in what appears to be a delusional state, and in obvious physical pain. She talks to him and he asks where Kazue is, for she has changed and she constantly hurts him. Sumi tells him he’s imagining things for he had killed Kazue, having beaten her to death, and that she helped him bury her by the weeping willow tree. Tamotsu squints confusion. In his mind he tries to reconcile what Sumi says, which seems vaguely familiar, to what he feels is Kazue’s spirit haunting and hurting him constantly. Sumi assures him that everything will all right and that she’ll be back the next day as it is getting dark.
At night, the Obake Neko stands by the weeping willow tree, and as the winds howl around it, she licks her paw like fists. Back at her place, while dressed in a kimono and wiping her face with a towel, Sumi senses someone in the house and calls out as to who it is. She steps around to look and sees the Obake Neko and screams. She tries to avoid the monster but cannot. She is cornered, falls to the floor, and as she recoils in terror, the Obake Neko embraces her in a lingering kiss that sucks out her life force. Sumi slumps to the floor, dead. Back at Aiko’s house, Hitoshi returns and is out of breath. Aiko asks what happened, and Hitoshi tells her that Murata said that Sumi was found dead, her naked body was covered with scratches. Aiko wonders if Tamotsu knows about this and instructs Hitoshi to go and see. At Tamotsu’s house, Hitoshi finds Tamotsu slumped on the table. When told of Sumi’s death, Tamotsu speculates that it must’ve been Kazue. When Hitoshi questions him as to why Kazue would want to kill Sumi, Tamotsu assures him that Kazue has changed, and that he is deathly afraid of her. Tamotsu, terrified, begs Hitoshi to stay with him, but Hitoshi, no less terrified won’t have any of that. He breaks from Tamotsu’s hold and runs away. As he does, the Obake Neko appears before Tamotsu. It is his final judgment. He frantically finds his gun and tries to hold off the demon with a number of shots. But it is to no avail. And as Kazue’s ghost cat comes in for the final kill, Tamotsu puts the gun to his head and shoots himself.
Later, Hitoshi returns with Aiko to check on Tamotsu. They find him dead and Kazue nowhere to be found. Walking back to their house, they come upon the weeping willow tree. There, they come upon Kazue, who is now dressed in a white kimono and is a radiant vision of light. Aiko calls out to her, and Kazue smiles and bows, and disappears.
Movie Stills From The Movie Obake Neko
Post-Production & Initial Screening
Upon completion of the production shoot, Denny began the arduous process of editing the movie. This entailed reviewing everything that was shot, then cut the scenes that he wanted which would then be placed on a timeline to create a rough cut of the movie, and then refine, refine, refine, until he achieved his picture lock. Then, he went on to work on the sound, and then asked composer Michael K.D.H. Chung to create the movie’s lyrical and haunting music score. After that it was making sure that the movie credits were right, after which a master file would be rendered when he felt the movie was ready for prime time. A year after the production wrapped, Denny and Karen held a private showing for the cast and crew, who gathered once again to relive one of the best times of their lives. They revered in the completion of a truly beautiful yet ultimately tragic depiction of one of Hawaii’s most famous legends. A very worthy tribute to Ed Sakamoto, Hawaii’s greatest playwright.
Composer Michael K.D.H. Chung At The Very First Session Of Scoring Obake Neko
Final Editing & Premiere
In truth, it would be another 15 years for the final edition of Obake Neko to be completed. A number of influences converged to create the delay, but a major reason, according to Denny, was that he had mistakenly embedded the music track from Memoirs Of A Geisha, onto the master movie template. Separating it, then, became an ongoing challenge that during the ensuing years would prove to be difficult to achieve given the state of technology at the time, and the likely costs to work through it. Meanwhile, there came additional filming that ensued in 2016, involving the opening scene showing Tamotsu, Eric Nemoto, running through the forest, and Obake stand-in, Wendy Taira, appearing as an Obake in the background. These scenes were shot up in the Waahila Ridge State Recreation Area. With respect to the prospect of finishing the movie, eventually time, and the advent of improved technology that comes with it, came about to finally provide a way to separate the embedded music from the video timeline. It came specifically in the form of master post audio engineer Mark J. Bush, who had wielded his editing skills to help finish many other YBS movies. Mark contibuted his time, his expertise, and his state-of-the-art home sound editing studio to eventually complete what had been left in abeyance for well over a decade. He eventually finished the sound editing as well as incorporated other lastly shot scenes that Denny and Karen provided, and the result was a final version that was officially premiered in one of the movie theaters at the Regal Dole Cannery on the night of November 1st, 2023. A sold out audience made up of invited guests cheered Denny, Karen, Mark, Michael K.D.H. Chung, and the rest of the cast and crew, for finally finishing what the audience responded during the subsequent talkback, as a suspenseful horror story featuring great acting and terrific comedic moments. It was the culmination of an arduous filmmaking journey that, regardless of the time it took to complete it, was a credit to the persistence of Denny and Karen. Ed Sakamoto, assuredly looking down from heaven, would have been proud.