Mermaid Legend

January 26, 2011

Rest in peace, Toshiharu Ikeda.

The news just came in today: the famed cult director’s body had been found in the sea. Apparently it was suicide by drowning. In memory of Ikeda-san, I shall take a look at one his several interesting movies.

Ningyo densetsu (Japan, 1984) – 3/5

Toshiharu Ikeda’s career went from visually aggressive pink films to the cult slasher Evil Dead Trap (1988). He left his former employer Nikkatsu in the early 80’s due to censorship disagreements – only to direct an equally graphic and censorship ridden art house film at his new one-time home, Art Theatre Guild.

A fascinating yet flawed film, Mermaid Legend follows pearl diver Migiwa (Mari Shirato), whose husband is murdered by crooks hired by businessmen. The villagers, symbolizing the traditional Japanese way of life, stood on the way of rotten industrialization.

Ikeda’s real focus, however, is on a revenge tale that comes with moments of magic but eventually drifts beyond all believability. The film doesn’t quite find the balance between realism and fantasy, art house and exploitation, ending up being a little bit of everything and not too much of anything.

The sudden shifts from drama to graphic violence and sex are made all the more jarring by fogging censorship. If you can’t beat the system, then less revealing choreography ought to be the way to go.

Even then, Ikeda’s unbalanced genre blending is captivating and comes with grand moments. The somewhat over-used theme music is beautiful, only topped by even more breathtaking cinematography.

And yes, Ikeda did eventually beat the system in 1997 with The Key, which became the first Japanese mainstream film to feature (visible) full frontal nudity.




  1. Just when I thought, I’ve watched everything from a particular era/director I needed to see, I stumble upon your blog and find yet another film I haven’t watched yet. You just gave me the hotties for “Legend of Mermaid”, unfortunately it seems to be OOP, everywhere … *sighs*

    Also thanks for the “Whispering of the Gods” Review. Sounds intriguing.

  2. Glad to hear I’m still of some use, hehe. And, oh man, just wait till I get something truly inspiring reviewed… a sort of visual predecessor for Love & Pop. But I gotta wait for the making of dvd to arrive first cause it’s supposed to have additional short movies. Reviews in a few weeks…


    Mermaid Legend has been OOP for a long time. I managed to grab a used copy for something like 2500 yen, but that was pure ridiculous luck. I’ve seen some Amazon sellers charging up to 11 000 yen for it…

    Yahoo Auctions should provide cheaper options. Copies seem to be going for 4000 – 5000 yen…

    There seems to be another film with the same title. This is the correct dvd:

    The dvd is fullscreen, but I believe that is the original aspect ratio. Or close, at least. The dvd says the transfer was supervised by the cinematographer (Yonezo Maeda).

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