Our horror reviews continue, with a Japanese ghost film from the Criterion Collection – and a period film that slipped under the radar for quite some time – 1968’s Kuroneko.
Title: Kuroneko (Full Japanese title Yabu no Naka no Kuroneko, “A Black Cat in a Bamboo Grove”)
Cast, Crew, and other Info
Written and Directed Kaneto Shindo
Kichiemon Nakamura as Gintoki
Nobuko Otowa as Yone
Kwako Taichi as Shige
Kei Sato as Raiko no Minamoto
Full cast and crew available on IMDB
Yone and Shige are part of a farming family (mother and daughter, respectively) in feudal Japan, during the Minamoto Shogunate (before the Warring States period). A third member of this household, Shige’s husband, was conscripted into one of the Shogunate’s wars, leaving them alone. When a wandering band of samurai stumbles upon their house, they are raped and murdered. The two women give their souls to dark powers in order to become cat spirits, allowing them to go to Kyoto to kill samurai and feed on their blood.
After several murders have occurred, and this has reached the attention of the Emperor, Shogun Raiko no Minamoto is tasked with dealing with this. In turn,, he delegates this task to newly awarded samurai Gintoki. There’s just one wrinkle – Gintoki is Shige’s husband.
This film builds an excellent sense of suspense and tension, and the scenes with the two ghosts are eerie and atmospheric. Shindo also respects his audience – after showing the MO of the two ghosts in its entirety once, their subsequent murders are done through montage. We get their plan, and how they accomplish it – we can put the pieces together.
As an advance warning, there is a rape scene – partly on camera, partly off camera (but still audible), in the first 5 minutes of the film, coming almost immediately after the opening credits. It’s not on par with, oh, I Spit On Your Grave, but I can definitely see it causing a problem for people, especially seeing how it comes almost out of nowhere. It’s narratively important, so you can’t just get rid of it either.
So, if rape scenes in film are a trigger for you, keep this under advisement.
Other than that, there are some pacing issues. The first act of the film and third acts are incredibly fast paced, while the second act is almost glacial. If the pacing of the middle of the film matched its bookends, this film might have been 80 minutes long.
Originality: This film combines elements from several existing works, into their own thing. Even if you point out the comparisons with I Spit On Your Grave, in the sense of this being a “Rape-Revenge” film, it’s one where the victims avenge themselves not on their rapists, but on the social structure that allowed that rape to take place in the first place. 5/6
Effects: The effects are fairly minimal, but the effects that do appear are incredibly well done. 5/6
Acting: The performances are great – the Samurai (aside from Gintoki) are wonderfully callous and boorish, taking shots at how the class is normally depicted, and the ghosts are incredibly sympathetic. Gintoki stands out as the one character who wants to be the model samurai, but isn’t quite sure what that means. 5/6
Emotional Response: On the one hand, you want to root for the ghosts to get their revenge, but you also don’t want to see Gintoki be executed for failing to stop the killings. 5/6
Story: The narrative of this film is strong, but the pacing has some severe problems. 4/6
Overall: This is an excellent Japanese horror film, from a time when Japanese cinema wasn’t as well known for their horror (or at least not for quality horror). 5/6
In Total, Kuroneko gets 34/42
Halloween Countdown 2015
Oct. 10: Kuroneko (1968)
Podcast: Alien 3 (1992)
Oct 17: Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966)
Podcast: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1970)
Oct. 24: Crimson Peak (2015)
Podcast: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The Babadook (2014)
Podcast: Event Horizon (1997)