Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Kuroneko (Shindo, 1968)

In Kaneto Shindo’s Kuroneko (as in his more famous film, Onibaba), a young woman and an older woman left to live on their own in war-ravaged Japan prey upon unsuspecting male combatants that are unfortunate enough to wander into their vicinity. However, this time, the circumstances are very different. The women are undead, brutally raped and beaten by samurai during their lifetime and pledged to walk the earth as phantoms, seducing young men to their deaths and feasting on samurai blood in order to exact revenge. The premise is reminiscent of not only Onibaba, but also includes elements of Ugetsu and The Grudge. Though the film may sound like a straight-up horror movie, it finds its emotional center in the fact that the man who is sent to vanquish the phantoms is, of course, the husband and son of the two women, newly returned from the war and, because of his brave deeds, promoted to – you guessed it – samurai. The film retains many elements that made Onibaba so memorable including the pulsing drum-based soundtrack, the grim world-view (understandable for a director born in Hiroshima) and the strong dose of sexuality (though not nearly as much nudity). There are pleasing effects in the forest as the mother phantom floats around in an eerie slow-motion effect and also enjoyable over-the-top moments as when she is pursued, carrying a severed arm in her teeth. My main beef with the film is that the man’s relationship with his wife (or at least his spirit wife) is resolved much, much earlier than his relationship with his mother and thus throws off the film’s structure. Although the film is not very long, we linger longer than it feels like we should, the film having reached its emotional peak and moving on before we truly register that it has even happened. Still, the rare opportunity to see a Kaneto Shindo film is a treat and one that is well worth seizing given the opportunity.



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