miércoles, 8 de febrero de 2012


Kuroneko [Yabu no naka no kuroneko] (The Criterion Collection DVD, 2011)
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Japan, 1968
In Japanese with English subtitles

Although I'm probably not the best judge of ghost stories ever, I don't think I'm really going out on a limb by saying that Kuroneko [a/k/a Black Cat], a/k/a "a vintage Japanese ghost film not named Ugetsu," is both ridiculous and stylish at one and the same time.  In any event, it's easily the coolest looking movie I've seen in quite a while thanks to the collaboration between director Kaneto Shindo and cinematographer Kiyomi Kuroda.  Set near the Rashomon Gate in Kyoto in the Sengoku period, when roving bands of samurai terrorized the land, and shot in an exquisite black and white that reminds me a little bit of Dreyer's spectral Vampyr, the film follows the supernatural transformation of two peasant rape-and-murder victims who come back to life as black cats after death to take their revenge on samurai everywhere.  When the man who's the husband of the younger "catwoman" and the son of the older one returns after a three-year absence and seems to recognize the spirits of his missing loved ones, his newfound samurai status seriously complicates the longed-for family reunion--first, because he's been assigned to kill the samurai-killers or be killed himself; second, because they in turn have sworn a vow to feast on samurai blood until all samurai are dead; and third, because the brave Gintoki doesn't know whether the two specters are just ghosts or demons.  Even though the dialogue boasts its fair share of howlers and I didn't find the film's alleged feminist overtones quite as provocative as others seem to have done, Kuroneko's visual style is so artful and striking in composition that it more than makes up for its creaky narrative.  For example, multiple shots of people traveling through a bamboo grove at night, all the fog-shrouded scenes where humans and shapeshifters do battle, and--perhaps my favorite individual freezeframe candidate of all--the stunning image of a lone rider racing on horseback in front of a blazing, nearly full-screen, golden sun are all just awesome to behold.  Surrealistic, too: I mean, hey, what's that woman doing with a cat arm in her mouth?!?  (The Criterion Collection)

 Ghost or demon?

Kuroneko, watched in a spectacular Blu-Ray transfer from Criterion, is the first of what I hope will be at least two February picks for Caroline's World Cinema Series and my own Foreign Film Festival.  See other February movie reviews here.

5 comentarios:

  1. a Black and White Japanese Movie...I am intrigued.
    Japanese ghost stories are one of the best,in my opinion, but I haven't seen any B&W ghost stories before.

    Fine review Richard, I am curious with its visual art like you've mentioned.

  2. Wow, a woman with a cat arm in her mouth: can't wait to see THAT one! (not) The 2nd picture, by the way, looks very Shining-esque.

  3. *Novroz: Caroline had mentioned your problems in not being to able access the blog not too long ago, so thanks so much for the return visit, your persistence, and your kind words about the post--it's nice to meet you! Kwaidan is the other famous Japanese ghost movie from this era that I'm interested in watching some day, but I'd definitely recommend Kuroneko to you if you're already a fan of the genre. It's just great to look at!

    *Jill: Is that reaction part of your "bat-thingies are good, cat-thingies are bad" paranormal film and literature campaign? Just checking! Hadn't noticed The Shining similarity in picture #2 until you mentioned it, but I can kind of see the similarity now if I try really hard to imagine Shelley Duvall in feline fury mode. Meow!

  4. Oooooooo! I literally made that sound out loud about 1/2 way through this review. I want to track this down and watch it immediately. :)

    1. I can't/won't vouch for the story, Sarah, but this thing is a real feast for the eyes. Hope you enjoy it!