Kuroneko 藪の中の黒猫 (1968) – Japan

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Kuroneko 藪の中の黒猫 (1968)

What is incredible of Kaneto Shindo’s Kuroneko are the many varying techniques for which the story’s shots demonstrate distance and dread and narrative intensity. There’s not a single moment throughout its flexing runtime of an hour and a half that you’ll lose interest in its photography, gorgeous and beautiful, and the scenes are evocative of sex and lust, temper and then discomfort.

But because it leads in with so much attractive, calculating, cold atmosphere of terror, the start outweighs its conclusion; slowness is unkindly jarring.

It is not my favorite black and white tale of scary stories’ folklore put on celluloid, but the work proves a success in horror of simplicity and being lean. You’ll just have to see.

Black Cat in a Bamboo Grove

Set during a conventional wartime era of Japan, likely the Edo period (1600-1870), when young men left their homes and families and birthplaces to work and fight as samurai, you’re presented an elderly mother, Yone (Nobuko Otowa), and her daughter-in-law, Shige (Kiwako Taichi) of a small hut in the middle of plain and meak grasslands; alone, man-less. Their son/husband Haichi (Kichiemon Nakamura) is gone and away, adopting the name of some other samurai’s title, Gintoki or whatever -who is it- , during battle in some far off place, but, now, the ladies don’t care. They need him here, close by.

The village’s outskirts are dense, dark bamboo groves, and the coming of intruders is a surprise. A unit of soldiers come to the home to quench a thirst for drink and debauchery then, and the ladies have our sympathy and immediate attention.

The men, hungry for food and sex, tear off their clothes and eat to meet a fill of rice and skin. Each awaits in turn for his moment for torture and buffet, and you see it as unfair. The women are out of power – out of breath – , but no one helps or witnesses the women of this act save for their small, black cat, his eyes feral and glistening; evil. That’s never good.

And the men set the hut afire, Everything burns.

Some how though, past the smoke, and soot, ash and then dirty blackness, the clearing of debris reveals intact women; only their necks are scarred. Could they have survived?

How?

Rajomon Gate, a traveler’s passageway for inns and food places, is a common locale for the crossing of samurai, and it houses an answer for those questions. A beautiful pale woman resembling Shige is, then, somehow, there. Greeting lone vagabonds, she perks her looks so as to flirt and entice, draw them to follow her. These drunken swordsmen passing by are always seeing her beauty as opportunity for a night of fun and pleasure, and so they offer to help in whatever ways she needs.

She needs to travel back home but is scared to go alone; a trap. Won’t they accompany her, to guide and guard? Yes, and to a home thought to have burned somewhere up the dirty pathway inside dark and dense bamboo groves again, full-circle, now made more luxurious, and we know it well – that place of our start, to follow, willingly, as these stupid, ruthless men.

She and her mother-in-law, reincarnate, kill them there, inside this newer home, and so, we learn, they must; it’s of oath. They have to kill every samurai, supposed warriors from the war, each that passes. Every single man will perish, however long it takes, and I guess that’s not so bad. We know most of them to be of shit quality: taking and raping. But they are not all evil. What of their son/husband, who is now on his way back? What happens when he returns, now of a samurai’s rank?

The film’s contrast of colors and hues become most important for you to admire and study, then replay. The story is loose and only to purpose a fashion or an order of events, coming second to its cinematography. Its greatest feat is pushing bounds for visual imagination, creating a horror world of rich, dark shadows and tilted down faces. Characters’ skin is of a ghastly ghost’s white palette, shocking and appalling, and your following a returning Haichi/Gintoki character back to his home, now changed, is all the more rewarding from Shindo’s use of insightful black intensities, much saturation.

As a whole, it works to bring sheerness of fear and anticipation, atmosphere from fog machines and kabuki everything. I appreciate the design, all of it, to resemble a soaked towel kind of bleeding, shadows and black, wet and dripping. Spilt  fountain pen’s ink, sheeny and glossed, viscous, uniform. That collecting blackness for dread is some kind of magic by Shindo, and he paints horrible, then wonderful, scenarios for fright with the craftiest of thought processes and and never-ending imagination for subtlety in modernist scene design, minimal.

Rarely does Shindo succumb to pressures for drawing us inward with macro anything, like other horror pictures. That’s a treat. When he does, he is closing in tightly toward characters’ faces and eyes, sometimes crying, and there’s power because of a staccato kind of delivery, patterned for briefness.

There’s so much wideness and space and sets to see. Details of the smallest size are discoverable, and it’s exciting. The majority of story is, by default, impersonal then, you would think, but oddly it works to form an immediate connection with your interests for following characters and their burned down home.

It does have a problem of getting to an end, pushing a typical folklore open-endedness of a finale so as to suit those with minds for the avant garde variety of pessimism, and I’m curious what you thought of it concluding in that way.

Regardless of its ending, it is definitely gorgeous. The presences of horror and terror and style are there throughout the thickets of forest and fire, many different stages, to blanket your nostalgia for simpler filmic terror – simple lighting with elaborate sets.

Beware the cat, and see the film.

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