Tuesday, August 16, 2011

#584: Kuroneko

(Kaneto Shindo, 1968)

For the average Criterion nerd, Kuroneko will forever be associated with House, the other Japanese cult horror film that served as the other half of a double feature that played throughout the country before both films were released on DVD. This is an extremely misleading connection, however, and it makes for very misguided expectations when going into Kuroneko. Beyond these superficial connections, the films share very little in common. This is not a wild psychedelic journey tapped into Japanese pop culture overload.

In fact, the film which is most obviously akin to this much more somber, infinitely more haunting mood piece is Shindo's earlier horror film Onibaba. Both films deal with a mother and daughter who murder samurai during wartime. Each has their astounding moments, though Onibaba has one foot in the erotic thriller camp, while Kuroneko is very much a ghost story.

Regardless of its place in Japanese film, Kuroneko is a worthy revival for the collection, a unique take on the samurai movie that incorporates issues of morality and revenge into a tragic whole. Unlike Onibaba - which relied on sparse music to enhance impact - this later film avoids music in its most intense and supernatural moments. It makes the presence of death weigh over the film's story, which begins and ends with its main characters meeting their fate. Kuroneko is ultimately more sad than it is scary, but that doesn't take away from the effectiveness of the film. Thankfully, Kuroneko isn't meant to live up to House by its association (what movie could?) but instead demonstrates the wide range of Japanese horror - both are strong reminders that the genre had roots in the East far before Ringu kicked off a revival.

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