KURONEKO (1968) – The Dungeon Review!
I do not know how or why it took me this long to see Kaneto Shindô’s Kuroneko. Shindo’s Onibaba is one of my favourite horror films of all time! During my Toho March feature I discovered the production company had many masterpieces that weren’t monster movies. I added Kuroneko to my library queue for the feature but alas, it only recently became available. Kuroneko can definitely be added to the list of Toho-produced masterpieces! Kuroneko is one of the most beautiful and haunting films I have ever seen! Like Onibaba, Kuroneko focuses on two female characters during war time. The two films are perfect companion pieces; each unique but sharing a similar pace and feel. I think I need to re-watch and review Onibaba soon! But today I review Kuroneko, which is a whole lot of awesomeness.
Yone and her daughter-in-law Shige are gang raped and murdered and their home is burned to the ground by a group of samurai. A black cat watches over the women’s corpses and cleans their wounds. The women become vengeful spirits whose sole purpose is to kill and drink the blood of every last samurai. The women live in a home near the Gates of Rajomon among a forest of bamboo trees. Each evening the beautiful Shige persuades a samurai to escort her home. The samurai are plied with sake, killed and left in the forest. Gintoki, a samurai whom has recently returned from battle is sent by the lord to rid the region of this samurai-killing menace. The daunting task is complicated by the fact that Gintoki is the son of Yone and husband of Shige.
Kuroneko takes place during wartime and its opening scene illustrates the brutality of the period. The way the samurai swarm the women’s home was like wild animals stalking their prey. Once inside they raid the home of food and than each one takes their turn raping the women. A pretty ugly and stark picture of the inhumanity we humans are capable of. The horrific scene is a strong argument for the women’s revenge. But when you are negotiating with the spirit underworld vengeance can have a high price. Kuroneko is also a love story. Gintoki was a farmer before he was taken by force to join the war. Some years have passed since Yone and Shige seen Gintoki who is now a samurai. I do not want to spoil this haunting tale so I will state only that its story is enthralling.
Kuroneko is filmed in beautiful black and white with a fantastic other-worldly atmosphere. Lighting is used to great effect; casting shadows and making inanimate objects appear as though they are moving. The eerie silence and the creative sound effects are also extremely well done. I loved the way the women were the focus of every shot. Their light ethereal appearance made everything around them appear darker. Kuroneko’s dream-like visuals are greatly enhanced by wonderful touches like Yone’s slow rhythmic death dances, Shige’s cat-like attacks and the way Shige floats over a puddle as she walks a samurai towards his doom. The close-ups of the black cat that lurks about the women’s bodies, licking their wounds, hint this is no ordinary cat. Even simple little things like a billowing curtain do not go unnoticed. Visually Kuroneko is flawless.
Kiwako Taichi is bewitching as Shige. Bound by her pact, Shige is a seductive and vicious spirit. But the woman shige once was lingers inside, making her incredibly empathetic. Nobuko Otowa is superb as Yone. Yone is a strong, serious spirit who methodically goes about her rituals. Her unusual eye makeup gave her an appropriately menacing appearance. Yone seems to have considerably less connection to who she was. Although she is not unaffected by the appearance of her son. Handsome Kichiemon Nakamura is excellent as the conflicted Gintoki; son, husband and samurai. In short, intriguing characters and perfectly cast.
Kuroneko is an absolute work of freaking art! I loved it! Kuroneko is stunning, haunting and hypnotic, and gets my highest of recommendations; a perfect score.
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By: Kaneto Shindô
Starring: Kichiemon Nakamura, Nobuko Otowa, Kiwako Taichi, Kei Satô, Taiji Tonoyama, Rokko Toura, Hideo Kanze