The murders continue and leader Raiko (Kei Sato) hires one of his men, Hachi (Kichiemon Nakamura), to track down the monster and kill it. Lured into the house of the women, Hachi, under the guise of Gintoki, notes his hosts look eerily familiar--like Shige (Kiwako Taichi) and Yone (Nobuko Otowa), his wife and mother.
While Kuroneko is categorized as horror, it also has a strong dramatic dilemma at its center. Is Hachi, years after his disappearance, now more of a husband or a samurai whose life must be taken? Are Shige and Yone still family or are they the monsters Hachi has been sent to slay? This focus on the consequences of loyalty and sacrifice is not something genre fans have come to expect in their ghost stories.
What is expected, though, is an atmosphere and design that can make you shiver at the presence of a spirit even if you don’t believe. And director Kaneto Shindo (whose Onibaba is another excellent horror fable) does just that. Throughout, there is a presence of something near, which we should reasonably not be spooked by since it is not us who has done Shige and Yone wrong. (Or, are we being haunted for bearing witness to the crime?)
Yet, some moments will not leave your mind for days. There are wire tricks that make the characters float above; a shocking cutaway of a cat’s paw attached to a human arm; shots by Kiyomi Kuroda that shroud the viewer in thick fogs and deep blacks; the disturbing echo of an all-too-close meow…
The best horror filmmakers have taken note of Kuroneko’s approach. The rest are still using the string section to scare their black cats out of curtains and doorways.
Tadao Sato (16:57): Recorded in 2011, this interview has film critic Sato sharing his insights on Kuroneko and its director. Sato touches on the Japanese film industry at the time, how Shindo’s films could be autobiographical, the director’s Expressionistic style, and more.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 28-page booklet featuring an essay titled “The Mark of the Cat” by film critic Maitland McDonagh and an excerpt from a 1972 interview with director Kaneto Shindo.