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Kuroneko
BLU-RAY disk
Nov 1, 2011 By: Mathew Plale
Kuroneko order
Director:
Kaneto Shindo

Actors:
Kiwako Taichi
Nobuko Otowa
Kichiemon Nakamura

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
In Kaneto Shindo's ghost fable, a samurai (Nakamura) is hired to slay two women (Taichi, Otowa) who have been feasting on the blood of warriors who raped and murdered them years earlier.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
A black cat licks the wounds on the womens throats. It is not healing, but feasting. Set during the Sengoku period, Japans Kuroneko (Black Cat, fittingly) opens with the rape and murder of two women, Shige and Yone, in their own home by a band of samurai. Years pass and the warriors are turning up slaughtered.

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 dont 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 cats 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 Kuronekos approach. The rest are still using the string section to scare their black cats out of curtains and doorways.
THE EXTRAS
Kaneto Shindo (1:00:28): In this lengthy interview conducted for the Directors Guild of Japan in 1998, director Shindo (then 86) discusses a wide variety of topics, including his entry into the film business, how his life has influenced his work, the work itself, symbolism, techniques, and much, much more. It may be difficult to get through in one sitting, but its a worthwhile interview.

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 Shindos films could be autobiographical, the directors Expressionistic style, and more.

Theatrical Trailer.

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.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Kaneto Shindos Kuroneko is a unique gem from 1960s Japanese cinema, combining a haunting ghost story with a drama on where loyalty lies between love and duty. For its Blu-ray debut, Criterion has done a great job with the transfers, remaining faithful to Kiyomi Kurodas atmospheric photography. As something of a bonus, when the artwork is viewed from certain angles, the figure on the front disappears...Happy Halloween!
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