Kuroneko

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Kuroneko

 

War-ravaged ronin descend like locusts on a small farmhouse, and by the time these pre-Edo soldiers leave, the two occupants---a young woman (Taichi) and her mother-in-law (Otowa)---lie dead in a burnt-down dwelling. Later, several wanderers are found with their throats brutally ripped out. Evidence suggests demon spirits (of course!); out of desperation, the town's governor hires a recently returned veteran (Nakamura) to show these supernatural hussies who's boss. When he finally encounters the deadly duo, the samurai can't help but notice how similar they look to his own mother and wife---both of whom recently perished in a fire. Hmm....

A former advocate of documentary-like realism (The Island) who abruptly switched to baroque stylistics and psychosexualized social commentary (Onibaba), Kaneto Shind may be the least namechecked of Japan's go-to Golden Age directors. This ghost story, however, proves that he's ripe for reappraisal; the blend of theatrical-FX flourishes (notably the specters' eerie gliding through shadowy halls) and cynical outlook on humanity feels remarkably in tune with the last few waves of supernatural J-horror. Once things take a decidedly Freudian turn, Kuroneko starts to overplay its already well-worn trump cards---a little wire-fu sword-fighting and black-cat close-ups go a long way---but even then, the spirit-of-'68 dread over things falling apart never quite evaporates.

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By: David Fear

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