Japan 1968, 95 mins
Director: Kaneto Shindo

While her son is at war, a woman and her daughter-in-law are raped and murdered by samurai. They return as vengeful spirits, seducing samurai to their deaths. A young man returns from battle a war hero, charged with destroying whoever is killing the samurai. An unsettling supernatural tale, set in feudal Japan, Kuroneko ranks alongside the filmmakers other masterpieces, The Naked Island and Onibaba.
Kelli Weston,

Kaneto Shindo’s hyper-stylised take on Japan’s classic ghost cat formula does for bamboo what the director’s previous supernatural parable Onibaba (1964) did for bulrushes. Their towering, swaying forms picked out among the abyssal darkness dominate the aesthetic.

Set during a time of civil war in the medieval Heian era, it’s a tale of rape, murder and revenge in which the restless spirits of a mother and her daughter-in-law return from the grave, reincarnated with the spirit of a black cat, to seduce and murder the unruly mob of soldiers responsible for their deaths.

The masterful use of light and shadow, and the repetition and re-staging of key sequences with subtle variations, create a minimalistic dreamscape in which emptiness becomes a crucial thematic and compositional component.
Jasper Sharp,, 22 March 2018

Much less extravagant than Shindo’s earlier excursion into ghostly horrors with Onibaba – no lovers baying at the moon, no demon mask, no pit of corpses –Kuroneko is (albeit erratically) more of a mood piece.

It opens brilliantly with a long-held, angled shot of a clearing where a thatched cottage nestles cosily, a stream trickles past the front door, and the long grass gently stirs as the forest in the background suddenly becomes alive with prowling samurai. With their attack and rape of the two women, the style changes abruptly into crude, leering close-ups; then back again to contemplation as the samurai drift back into the forest, a cricket chirps in the empty clearing, and smoke slowly begins to billow from the cottage as it catches fire. This uncertainty of rhythm continues through the film, turning it into an uncomfortable mixture of graceful atmospherics and crude shock effects.

At its best, it is fleetingly reminiscent of Ugetsu Monogatari (the ghostly ladies welcoming their prey in the shadowy house), of Kwaidan (the journeys through the bamboo forest), of The Revenge of Yukinojo (the acrobatic tumbling out of the darkness by the feline monsters). The similarities, alas, are never sustained: the formal welcome to the ghost house and the mother’s enigmatic, hieratic dance as her daughter woos the visitor give way to silly junketings around the bed; the splendid shot of the great gateway, with the shimmering figure of the ghost high on the parapet to lure unwary samurai, startlingly beautiful the first time round, is subsequently simply repeated, rather lamely; and the dreamlike journey through the bamboo forest, also repeated several times, is usually cut off in mid flow with an insensitivity to rhythm which neither Mizoguchi nor Kobayashi would have permitted.

Nevertheless, for all its fits and starts, Kuroneko has a sufficiently ingenious story to remain enjoyable throughout, and it sporadically discovers moments of genuinely bizarre invention: the ladies somersaulting, amid billowing draperies, high above their intended victims as they ride through the forest; the monster (human) at bay with its own severed arm (feline) clutched in its teeth; the sudden, tell-tale cut into spectral slow motion as a woman walking along a forest path daintily jumps a puddle. Above all, the soundtrack is a marvel – even by Japanese standards – of care and cunning. With its carefully orchestrated symphony of natural sounds, miaows, grunts, shrieks, soughing winds, and Kabuki plops and bangs, it is an entire entertainment in itself, and very nearly holds the whole film together.
Tom Milne, Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1979

Director: Kaneto Shindo
Production Companies: Kindai Eiga Kyokai, Nihon Eiga Shinsha
Executive Producers: Nobuyo Horiba, Setsuo Noto, Kazuo Kuwahara
Screenplay: Kaneto Shindo
Director of Photography: Kiyomi Kuroda
Lighting: Shoichi Tabata
Editor: Hisao Enoki
Art Director: Takashi Marumo
Make-up: Shigeo Kobayashi
Music: Hikaru Hayashi
Sound: Tetsuya Ohashi

Kichiemon Nakamura (Gintoki)
Nobuko Otowa (Yone)
Kiwako Taichi (Shige)
Kei Sato (Raiko)
Hideo Kanze (Mikado)
Rokko Toura (samurai)
Taiji Tonoyama (farmer)

Japan 1968
95 mins

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