12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Stunning & drenched with atmosphere,
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This review is from: Kuroneko (Criterion Collection) (DVD)
Previous reviewers have justly praised this film at length, and I'm glad to add my praise to theirs. Simply put, this Japanese tale puts modern attempts at horror to shame. Filmed in gorgeous black & white, utilizing the most basic of special effects, and suffused with a powerful erotic & psychological current that strikes to the heart of the viewer, it draws you in deeper & deeper until the eerily still & silent end.
What makes it so memorable?
First of all, it offers strong characters with powerful, contradictory emotional drives. Torn between family, honor, religious & social demands, they recognize the trap they're in, one determined by outside forces they've internalized. Yet they're unable to resolve those contradictions & save themselves. This sense of the inexorable only grows stronger as the story progresses.
So our young farmer-turned-samurai is faced with the bloodthirsty ghosts of his wife & mother, who have vowed to destroy all samurai, but retain enough of their memories & humanity to want to spare him. For his part, he relishes his rise in social status, yet desperately wants to be reunited with his wife & mother, partly out of guilt for not being there to save them.
Then there's the cinematography & the bold direction of Kaneto Shindo, making superb use of dense masses of shadow & sudden pools of unearthly light. There's a minimum of gore & gratuitous shock; instead, the emphasis is on atmosphere & tension, brought to a slow & almost unbearable boil. It has a dreamlike quality, one that can turn from haunted beauty to outright nightmare in an instant. In a way, I'm reminded of Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" -- there's the same sense of some ancient folk tale retold in strangely intimate terms -- but where Cocteau properly brings his film to a deserved fairy tale conclusion, Shindo ventures into darker & more ambiguous territory.
As with his previous "Onibaba" (which is the perfect companion to "Kuroneko"), Shindo's sympathies are with the women. For all their visual beauty, his films don't glamorize the samurai, or men in general. His concern is more with those who have to suffer the consequences of living in a world shaped by masculine hungers; thus even his historical films speak eloquently to the present.
Most highly recommended!