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An Expressionistic, Supernatural Experience,
This review is from: Kuroneko (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
It has been a long, long time since I have seen a film and became so enthralled with it that I chose to watch the same movie the very next day.
The film begins with a view of a forest as white fog glides through the trees. A kodo drum beats furiously...this changes to the sound of a cats' claw on a brick wall, then the sound becomes an eerie rattle. A quiet cottage by the edge of a bamboo glade is a scene of peace. Very silently, we see twenty poor samurai who emerge from the bamboo, drink like beasts from a spring, then discover the cottage, Inside the home are two peasant woman who farm for a living. After stealing their food, gang raping and leaving the females for dead, the warriors maliciously burn the cottage to the ground. Only a black cat remains, licking at the womens' bodies.
These two women, a mother and her daughter-in-law, become cat spirits who can shape shift into their former selves, albeit with strange cat eyebrows. In the next world, they pleaded with the god of evil to let them live as vampires so that they could wreak vengeance and bring death to all the samurai. Their aim is to lure the warriors into their forest home, seduce them, then tear out their throats. When victim and victim pile up, the cat spirits discover that the newest samurai they have targeted turns out to be the older woman's treasured son and the younger woman's dear husband. Alas, alas, he has been given the difficult instruction by his lord to rid the land of the cat ghosts. How can he do this?
The black and white photography is moody, sensual, abstract, expressionistic...and absolutely sensational. The contrast between pitch black and silver light creates a sense of the otherworld - a technique perfectly suited to a ghost story. But this film is really NOT a horror film - it is closer to a Kabuki theater piece or perhaps a morality play. The difference between good and evil is ambiguous.
Consider just one scene - the ghosts' first victim is a samurai who had earlier been one of the men who raped and murdered them. As he enters their magical home, the trees surrounding the house move as if on a round carousel. The breeze creates ripples of sound - rustling leaves and whispers. The director recreates a Grimm's Fairy Tale translated to Feudal Japan.
This one is a keeper...a film I wish to study for its magnificent effects. (Given the choice, DO select the Blu-Ray version).