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5.0 out of 5 stars Some of life's important lessons... like never trusting creepy cat ghosts, December 27, 2011
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This review is from: Kuroneko (Criterion Collection) (DVD)
Also another important lesson: don't become a Samurai, or bloodthirsty spirits will KILL YOU!

Update: I purchased the Blu-Ray version when the price dropped to $19.99. Worth every penny!

But perhaps the most important lesson here is: watch this film! Enjoy it for the amazing thrill ride that it is. Kaneto Shindo directs this amazing piece of Japanese cinematic gold. He is like the Japanese Tarantino, he never had any official training, just a love for films. He actually read one of these 44 (or so) volume modern stage collections that took him over a year to finish. Amazingly, he is one of very few people to actually have completed each and every volume in such short time. But that is a testament to his style and character. He learned for years under Mizoguchi, and looked up to the old master quite a bit. Though he admits in documentaries and interviews (including one in this collection) that he and Mizoguchi disagreed about a lot of things, the old master was a major influence in Shindo's film life. To sum it up: Mizoguchi said 'a flower cannot act' but Shindo says a flower can actually act, if one takes the time to notice.

The film is set in feudal Japan. Enter starving deserters. Starving deserters see a house. House has food and women. Deserters take what they want and burn the house and the women. Enter black cat. Begin creepy ghost story.

Without delving too much into the film and giving anything away, the two deceased women are possessed by a vengeful cat spirit. They seem to retain some of their memories from when they were alive, but they form a pact with the evil underworld gods to kill and drink the blood of any samurai that cross the Rajomon gate.

First of all, the film is gorgeous. Simply jaw dropping beautiful. It has some to do with the amazing transfer and restoration of Criterion (though most late 60s films need less restoration than those pre 1960s. But what really shines is the use of set and amazing lighting effects by Shindo and his amazingly talented crew. Every detail is raked over with a fine tooth comb. There is nothing extra or flabby about this film. Every set, every scene, every line is important. Shindo once spoke of Ozu and his respect for his films, and this kind of nitpicking directing shows. Though perhaps he was not quite as neurotic as Orson Wells!

The film is a haunting ghost story, based on Noh and Kabuki theater; but at it's core it is a love story and a tale of loyalty and also of revenge. The acting is pretty amazing. Raiko's mustache could have a career all it's own as a porn star! But we really see some terrific acting once Kichiemon Nakamura (Gintoki) enters the film.

It's a creepy yet not scary film that has a lot of depth and complexity. It teaches us those important life lessons: never trust vengeful spirits, never escort 'lost' young ladies home in the middle of the night, don't go into creepy and remote villas with said 'lost' girls... or just don't become a samurai and it'll be all good. But the old saying, "never cross paths with a black cat" doesn't apply here. This is one black cat that deserves a part of any film fan's collection.

PS. If you actually do have a black cat as a pet (I do), please be aware that said cat might take pleasure in suddenly appearing sitting on the arm of the couch next to you and startle the #*@^ out of you.
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