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Sunday, June 17, 2012

KURONEKO / BLACK CAT (1968)

Kaneto Shindô’s influential ghost story is wildly theatrical & impossibly elegant; it’s also so far gone into Eastern custom, lore & attitude that it’s tough for a Western audience to keep from cracking-wise at the screen. In feudal Japan, a mother & her son’s wife are attacked by roaming samurai and left for dead in their burning home. Soon, their spirits, apparently preserved by their black house cat, brings them back as avenging ghost ladies. Then, when the husband returns from the war as a heroic samurai warrior, he’s assigned to eliminate the deadly ghosts before they kill again. Is love stronger than immortal revenge? Is killing your already dead wife & mother double jeopardy? Is he really having erotic sex with his wife . . . did he actually ask her if he should ‘come again?’ And did Henry James subtitle this THE RETURN FROM A SCREW? Shindô, on some level, seems aware of that screwiness, he makes the samurai’s commander an oddly hirsute comic vaudevillian; and some of the martial-arts tricks now look more than a bit dated; but there are too many bewitchingly lovely compositions to allow you to totally give in to the giggles. One magnificent sun-drenched silhouette shot of the husband galloping toward us on horseback is enough to justify the entire film. How was this shot accomplished?

DOUBLE-BILL: Shindô’s ONIBABA/’64 is considered something of a companion piece to this. But what a lot of Shindô films exist; 45 as director & scripts for 159!! His final release came out in 2010, and he was 100 when he died last month (05/12).

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