4 Juin 2017
(+ some people who are unable to vote)
Do you ever find yourself in the mood for an old Japanese ghost story? I did the other day, and I'm grateful for that, since it prompted me to watch Kaneto Shindô's Kuroneko (Shindô is most famous for another ghost story, 1964 cult horror movie Onibaba.)
Set in war-torn medieval Japan (for a change), Kuroneko opens with a scene reminiscent of Mizoguchi: a dozen or so soldiers quietly emerge from a bamboo forest and wordlessly rush to a stream to quench their thirst. Quickly, they turn their attention to a small peasant house. Inside are two women eating rice. What follows is one of those countless war tragedies: after stealing the women's food and raping them, the soldiers murder their victims and set their house on fire. It's a heart wrenching scene but not a gratuitous one, as it radiates a cruel beauty and succeeds brilliantly at involving the viewer in the story that is about to unwind.
Indeed, we haven't seen the last of these two women. As their house burns to ashes, their corpses are left nearly intact. Here enters a key character: a small black cat who visits the lifeless bodies of the women, sitting on their chest and licking their faces. Soon, it is obvious that this cat is imbued with some kind of magic powers and that those powers are being passed on to the women: the innocent victims shall come back to life as formidable spirits with cat-like super powers.
Accordingly, the next segment of the movie follows the script of a classic revenge story with the two women (whom we learn are the mother of a long-departed soldier and the wife of said soldier) teaming up to lure one samurai after the other into a deadly trap. However, their plans are quickly thwarted by the return of their son and husband who has achieved the rank of samurai and has been entrusted with the task of "killing" the ghosts.
There, the movie takes a turn from horror to drama, and the complicated emotional conflicts that plague the characters boils down to one preeminent truth: the same impulses that lead to war -greed, pride, hate and resentment- are the ones that tear people apart from each other.