Film Review

Kuroneko

todayFebruary 10, 2023 452

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By Gareth Jones

 

For fans of J-Horror, Atmospheric Ghost Stories, Japanese Folk Horror

Released in 1968 (the same year as Witchfinder General, one of the Unholy Trinity of Folk Horror and to which there are many similarities) Kuroneko is Kaneto Shindo’s second horror masterpiece.  Set in war-torn medieval Japan (mirroring the post-WWII economic chaos) it tells the story of a mother and daughter-in-law who are brutally raped and killed by maruading samurai.  They return as Onryō, vengeful ghosts who can manifest as cats that kill and drink the blood of samurai.  Building on the work done in Onibada (1964) the cinematography and lighting are astonishing. 

By incorporating Kabuki theatricality in costuming, dancing/movement, and in the acting style, Shindo gives Kuroneko an otherworldly aesthetic that is unnerving and beautiful simultaneously.  The bamboo forest filled with fog and the ominous architecture at the Rajomon Gate enhance the terror considerably. Unheralded upon its release at Cannes (it was a tough year with the strike) it has moved from being a cult favorite into the pantheon of great Japanese horror films on the same level as Kwaiden, and Ugetsu.

Available on HBO Max and Criterion Channel.

Written by: Gareth Jones

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