KURONEKO (藪の中の黒猫) (Kaneto Shindô, 1968)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
October 28 - November 2
Series continues through November 3
“A cat’s nothing to be afraid of,” a samurai (Rokkô Toura) says in Kaneto Shindô’s 1968 Japanese horror-revenge classic, Kuroneko. Oh, that poor, misguided warrior. He has much to learn about the feline species but not enough time to do it before he suffers a horrible death. In Sengoku-era Japan, a large group of hungry, bedraggled samurai come upon a house at the edge of a bamboo forest. Inside they find Yone (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law, Shige (Kiwao Taichi), whose husband, Hachi (Kichiemon Nakamura), is off fighting the war. The men viciously rob, rape, and murder the women, but they leave behind a mewing black cat (“kuroneko”) that is not exactly happy with what just happened. Three years later, the aforementioned samurai is riding his horse on a dark night when he encounters, by the Rajōmon Gate, a young woman positively glowing in the darkness. She says she is frightened and asks if he can accompany her home; he claims he has met her before but can’t quite place her. He agrees to help her, and when they reach her abode he is treated to some tea served by an older woman and some fooling around with the younger one — until the latter creeps on top of him and turns into a menacing animal, biting into his throat and drinking his blood. One by one, the samurai are lured into this trap, until a surprise warrior arrives.
Written and directed by Shindô and based on an old folktale, Kuroneko is a tense, spooky film, with a foreboding score by Hikaru Hayashi (Shindô’s The Naked Island and Onibaba) and shot in eerie black-and-white by Kiyomi Kuroda (Shindô’s Mother, Human, and Onibaba). One of the great feminist ghost stories, it’s like the missing sequel to Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan, with elements of Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress and Rashomon thrown in, along with echoes of flying ninja movies. Memorable images abound: The two women, in ghostly white, float in the air; the camera weaves through the bamboo forest; a gruesome killer is beheaded. The film also features Kei Satō as Raiko, Hideo Kanze as Mikado, and Taiji Tonoyama as a farmer, but Kuroneko belongs to Shindô regular — and his lover and, later, his wife — Otowa, who appeared in nearly two dozen of his films, and Taichi, who also worked with such other directors as Keisuke Kinoshita, Mitsuo Yanagimachi, Yôji Yamada, and Shintarô Katsu before dying in a car accident in 1992 at the age of forty-eight. The two women go about their business with a calm and somewhat placid demeanor until they pounce, like cats luring mice to certain doom. Kuroneko is screening from October 28 to November 2 in the BAMcinématek series “13 Cats,” a baker’s dozen of feline flicks that continues through November 3 with Roger Corman’s The Tomb of Ligeia, John Gilling’s The Shadow of the Cat, Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat, and both Jacques Tourneur’s and Paul Schrader’s Cat People.