KURONEKO (Kaneto Shindô, 1968)

Feudal Japan, during the civil strife of the Sengoku Jidai period: After their son and spouse is conscripted into the Emperor’s army, two women find their shack ransacked for food by starving samurai, who proceed to rape and murder them and torch the shack. Raised by a black cat, the ghosts of the two women, seeking vengeance, seduce samurai into their domain, one by one, and murder them; the mother plies them with sake, and the daughter-in-law takes them to bed, pounces on their neck and sucks the blood out. Eventually, under military orders, the son-and-spouse confronts in order to destroy the beasts.
      Kaneto Shindô’s follow-up to Onibaba (1964), Yabu no naka no kuroneko (Black Cat from the Grove) is another piece of arty trash—a self-indulgent melodrama made all the more despicable by the serious messages and considerations that the opportunistic Shindô attaches to it: antiwar; feminist; anti-classist. It is also an unmitigated bore as it repetitiously dramatizes the fate of a series of samurai. The ultimate duel-to-the-death provides at the last a spark of excitement, but the human dimension of the confrontation—the depth of the interior conflicts one would imagine that the characters would be going through—isn’t explored.
     Still, the stark black-and-white photography by Kiyomi Kuroda (best cinematography, Mainichi Film Concours) adds eerieness to the overly formal imagery, and Shindô has some grim visual fun with the resemblance between the female vampire/ghosts and the black cat.

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