Friday, November 26, 2010


Pleased was your proprietor to see, hot on the heels of last month's Onibaba review, that Janus Films was touring a print of another period horror piece by Kaneto Shindo.

KURONEKO's story is as lean a folk tale as ONIBABA's, with a wife and mother of a samurai returning as vengeful spirits after being brutally raped and murdered by a gang of 17 soldiers. Waylaying samurai outside the Rajomon Gate, the two angry ghosts drink the blood of their victims to sate the vengeful demon that returned them to human form. Things become complicated when their long-missing son and husband, a successful samurai, is charged to investigate and eliminate them.

Shindo's tale is captured in a setting as powerful and evocative as ONIBABA's susuki fields, but the world is expanded to include artificial settings that frame its ghostplay perfectly - the gorgeous bamboo forest doesn't suffocate its characters as ONIBABA's susuki, but seem to push them into these gorgeous, metatheatrical worlds. Shindo unleashes an arsenal of cinematic and theatrical effects to capture the movements of his spectral characters, and briefly gives way to a thrillingly lush romanticism when two of his characters reconcile on a more earthly plane.

From the two films mentioned here I suspect that Shindo's a bit more restrained than his contemporary Seijun Suzuki, but he's no less visionary. I'd be keen to see a retrospective taking in more of his work (like the one on the work of Masahiro Shinoda that seems to be making the rounds). The Janus tour of KURONEKO suggests strongly that a Criterion Collection release is forthcoming - more economical than a full-tilt retrospective tour, to be sure, but after experiencing these two films in such close succession one does long for a more running cup.


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