Directed by Kaneto Shindô [Other horror films: Onibaba (1964)]
Largely known as The Black Cat, Yabu no naka no kuroneko started off a decent movie, but I have to say that, after thirty minutes or so, I thought it began to drag, and it never really fully picked up steam again.
The film has a beautiful setting, taking place near a bamboo forest, and it looks quite stunning in black and white (which actually, on a side-note, surprised me, as many Japanese movies I’ve seen from the late 1960’s, and even before, have been in color), and the story has some emotional resonance to it also, to be sure.
For the first thirty minutes, showcasing the two women who are raped and killed, and then coming back as vengeful spirits to get revenge on all samurai, the movie was pretty solid. I thought they were going through their revenge pretty quickly, but that’s because their focus wasn’t there yet (a newly-appointed samurai who they both knew in their previous life), so that’s fine.
And the story that follows isn’t too bad, either, and like I said, even carried with it some emotional scenes, not to mention suspenseful scenes, such as the precursor to the final battle. I just personally found much of it boring beyond belief.
Kichiemon Nakamura was solid as the peasant farmer who, due to valor in battle, moved up to become a samurai. He was a good character, through-and-through, and him finding out that, after three years of being away from home due to his forced conscription, his house had burned down and family missing, was effective and saddening. I just wish I could say that either Nobuko Otowa (Onibaba) or Kiwako Taichi could have made more an emotional impact past the opening scene, but at least Kei Satô provided a little amusement.
Certainly this film had some moments that should have been a bit more of a tug on the heart, but they just didn’t hit me that way. Even toward the end, when Nakamura’s character figures out how to destroy the spirit of his mother, I just wasn’t getting that depressing vibe that you’d sort of expect out of the situation.
Regardless of that, though, the fact that I found the film boring is probably what’s most damning. Others may not see the film that way (many others, given the high rating this sports on IMDb), but I definitely did, and really, given the story rarely got me invested, I’ll have to admit to being disappointed with this Japanese film; it’s no doubt solid and moody at times, but I was just more bored than anything else.