Kuroneko (1968)

Viewed March 17th

After being raped and killed, a mother and daughter in rural Japan become vengeful ghosts.

Kuroneko's opening scene offers up just as much existential terror at the sight of dead-eyed un-human humans slowly descending upon their prey as Romero's The Night of the Living Dead, released that same year. A band of malnourished samurai come out of the woods, stop at a little stream to slurp up some water (with unsettling, exaggerated sound effects), and then break into the house to rape, kill, and eat--all without any sense of human feeling. It's a disturbing scene, punctuated by the burning down of the hut where the savagery took place as the men return to the forest. The next thing we see are cats moving through the ashes of the burned down hut, feasting on the remains of the two murdered women. 

What follows lacks that existential horror, becoming instead a poetic, ritualistic ghost story. It involves mesmerizing scenes of the ghost-daughter seducing samurai in a seemingly imaginary hut while the ghost-mother performs a swirling dance to prime the scene for the act of revenge. The film is lit in a stark, theatrical style and set to an avant-garde soundtrack; oh and apparently the mother and daughter are also cat demons, along with being ghosts. Director Kaneto Shindo drenches everything in sinister, erotic atmosphere that feels both classic and throughly modern. But as the plot moves onto connecting the women with a man (who we learn is the son to the older woman, husband to the younger) and tries to tie in the whole cat thing, logic begins to feel a bit out of control. This feeling, in turn, stops the viewer from throughly absorbing themselves in the artsy ghost world atmosphere.