Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!
Plot Summary: Returning after years of war, a samurai is assigned to kill two monsters that turn out to be the vengeful spirits of his murdered wife and mother.
Review: Taking us back in time a bit, we have some truly classic, Asian horror with "Kuroneko." While I don't imagine this scaring modern audiences, the material still holds up remarkably well. In fact, it feels like a timeless ghost story or fairy tale so it pulls audiences in quite readily. I loved the dynamic between the ghosts and the main character, Gintoki, since neither knew what became of the other until their paths crossed in the most fateful of ways. This is a powerful plot line and delves into a conflict I have expressed we need more of in fiction: the protagonist and antagonist loving each other. Outside of the main story, the look, effects, and cinematography are all impressive for the time; hell, probably better than most of modern cinema. Unfortunately, the one thing that hurts the film considerably is the ending.
The pacing starts off incredibly fast as we immediately see a group of roaming samurai rape and murder two women minding their own business; these woman are the mother and wife of Gintoki. A black cat, seemingly the physical manifestation of some kind of demonic force, resurrects the women as vengeful spirits. I do want to acknowledge they aren't ghosts in a traditional sense; they have physical forms that are part cat-demon/part human--it's tough to explain. After killing many unsuspecting samurai with their supernatural abilities, the ghostly women upset the local government who, in turn, decide they need a skilled warrior to dispense with them. Due to luck, Gintoki is the last man standing after a decisive battle and impresses the local government with his alleged fighting prowess. Returning home, Gintoki attempts to find his wife and mother, but he cannot disobey the orders of his leader. In order to move forward with his life, Gintoki is told he must unwittingly defeat the ghosts of his wife and mother. Pretending to fall into the trap of the two ghosts, Gintoki and the ghosts are both shocked to discover that their adversary is the person they have been fighting to be with all this time. This part is awesome as Gintoki just wants to be with his family again, and the two women are relieved that Gintoki had not died in battle after all. Sadly, their happiness is short-lived since the two women have traded their souls for revenge and cannot stop killing any samurai...including Gintoki. Despite this, the wife decides to go to hell rather than to kill her beloved husband, however, the mother fully embraces her demonic side and continues to kill samurai. In a fight, Gintoki cripples the mother by cutting off her arm which is used as proof that Gintoki has attempted to defeat the spirits. Oddly enough, the film kind of falls to pieces at the very end when the mother retrieves her arm, flies in the sky, and Gintoki decides to go to sleep in the snow. Yeaaah...uhh...I got nothin' for ya. I'm sure there is some meaning in this conclusion I do not realize, but it definitely hurt the final impression.
I know it's harder for the current generation to give older movies a chance, especially when they're black and white, but I think any Asian horror fan will not be disappointed. The action and pacing are doable, and the story is both touching and tragic. Each actor pours a lot of emotion into their roles, and this successfully enhances the compelling nature of the events. The ending is up in the air and nonsensical, which does hurt, but it's not as though it ruins the film or anything; it is simply disappointing that an otherwise fantastic film closes out in such a lackluster manner without efficient resolution. If you've watched all the legends like "Ring" and "Ju-on," before switching to the realm of mediocrity with the likes of "The Locker," perhaps you should give this one a shot instead.
Notable Moment: When Gintoki first appears before his leader--dude looks like Goku or something with that hair and wannabe power pole.
Final Rating: 7/10