The Women Are Out for Bloody Revenge in Japanese Gothic Horror Kuroneko

Nippo-Gothic horror fables have a long tradition of proto-feminist outrage—the metaphysical issue of the genre almost always revolves around rape and sexual vulnerability in a feudal landscape. Kaneto Shindô’s Kuroneko (1968), finally making its New York premiere, may take the cake. The now-98-year-old Japanese director’s film is a throat-biting version of I Spit on Your Grave’s revenge cycle, with the action perpetrated by a mother/daughter-in-law pair of gang-raped corpses, reincarnated as feline vampires and leaving behind a stream of samurai bodies in their wake. (Pre-evisceration, the mom’s ponytail flips like a stalking cat’s tail.) Shindô muddies the water with the return of the mom’s fabled son, shanghaied into war and now a chieftain’s officer, who’s told to eliminate whatever is haunting Rashomon Gate at night and drinking gallons of man-blood. Shindô’s evocation of the central haunted bamboo grove is all night shadows and luminescent mist, even when we’re inside the ghosts’ illusory house, which sometimes, via a deftly conceived double exposure, appears to glide through the dark forest on its own. But the mood doesn’t mitigate the tragic political chill of the final, limb-hacking, back-flipping mother-son faceoff, which pits patriarchal might against aeons of angry women.

 
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