Starring: Kichiemon Nakamura, Nobuko Otowa, Kiwako Taichi
Director: Kaneto Shindô
Running Time: 99 mins
Kuroneko is a Japanese film about two women who are murdered by bandits in a brutal incident in their own home. However, their spirits return and seek revenge by seducing and killing passing samurai.
This film is weird. It’s a visually striking horror piece that’s full of some insanely eerie sequences beautifully crafted by director Kaneto Shindô, and although it doesn’t always manage to keep up an impressive shock value right until the end, instead losing its power as it goes on, it’s a memorable watch that will make you double take a good few times throughout.
If there’s one thing that really works about Kuroneko, then it’s without a doubt the cinematography. Its visual style is incredibly striking, with starkly monochromatic imagery that adds to the eerie, dreamlike supernatural vibe that permeates throughout the film. Particularly during the film’s first major horror sequence, the incredible contrasts between white and black that make the two women who float through the forest like truly haunting ghosts
What’s more is that the visuals help to cement this film as a more elegant and eerie horror movie rather than one obsessed with violence and gore. The folktale origins of its story suit the former far more than the latter, so it’s an effective decision, and given that this film does actually feature some surprisingly gory sequences, the use of black and white – and no red – really helps to lessen the splatter factor of some of the more violent scenes.
When it comes to the story here, Kuroneko is a film of two halves. Early on, it impresses and shocks with some fantastically eerie and quiet sequences that will make you shiver, and in tandem with those striking visuals, you often won’t be able to take your eyes of the screen as these two women begin preying upon passing samurai in the dead of night.
The problem comes when that starts to get a little repetitive. The film’s first act drags on a little too long, and overdoes the notion that almost every single man who passes by Rajômon gate is going to die, meaning that the shock value of the opening is lost quite significantly.
Unfortunately, when the story does change tack and introduces a secondary character to show the two women in a different light, it doesn’t do the film all that much good. Failing to capitalise on the striking eeriness early on, Kuroneko ultimately becomes something that feels a lot less special, and with a story that’s not all the unpredictable, it’s really doesn’t sustain the same intense shock up to the end.
The performances from Nobuko Otowa and Kiwako Taichi as the two women are great, and work brilliantly to start the film off in as unnerving a manner as possible with their hauntingly quiet voices and angel-like appearances. Beyond those two, however, there aren’t any other real stand-outs, and again, nothing in the film’s latter half does much to bring a new degree of drama or intensity to proceedings, which was a real shame to see.
Overall, I did like Kuroneko, particularly thanks to its strongly eerie start coupled with the striking visual style. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sustain itself so well from beginning to end, and as a result misses out on proving a hugely memorable and consistently unnerving horror, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.1.