Kuroneko (藪の中の黒猫 Yabu no Naka no Kuroneko, "A Black Cat in a Bamboo Grove"; aka simply The Black Cat) is a 1968 black-and-white Japanese horror film, directed by Kaneto Shindo, and an adaptation of a supernatural folktale. Set during a civil war in Japan's Heian period, the spirits of a woman and her daughter-in-law seek revenge after losing their lives to a brutal incident. The film was made in black and white, Toho Scope format, and was not dubbed in English. It was shown subtitled only in the US in 1968.
Japanese film poster for Kuroneko
|Directed by||Kaneto Shindo|
|Produced by||Nichiei Shinsha|
|Screenplay by||Kaneto Shindo|
|Music by||Hikaru Hayashi|
|Edited by||Hisao Enoki|
Yone (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law Shige (Kiwako Taichi), who live in a house in a bamboo grove, are raped and murdered by soldiers, and their house is burned down. A black cat appears, licking at the bodies.
The women return as ghosts with the appearance of fine ladies, who wait at Rajōmon. They find samurai and bring them to an illusory mansion in the bamboo grove where the burnt-out house was. They seduce and then kill the samurai like cats, tearing their throats with teeth.
Meanwhile, in northern Japan a battle is taking place with the Emishi. A young man, Hachi (Nakamura Kichiemon II), fortuitously kills the enemy general, Kumasunehiko. He brings the severed head to show the governor, Minamoto no Raikō (Kei Satō). He lies that he fought the general under the name Gintoki. He is made a samurai in acknowledgement of his achievement. When he goes looking for his mother and bride, he finds their house burned down and the women missing.
Raikō tells Gintoki to find and destroy the ghosts who are killing the samurai. Gintoki encounters the two women and realizes that they are his mother and wife. They have made a pact with the underworld to return and kill samurai in revenge for their deaths. Because Gintoki has become a samurai, by their pact they must kill him, but the bride breaks her pledge to spend seven nights of love with Gintoki. Then, because she has broken the pact, she is condemned to the underworld. Gintoki lies to Raikō that he has destroyed one of the ghosts.
Gintoki encounters the other ghost again at Rajōmon trying to seduce samurai. After seeing her reflection as a ghost in a pool of water, he attacks her with his sword, cutting off her arm, which takes on the appearance of a cat's leg. Gintoki brings the leg to Raikō, claiming it is evidence that he has killed the second ghost. Raikō is pleased and says Gintoki will be remembered as a hero, but first orders him to complete seven days of ritual purification. During the purification, Gintoki is visited by his mother, who gets inside the chamber by claiming to be a seer sent by the emperor to ward off evil spirits. She tricks Gintoki into giving her the leg, then she flies through the ceiling and disappears into the sky. Distraught and disheveled, Gintoki staggers through the woods to the cottage where he met the ghosts, where he then collapses. The walls disappear around him, revealing the charred remains of his family home where his wife and mother were murdered. Snow falls and covers his body as a cat is heard in the distance.
Yūsuke Suzumura of Hosei University has speculated that the film's title was deliberately intended to allude to the Ryūnosuke Akutagawa story In a Grove (Yabu no naka in Japanese), as well as Akira Kurosawa's film version of the story. Although the Japanese title literally means "a black cat in a bamboo grove", the phrase yabu no naka in Japanese is also used idiomatically to refer to a mystery that is difficult to unravel. Suzumura also identified the legends of Minamoto no Raikō as an influence on the film: since Raikō himself appears in the film, it is likely that the film's protagonist's name Gintoki (銀時, "silver-time") is a reference to the name of Raikō's legendary follower Kintoki (金時, "gold-time").
- Kichiemon Nakamura as Gintoki
- Nobuko Otowa as the Mother
- Kiwako Taichi as Shige
- Kei Satō as Raiko
- Hideo Kanze the Mikado
- Taiji Tonoyama as the farmer
- Yoshinobu Ogawa as Raiko follower
- Rokko Toura as a warlord
Kuroneko was released theatrically in Japan on February 24, 1968 where it was distributed by Toho. It was released in the United States by Toho International with English subtitles on July 1968.
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In Japan the film won two awards from the Mainichi Film Concours. Nobuko Otowa won the award for Best Actress for her work in Kuroneko and Operation Negligee, and Kiyomi Kuroda won the award for Best Cinematography for this and Operation Negligee.
From retrospective reviews, Manohla Dargis describes it as "a ghost story that’s more eerie than unnerving, and often hauntingly lovely". Maitland McDonagh writes that it is "darkly seductive" and "sleek, hair-raisingly graceful, and ready to take its place alongside the other landmarks of Japanese horror history". Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 94%, based on 18 reviews, with a rating average of 8/10.
- Galbraith IV 2008, p. 247.
- Galbraith,Stuart (1994). Japanese Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror Films. McFarland and Co., Inc.
- Suzumura, Yūsuke. "Eiga no naka no Nihon". "Nihon-Ishiki" no Hensen: Kodai kara Kinsei e. Hosei University. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
- "Festival de Cannes: Black Cat from the Grove". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-04-05.
- Dargis, Manohla (October 21, 2010). "Tragic Love Tale of Spirits and Samurai". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-27.
- McDonagh, Maitland (October 17, 2011). "Kuroneko: The Mark of the Cat". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2012-12-27.
- "Kuroneko (1968) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
- Galbraith IV, Stuart (2008). The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 1461673747. Retrieved October 29, 2013.