Kei Sato

Kuroneko (1968, Shindo Kanetô)

I thought I was going to start this post with a witty remark regarding the film’s use of repetitiveness to excellent overall effect, but then the movie ended and, by that time, much of the excellence had drained. Kuroneko is a gorgeous film–Shindo uses theatrical lighting effects for ghostly emphasis, which really works–and for a while it seemed like the writing was going to catch up. The film starts incredibly slow and doesn’t encourage much interest for the first forty minutes because of all that repetition. The scenes are different, but the same… They’re meant to show the passage of time in purely expositional narrative. In some ways, it’s a neat trick for adapting a short story (and I’m surprised Kuroneko doesn’t have that base), but it tries the viewer’s patience. Shindo is asking for advance with every repeat and then, at the end, when he comes up short, it hurts the film. It’s amazing too how he’ll come so close and he won’t make it. Instead of giving a solid narrative, he wants a haunting ending to the film. He could have had a haunting ending too… but he ended the film about thirty seconds early. In some cases, it’d be frustrating, but with something like Kuroneko, which constantly takes the “unbelievable character response” fork in the road, I no longer had my hopes up.

The other major issue with Kuroneko, and it’s probably my issue, is the lack of scariness. It’s a horror movie. Regardless of setting, Shindo’s fine composition, camera moves, and lighting techniques, his script follows many horror movie conventions. Lousy unresolved endings being the predominant feature of horror films. I’m just wondering whether or not a Japanese horror film, set in the pre-urban era, is something I could find frightening. It’s not my culture, it’s not a place where the uncanny would make it different because it’s already different. I kept waiting for Kuroneko to work, but I found I couldn’t traverse the historical, foreign barrier into the film. It might not be me, though. When Kuroneko‘s characters are acting ludicrously to milk another fifteen minutes in running time, their being in this samurai era Japan is essential for the viewer to remember, because as people–with real emotions–their actions don’t work. Only if one takes their culture into account, can disbelief at the littlest things be suspended. Unfortunately, a lot of Kuroneko ends up hinging on special effects and makeup. The special effects are good. The makeup’s overboard. It’s literal instead of discreet… even when it’s trying to be discreet.

The performances are fine. Otowa Nobuko is particularly excellent, since her character gets to emote the most. Nakamura Kichiemon is all right–his scenes with Taichi Kiwako are great–but his character flops around is much, it’s not like his performance was going to be anything more. They all manage to keep a straight-face, which is impressive, given just how theatrical some of the lighting gets. It’s usually pushing at the “too much” line.

I guess it’s a disappointment, not because of the long first act (thirty-five minutes of ninety-four), but because of the promising second. I really don’t like being able to chop a film up with acts so easily, but Kuroneko practically has title cards to signal them. Really good sound design. Forgot about the sound design… excellent sound design.



Written and directed by Shindo Kanetô; director of photography, Kuroda Kiyomi; edited by Enoki Hisao; music by Hayashi Hikaru; produced by Shinsha Nichiei; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nakamura Kichiemon (Gintoki), Otowa Nobuko (Yone), Taichi Kiwako (Shige), Sato Kei (Raiko), Tonoyama Taiji (a farmer), Toura Rokko (a samurai) and Kanze Hideo (Mikado).

Godzilla (1984, Hashimoto Koji)

On a few levels–like the one with the giant monster–Godzilla fails. On some other ones, like the production values, the acting, and the approach, it succeeds. It’s a peculiar film and it should have been better. Apparently, the Japanese film industry had some trouble in the 1970s and the Godzilla series took a nine year break. Since it was such a public return, this Godzilla became an event picture. It’s also a quintessential 1980s film (and not in a bad way). There are a handful of films, from the 1980s, dealing with metropolitan environments (Die Hard is one). It’s just an observation, not a thought-out theory , and it’s more about the feeling the films convey than any sort of sociological commentary. It’s also late and I don’t want to use the wrong word.

For the first half hour, Godzilla is going to be pretty good. There’s a good lead performance from Tanaka Ken as a reporter and the film’s structured around his discovery of a story and the revelation of Godzilla’s return (this Godzilla is a direct sequel to the original Godzilla). For that first half hour, when Godzilla’s nothing but a shadow and an outline, the film really works. Once it shows up, the film loses its footing. Instead of teasing the audience with the newly improved monster, we get the full monty and we didn’t need the full monty. We needed the tease. The Godzilla-based special effects vary in quality, but the film still manages to create a context where the giant monster isn’t trespassing. However, some of the miniature work in Godzilla is breathtaking. It’s never been this good since, maybe because they were worried about creating a miniature city to matte behind people and for people to interact with, instead of just giant monsters fighting….

Once Godzilla shows up, the film–which had established itself as mildly political already, the Prime Minister is a protagonist–loses the good character stuff it was doing. One character is actually shipped away, just because there’s nothing for him to do between montages of military equipment preparing for Godzilla. The film bounces back at the end, when the characters get stuck in a building Godzilla’s knocking around. The film stays with them instead of centering on Godzilla and there are some great destroyed city sets for them to run around on.

The film reminds me–with its problems–a lot of Behemoth, because there’s an attempt to do something with the film, then the need to satisfy audience expectations. Godzilla is a boring film and it needed to be longer and more boring. It needed fifteen minutes of scientific mumbo-jumbo and some more scenes with people walking through Tokyo at night. This music in this film, besides the song at the end–a song, in English, saying goodbye to Godzilla–is some of the more effective scoring I’ve heard. It does a lot of work for the film. Sets mood for characters, sets up story changes, all sorts of good stuff.

I usually consider Godzilla films a guilty pleasure (and preface any post with that disclaimer), but Godzilla doesn’t fit that categorization. It just works too differently to scratch that itch and instead it scratches one I didn’t know I had.



Directed by Hashimoto Koji; screenplay by Nagahara Shuichi, based on a story by Tanaka Tomoyuki; director of photography, Hara Kazutami; edited by Kuroiwa Yoshitami; music by Koroku Reijiro; production designer, Sakuragi Akira; produced by Hayashi Norio and Kanazawa Kiyomi; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Tanaka Ken (Maki Goro), Sawaguchi Yasuko (Okumura Naoko), Natsuki Yosuke (Dr. Hayashida), Kobayashi Keiju (Prime Minister Mitamura), Takuma Shin (Okumura Hiroshi), Ozawa Eitaro (Kanzaki), Koizumi Hiroshi (Minami), Suzuki Mizuho (Emori), Naito Taketoshi (Takegami), Orimoto Junkichi (Director-General of the Defense Agency), Sato Kei (Gondo), Takeda Tetsuya (Homeless Man), Hashimoto Sho (Captain of Super-X), Kaneko Nobuo (Isomura), Emoto Takenori (Kitagawa), Murai Kunio (Henmi) and Tajima Yoshifumi (General Hidaka).

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