Pretty standard Shindo fair here, in so much that he is able to show off his technical chops while also telling a pretty mundane story. Don’t get me wrong, ghost cats seem like they could be interesting (I guess?) but the mythology and folklore elements are all sort of lost on me due to the silly (if not simplistic) morality complex and just the fact that Shindo just seems to tell the same story over and over again. It would be reductive to call this a rehash of Onibaba but the similarities are staggering. Sure, that’s what autuerism is, but in this case, Shindo seems to go through the motions and just reiterate the visual motifs he likes.
I’ll give Shindo some credit because he really does manage to make all his movies look really good. He’s not the best of his peers, not by a long shot but he definitely holds his own ground. His films lack the extreme sensuality in say, a Yoshishige Yoshida film, as well as the jolting editing of Hiroshi Teshigahara, who is probably the single filmmaker most like him. Both seem to embrace content that should be below them, in all honesty. Teshigahara has his sub-Twilight Zone “surrealism” and Shindo has his folklore horror stories. I really don’t particularly care for either. In Teshigahara’s case, the form sort of overwhelms the content. He’s a bit more creative with the camera, and a lot less concerned with presenting a linear narrative.
It’s kind of fitting then, I guess, that this film is at its best when Shindo decides to focus less on exposition or any dialogue for that matter, and tries to make the film one extended montage. For at least 15 minutes or so, he manages to collide a series of images which repeat the routine of the daughter-in-law, played byKiwako Taichi. We see her confront samurais, lead them through a forrest, and then seduce them once they arrive at her place. It’s a bit repetitive and probably exhausting for the viewer looking for some “J horror” but represents Shindo at his sharpest. He manages to repeat this exercise but still produce new images. Sure, from a pure narrative standpoint, it’s easy to “get” but it is one of the few times he is not chiefly concerned with progressing the story. It’s the film’s most self-consciously artistic sequence, but it is also one of its best.
I’m not saying that the content here is completely boring, in fact, towards the end it actually becomes a little poignant. The encounters the hero has with the ghost version of his wife is heartbreaking despite the fact that it shouldn’t be. It’s weird, I get the impression that Shindo wanted to tell a story about losing loved ones and based on sequences like the one I mentioned, he would have nailed it. Unfortunately, there’s an excess of the folklore stuff, which really just reinforces the silliest and most negative stereotypes of the genre. The whole bit at the end with the giant cat paw is just ridiculous. It’s really a shame too since it comes off the heels of by far the most emotionally resonant stretch in the entire movie. Oh well, some good stuff here.