Masters Of Cinema #56 - Kuroneko - Blu-ray Review

There's been a lot written about the drum-led soundtrack of Man Of Steel recently, but I'd be willing to bet the thrumming, bouncing score to Kuroneko outdoes it. The intense beating starts off early, showing up frequently throughout the rest of the film, keeping time to something that, at times, can seem rather like a dance.

Kaneto Shindô's film is, in essence, a vampire movie but that doesn't mean he is about to settle for stock Horror visuals. Wire work with the two floating spectres of wronged women Yone (Nobuko Otowa) and Shige (Kiwako Taichi) soaring, lit white, through deep black evening, takes the film to some ethereal places, as they haunt the samurai who wrong them in the film's silent, shocking, opening. As Shige feeds on the hapless warriors, Yone dances to the drums in the background, an extra in a weird music video from feudal Japan.

Made four years after his Onibaba, Shindô revisits much of that film here, adding in style and ramping up the Horror. There's very similar treatments of a mother, son and daughter-in-law relationship and love and duty are clearly at the forefront of the themes, as the characters follow a very similar arc. Watch for the key costume change, when samurai Gintoki (Kichiemon Nakamura) stops wearing black and switches to Shige's white, as Yone finds a black kimono from somewhere, abandoning the white that had linked her to Shige.

Shindô's work here reveals a much more innovative side to the director than Onibaba showed, with the wire work being just one of the 'new' techniques which unexpectedly crop up. Subtle frame-mashing results in Shindô showing us a samurai in the women's house, whilst outside the trees move past as he flies through them, kidnapped to somewhere beyond time and place. Setting the scene of the female vampires, Shindô presents quick cuts between dispersed, doomed, samurai visitors to their lodging, keeping us joyfully involved in their ritual, whilst he mixes in traditional links between vampirism and sexuality. The effect is beguiling. I could have watched an entire film of these sequences, with Yone dancing in the background.

Like Onibaba, the film comes to explicitly consider the consequences of war, at which point the pace of the previous sections do start to lose something. Gintoki is trapped into longer conversations with his superior, which have fairly little to add, whilst his battles with Yone aren't as haunting as the earlier combat sequences.

Even when it's slower though, Kuroneko is a beautiful vampire film, a mix of genre tropes done in new ways (for both the time and, arguably, now) and elements which feel fresh to the vampire story. It's atmospheric and haunting, satisfying and artistic. Twilight could learn a lot.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Kuroneko is released in the UK on Monday 24th June 2013

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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