Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Borei kaibyo yashiki (1958)

Black Cat Mansion
Mansion of the Ghost Cat, The

Directed by:
Nobuo Nakagawa

Tokyo-based doctor Tetsuichiro Kuzumi (Toshio Kuzumi) decides to move to a small town with his ailing wife Yoriko (Yuriko Ejima), who's suffering from tuberculosis. Eager to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and thinking the fresh air and solitude will do his wife some good, Tetsuichiro decides to move into a large mansion owned by Yoriko's family, which has been uninhabited for years and is rumored to be haunted. He opens up his clinic there and begins seeing local patients, but his wife keeps seeing visions of a black cat and an old, white-haired woman lurking around. Their dog is killed and the old woman attempts to strangle Yoriko several times. The doctor and his brother-in-law Kenichi (Hiroaki Kurahashi) go to a priest for help and learn that the home is cursed. The priest then relates a story going back many years to the former occupants of the home.

The period scenes involve samurai Lord Shogen (Keinosuke Wada), who's basically a prick who abuses his power and tries to kill anyone who angers him. A young man named Kokingo (Ryûzaburô Nakamura) is hired to teach the Lord a game called Go but is killed after calling out Shogen for cheating. The Lord later rapes Kokingo's blind mother, Lady Miyagi (Fumiko Miyata), who returns home, curses the entire family and then kills herself. Using the guise of Shogen's elderly mother (Fuji Satsuke), the spirits of those wrongfully killed enact their revenge against the Lord, his son (Arata Shibata) and servent girl Yae (Noriko Kitazawa). The only one spared the wrath is faithful servant Saheji (Rei Ishikawa), who apparently moved on to start his own family. Guess who Yoriko and her brother are descendants of?

Though not nearly as dramatically strong as the director's other supernatural tales, this manages to seperate itself by sandwiching the period-set revenge story in between one set in contemporary Japan. One thing that's not the least bit diminished is Nakagawa's visual eye. There is a lot of great, innovative camerawork on display here, which is very sophisticated for the time. The film opens with one continuous unbroken POV shot of someone with a flashlight walking through dark hospital corridors, finding a corpse on a stretcher, going up some stairs and then closing in our protagonist. There's also an amazing shot that follows a stream of tricking water to darkness, rises up through some brush to show a crow on a tree branch and then dips back down to slowly follow characters through a gate, pushing branches out of the way as it goes. Another visually striking scene involves a montage illustrating Shogen's descent into madness as he's seen furiously swinging his sword around while bold colors flash behind him. Strangely, the contemporary scenes are all shot in black-and-white with a slight blue tint, while the period scenes are done in a muted Eastmancolor.

The presentation of the possessed grandmother is pretty memorable, too. She takes on a cat like appearance (with fangs and pointy ears that spring up from beneath her crazy white hair) and cat like behavior (clawing people, lapping up blood and eating raw fish). How she's able to reel her victims in, so the speak, is exaggerated mimicry influenced by kabuki theater choreography.
It was adapted from a Sotoo Tachibana novel by Jiro Fujishima and Yoshihiro Ishikawa, who'd later go to write GHOST CAT OF OTAMA POND (which Ishikawa also directed).


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