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.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kaibyô noroi numa (1967)

...aka: Bakeneko: A Vengeful Spirit
...aka: Cursed Pond, The
...aka: Ghost Cat of Cursed Pond, The

Directed by:
Yoshihiro Ishikawa

In 1615, treasonous vassal Naoshige Nabeshima overthrows Lord Ryuzoji Takafusa’s castle. The old lord is buried alive and his wife, when forced with the prospect of marrying the traitor, choses to drown herself and her pet cat Tama in a nearby swamp instead, effectively cursing the area. Naoshige, now in complete control of the village, turns out to be a merciless, power-mad ruler (“The law doesn’t apply to me!”) who orders anyone who usurps his authority in any way immediately killed. While watching a fireworks display, Naoshige spots beautiful young Yujiki and demands she become one of his wives and move into the castle to “serve” him. The problem is that Yujiki, the daughter of high-ranking Mataemon, is in love with and engaged to marry treasurer’s son Jonosuke Yuki. Irregardless, disobeying the new lord is punishable by death. The young lovers find themselves unable to comply and plot to flee the village together, but an eavesdropper overhears their plans and both are killed in the swamp. Tama, now a ghost cat, licks blood from Yujiki’s body and a curse immediately sets into motion.

Lady Hyuga, one of Naoshige’s many wives, is immediately possessed and causes the deaths of many of those living inside the castle. She’s sometimes seen wearing wild makeup and crazy hair, sometimes has hairy, clawed hands and, in one memorable scene, feasts upon dismembered hands in a graveyard! After eliminating a good number of people, Hyuga takes the appearance of Yujiki, pays one last visit to her mother and then disappears. Some time later, corrupt counselor Shuzen Kuroiwa decides to let the lord have his unwilling younger sister Yuri and history begins repeating itself. Yuri chosing to commit suicide instead of becoming the lord’s slave, becomes possessed and then enacts the second part of the revenge, which includes making the four-year-old heir deathly ill and driving Naoshige insane.

Despite overly familiar story elements (the ghost cat, the cursed swamp, etc.), this is extremely well done. The acting and art direction are both good, it’s atmospheric and it’s very stylishly photographed in black-and-white. It’s also surprisingly bloody and violent. There are graphic decapitations (and in one great bit a vision of a dozen or so decapitated living heads), arms chopped off, faces slashed open, impalements, rotting corpses and much more. Some directorial choices are pretty clever, such as overlapping the possessed eyes of the humans with the cats. There’s also a striking montage of an insane Naoshige going on a rampage, part of which is reflected in the cat’s eye.
The cast includes Kotaro Satomi, Ryohei Uchida, Kyoko Mikage, Yuriko Mishima and Bunta Sugawara. The director also made THE GHOST CAT OF OTAMA POND (1960) and co-wrote the Nobuo Nakagawa films MANSION OF THE GHOST CAT (1958) and THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA (1959).



CavedogRob said...

I'm definately getting my hands on a copy of this!

Jackdesiffs said...

Très bon film de genre. A posséder dans sa dvdtheque.

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