... aka: Curse of the Dog God
... aka: Curse of the Inugami
I've seen my fair share of Japanese Ghost-Cat / Bakeneko movies by now, but I believe this is my first ever Dog God / Inugami flick. Three men from a mining company are sent out into the country to the small village of Kagamura to look for “the gold of the atomic age” (uranium). After spying on a couple of pretty girls swimming naked in a pond, they drive off and accidentally run over and destroy a small shrine by the side of the road. To add insult to injury, immediately after they run over a dog named Taro (“It's just a dog... It's disgusting!”), leaving the dog's young owner Isamu (Junya Kato) behind crying and scowling at them. However, the men do find that the mountain they're exploring is filled with uranium. Six months pass and the main mining scout, engineer Ryûji Kanô (Shin'ya Ohwada), is rich because of his valuable discovery. He decides to marry one of the swimming girls, Reiko (Jun Izumi), because her father owns the land where all the uranium is and has worked out a deal with the mining company. However, Isamu still holds a grudge about his dog and disrupts the wedding ceremony with his slingshot, which prompts Reiko's family to forbid Isamu's big sister and Reiko's best friend Kaori (Emiko Yamauchi) from attending the ceremony. And things spiral out of control from there...
Not long after the wedding, both of Ryuji's co-workers who were involved in the doggie hit n' run meet grisly fates, with Nishioka (Shinya Ono) losing it at the wedding ceremony and taking a leap off the roof of a skyscraper and Yasui (Takeshige Hatanaka) getting ripped apart by dozens of rabid dogs in an alleyway. And then, of course, the dog god spirit decides to destroy Ryûji's life. It does this by taking possession of Reiko, causing her to shriek, stab paper, crochet a dog sweater and go hysterical to the point of having to be put into a mental hospital for a spell. A strange letter she receives from former best bud Kaori convinces her that she not only has something to do with the curse and the recent deaths but also that she's also jealous of her marriage and wants her man.
Ryûji eventually checks Reiko out and the two return to the village where all of the problems seem to stem from. They go to an exorcist for an unintentionally hilarious scene where the evil spirit speaks through an old woman, prompting some men to rub balls made out of red beans and rice (!!) all over Reiko's body, including her bare breasts. That's followed by the main exorcist beating her with what looks like a pom pom attached to the end of a stick. Reiko flips out some more, sticks her tongue in her husband's mouth, crackles and then a whole mini army of men beat her some more with sticks. None of it is to any avail as Reiko wanders outside and dies in the snow. Looking for answers, Ryûji goes to visit Kaori and learns she and her family are completely innocent of any wrongdoing but have been ostracized by the entire superstitious village anyway. The Dog God is actually more pissed off about the desecration of the mountain.
As the miner's work on getting the uranium out, accidents plague the site like a large electric drill going haywire and killing two men. In order to make it safer for the crew, they decide to use sulfuric acid to get the uranium out, which ends up polluting the village's ground water in the process. Dog God is not happy and a local festival held by villagers complete with song, parade and men in dog masks dancing around to appease him doesn't seem to help matters. Ryûji, on the other hand, finds a second chance at love with Kaori after he rescues her from the rapids after she's forced to leap off the top of a waterfall to avoid getting gang raped by five bikers wearing dog masks (!) Ryûji must also help Kaori's family when angry villagers show up there and pelt their home with feces and cause other even worse problems.
One thing leads to another until Kaori's father Kôsaku (Hideo Murota) is finally pushed over the edge and performs a strange ritual that involves burying a dog up to its neck in the ground, depriving it for food for days and then decapitating it with a samurai sword. Said head flies up into the air and chews through his throat, which then unleashes the full fury of the Dog God. The mine caves in and blows up, lots of people die and there are acrobatic ghosts (that do the usual tall leaps, flips and cackling), a deep-voiced possession of Reiko's younger sister Mako (Masami Hasegawa), a revelation about a pale retarded son kept hidden from the village and lots of other such nonsense.
This Toei production is from the same guy who made the Female Prisoner Scorpion movies. While that exploitation series has a deserved cult following, this is a bizarre misfire that I don't see ever gaining much traction. It's very well-produced at least, with great sets, impressive widescreen photography, expressive use of color and some breathtaking outdoor locations. The director certainly knows how to frame shots (through cherry blossom trees and such) and shoot landscapes, but he's also to blame for the mess that is the screenplay. While the is sometimes pleasingly unpredictable, the plot is annoyingly, unnecessarily busy and the constant shifts in tone and content are jarring and ensure we never feel fully engaged in what's going on. There are too many underdeveloped side characters to keep track of, the dramatic components are hokey and the whole thing just comes off as unfocused. Can't say that I was bored while watching this, but I didn't really feel much of anything by the end of it either.
Kyôko Kishida (from the excellent Woman in the Dunes) has a small supporting role as Kaori's put-open mother. To my knowledge, this has never been released in the U.S. and isn't available legitimately with English subtitles. A DVD was released in Asia in 2007 and that's what I watched with accompanying fan-made subs.