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Akira, a teacher from Tokyo, has just arrived in a small rural town to begin his new job. Soon after arriving, he meets, and begins to fall for, Miki, a papermaker and part of a large and unusual family. When he learns of an ancient legend that the family carries the curse of the Inugami, or Dog God, he brushes it off as silly superstition. After a series of mysterious deaths, however, the townspeople begin to grow restless, and Akira must confront the truth about Miki and her family. Written by
Jean-Marc Rocher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A clash between ancient myth and rapacious modernity in rural Japan.
This is a remarkable film and narrative, for a number of reasons.
First, the photography of the Japanese forests and mountains is exquisite. Some of the forest scenes, for example, are amazing in the way director Harada uses the camera, as though flying or drifting through upper branches, circling, swooping down and then around to focus on a young couple walking. Or, tracking along a pathway, coming up to large boulders, zooming up the face and then above and to look down directly upon a young man sitting on the top. Or, again, drifting through the mists of the forest, rising and falling as though traveling with the breeze. It was, for me, entrancing to watch and admire the skill of the shooting.
Then there is the soundtrack a delightful combination of Western and Eastern pieces that suited every mood that the story attempts to convey. I didn't take note of the closing credits but there were many excerpts that were quite familiar, including some from Verdi.
And, having an interest in Japanese culture (I have taught Shotokan karate for nearly thirty years), it was also a delight to witness a lot of the process of making rice paper. I know that won't appeal to others as much as to me, but the practice is an integral part of the story also, acting as a counterpoint to the encroaching evil of modernity in the form of a planned harvesting of much of the forest to make way for the development of a golf course...
Add in now the actors, none of whom I'd seen before. Not that it mattered: they all performed their roles flawlessly, even though others might think some of the actors may have been overacting, particularly Kazurhiro Yamaji who played the belligerent husband and incestuous womanizer, Takanao. Yuki Amami who played Miki Bonomiya is just sublime as the main protagonist of this drama - one that surrounds the myth of the Dog Spirit that is a curse upon the Bonomiya family of the village of Omine. All of the village's troubles surface when the new teacher, Akira Nutahara (played by Atsuro Watabe) arrives to take up a new job at the school. He's much more than what he seems to be and unhappily for all, he falls in love with Miki, with startling and surprising results. And, in the background, lurks a local hunter who has killed 999 wild animals - and he's waiting for the right moment to bag number 1000...
It's a complex story that mixes ancient myth and ceremony, incestuous family ties, jealous and unrequited lovers, and a gradual descent into murderous horror. For those who enjoy the idea of ghosts or spirits, there is also the Dog Spirit, a loose translation of the title. Inugami, however, has a literal translation of 'god dog', which is a palindrome in English: looks and spells the same, either way. And that, I think, is curiously appropriate, considering the true nature of Miki and her mother, Tomie (played by Shiho Fuimura). So, for those who delve or dabble in Freudian psychology, this story is a treat; for others less inclined, it tends to be confusing especially if you pay little heed to the family connections. The subtitles, however, are up to scratch but I did skip back a few times, just to make sure I was following the story okay.
Overall, however, the whole experience appears to move quite slowly, so some viewers will chomp at the bit, wondering why nothing much seems to be happening at various times. All I can say is: patience is a virtue.
My only real criticism is that the story ends ambiguously, appearing to remain rooted in fantasy, instead of psychology.
And finally, I was interested to note Harada had directed Kamikazi Taxi (1995), a thriller I saw ten years ago, now. I quite enjoyed that, as I have Inugami. The difference between the two in genre, pacing, narrative and mise-en-scene, however, is so great it amplifies the skill Harada shows as a director. I think Harada is, therefore, a director to watch (no pun intended) and monitor.
Not recommended for children of any age: the graphic sex scenes and violence are just too much for immature minds.
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