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|17 reviews in total|
This period melodrama portrays the descent of a basically caring person
a heartless, money-obsessed killer. The plot-heavy narrative is held
together by Kazuko Wakasugi's passionate commitment to putting emotional
flesh on the title character's bones. She went on to play the even more
tragic Iwa in 'Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan'.
Director Nakagawa keeps things moving at a brisk enough pace to gloss over the story's improbabilities. Continuing to experiment with his visuals, he includes an unusually large number of high-angle shots, suggesting the powerlessness of the main characters.
Although not one of the director's best films, 'Dokufu' is still an above-average entry in its genre.
And who can fault Iwa's fury? Her husband Iemon murders her father to
her, deceives her into parting from her sister, fathers her child, pays
another man to seduce her, then administers a disfiguring poison so he can
marry another woman. Yet Iemon is not wholly wicked - he suffers pangs of
conscience, and most of his crimes are the result of his servant's
Whilst our sympathy goes to Iwa, our empathy extends to Iemon. The film is
endowed with the dimensions of a classical tragedy, as the director
undoubtedly intended. In fact, the picture's opening scenes are
stage-bound, before it shifts subtly into an engrossing cinematic
experience. Although the story has been adapted to film many times in
this is generally considered the definitive version.
Besides its dramatic power, this version of Ghost Story of Yotsuya is visually sumptuous and thrillingly scored, the scope compositions are masterly, and the female phantom's appearance is truly nightmarish.
This is easily the most accomplished, frightening and satisfying of Nakagawa's period ghost stories.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the granddaddy of all the extreme Japanese horror movies that have
emerged and gained cult status recently. Not only is it amazing that this
film was made more than 40 years ago, but, more surprising still, it was
conceived, written, part-financed and directed by one of the most
classically-inclined of Japan's genre filmmakers. For some reason, Nobuo
Nakagawa decided to suddenly turn his back on the period ghost stories
established his reputation, and create a contemporary exercise in Grand
Guignol that was so far ahead of its time, his career never fully
Most reviews of this remarkable movie understandably focus on its last 40 minutes, which constitute the most bizarre, gruesome and sadistic scenes in any country's studio-produced feature films up to that time. The picture's first hour is usually unmentioned, yet in some ways it's even more daring. Within a naturalistic framework, we're introduced to apparently normal main characters with faults not very different from our own. After a couple of accidental deaths, the characters migrate to a hell-on-earth masquerading as a nursing home. The story becomes a wild mixture of pathos and black comedy, with satiric attacks on the supposed sanctity of parents, the aged, the media, the police and authority figures in general. The earthbound part of the film climaxes with the mass deaths of the nursing home's patients, staff and visitors.
Jigoku is certainly not for all tastes, but viewing it is essential to an understanding of the modern Japanese horror film.
Although unusually elaborate in some of its set pieces, The Ceiling at Utsunomiya is similar to many chambara films of its period. However, it's the first of Nobuo Nakagawa's movies to include a ghost (albeit very briefly), and introduces several of the devices the director was to repeat in later films as he became more involved in supernatural tales, such as snakes, bloody head wounds, facial disfigurement, vengeful spirits, an ambivalent attitude towards samurai and lengthy tracking shots.
You wouldn't know this film was made by Nobuo Nakagawa if the credits
say so. Apart from a brief flashback-within-a-flashback, the setting is
contemporary, and the director seems at a loss to create tempo, suspense
atmosphere. The visual characteristics honed during his first three ghost
films are almost completely absent - no lateral tracking shots, no lengthy
takes, no dimming light levels. There's only one spooky sequence (a
carrying a candle through a darkened house, responding to a summons from a
room that's been unoccupied 20 years), and a small handful of
innovatively-filmed shots (all involving mirrors). Particularly
disappointing is the climax - far too drawn out and very clumsily
Despite all these drawbacks, there are a few points worth noting. This was the first Japanese horror movie to be set in modern times. It was also the first film made in that country to feature a vampire as the protagonist, although this vampire is very different from the Western type. Finally, much of the film has the same rather tawdry look as the cheap monochrome shockers produced in Europe during the early sixties, such as Seddok and Lycanthropus, which is remarkable, considering it was made in 1958.
Vampire Woman is certainly an atypical entry in Nakagawa's filmography around this time.
The Mansion of the Ghost Cat shows the misdeeds of a prior generation not
only bringing suffering and death to that generation's members, but also
threatening their blameless descendants. Ghosts are put to rest only when
the misdeeds are brought to light and treated properly. In the context of
post-war Japanese society (a `house' haunted by the past), the message of
Nobuo Nakagawa's third ghost film is hard to ignore.
Viewed simply as a ghost story, the film includes several creepy sequences. In a darkened hospital corridor, a sheet-draped body is wheeled silently by a masked figure. During the first visit to the derelict mansion, a woman with a shock of white hair is glimpsed churning butter. A wall disintegrates at the height of a thunderstorm, revealing an alcove, and a rotting corpse slowly topples out. Unfortunately, much of the sinister atmosphere dispels whenever the cat spirit itself appears, particularly when its furry ears pop up.
The film is structured differently from any of Nakagawa's previous work. The opening and closing sections have a contemporary setting and are acted naturalistically. The lengthy middle section is set in the previous century and presented more impressionistically, once again showing the strong influence on the director of kabuki theatre. Unusually, the flashback is filmed in colour, and is therefore more vivid than the modern-day monochromatic bookends.
Nakagawa seems to have seized on the opportunity for technical experimentation, too, although not always successfully. This is the first film he made in scope, but the compositions rarely take full advantage of the broader screen. More effective is the use of colour, with pastel shades predominating for costumes and settings, in order to heighten the dramatic impact of the sudden appearance of blood. A number of sequences try out dramatic lighting effects, such as the dimming of the light level just before ghosts appear and the use of silhouettes. Towards the end of the middle section, there's a montage sequence that's Nakagawa's first attempt to use editing for dramatic effect. And, of course, he continues to experiment with the innovative and sometimes startling camera moves that characterize all his films.
The Mansion of the Ghost Cat represents the director's evolution to a more sophisticated level of filmmaking, both in theme and technique. It contains the seeds that would later blossom into his most famous work, Jigoku.
The dead are indeed vengeful in Nobuo Nakagawa's second period ghost
Not content with tricking his murderer into killing his wife and stumbling
to a watery death, the prologue's blind victim brings about the tortured
demise of his own daughter so that she can haunt his murderer's innocent
son. Then the blind victim returns in the flesh, as it were, to personally
finish off the samurai who kills the son. Along the way, the ghost
jealousy, deceit, despair, attempted rape and mutilation to achieve his
The Ghosts of Kasane includes several elements that would resurface 2 years later in the same director's The Ghost of Yotsuya, the two most notable being the similarity in the appearance of the two ghosts in each film, and the somewhat stylized presentation, adapted from Japan's kabuki theatre. This earlier work is not as accomplished as Yotsuya in its atmosphere, performances and visual effects, but still manages some scary moments. Amongst the most original is the way in which we're eventually shown Rui's disfigurement. There's also the director's preference already in evidence for mobile camerawork, elaborate sets and a powerful score.
Although only in the second rank of Nobuo Nakagawa's films, The Ghosts of Kasane is a good introduction to his style and to the venerable tradition of Japanese ghost stories.
Joker, a computer game designer, falls in love with Ling, the bartender on
whom he's modeling Princess D, the cyber heroine in his latest digital
adventure. Initially bemused by the designer's interest in her, Ling is
gradually drawn towards the fantasy world created by Joker for his game as
welcome relief from the grim reality of her dysfunctional family.
In portraying that grim reality, the film stands apart from traditional romances, but is careful to avoid becoming distastefully sordid. Ling sells drugs at the disco where she works, but does so only to free her younger brother from debt to a gangster. Her father is a criminal, but treats his distracted wife with sensitivity and tenderness during her visits to his prison. Her mother's distraction doesn't prevent her from unexpectedly saving her daughter from arrest.
The grimness is also alleviated by flashes of whimsy and humour. When a fly is swatted, a transparent ghost fly emerges from its crushed body and buzzes away. An ICQ exchange is portrayed by superimposing the participants' messages like subtitles, and ends with a cartoon emerging from the computer screen to blow a raspberry. An infatuated girl signals her feelings by presenting the object of her affection with a navel ring.
Helping to sell the unusual cocktail is an appealing cast of young and personable actors with good support from such veterans as Pat Ha (after a 10-year absence from movies) and Anthony Wong (who's never looked more trim and graceful).
Visually, the film adopts whatever style best suits each scene's needs, but without ever seeming derivative. The more edgy and frenetic scenes are particularly impressive when you consider the quite traditional previous work of director Sylvia Chang and cinematographer Pin Bing Lee.
The complex characters, dark back-story and whimsical touches combine to make PRINCESS D an engaging and original contribution to the romance genre.
From the team that brought us the outrageous prison drama STORY OF RICKY
comes an equally bizarre science-fiction movie. It isn't ashamed to
ideas from sources as diverse as CALTIKI, THE TERMINATOR, THE BLOB and THE
QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT. The result is certainly lively and - if you're in
right frame of mind - quite entertaining.
The story concerns three visitors from another solar system whose mission on earth is to destroy "the star-killer", an amorphous Lovecraftian creature that absorbs and can re-animate its human victims. The trio is seeking two relics displayed in terrestrial museums. When joined together, the relics create an amplification device for a ray beamed from their home planet. Bathed in the amplified ray, one of the visitors - a black cat called The General - will be powerful enough to vanquish the monster.
The film's main attractions are its comely female cast members and some over-the-top action sequences. These include a junk yard battle between The General and a huge black mastiff that must be seen to be believed. There are also some quite graphic horror scenes, but the poor quality of the make-up effects mutes their impact.
Although it never attains the quality of the films it emulates, THE CAT is sufficiently fast-paced to hold our attention even while we laugh at its absurdities.
This is the first of more than 20 films featuring Ichi, a blind
masseur-turned-swordsman in medieval Japan. Although he learned to wield a
sword only to gain respect, Ichi finds his skill constantly in demand by
criminal gangs. He's always reluctant to fight, and resorts to violence
with great reluctance and as a last resort. He prefers to make his living
practising his skills as a masseur and supplementing that income by conning
greedy crooks who underestimate his gambling abilities.
In this first episode of a series that covered two decades, Ichi is hired by a gang leader to defeat a consumptive samurai who's been imported by a rival gang. The two swordsmen meet while fishing and become friends, but destiny has decreed they must fight each other, and only one will survive
Fans of action movies may be disappointed with ZATOICHI MONOGATARI, because there's virtually no fighting for the movie's first hour. Instead, there's unusual emphasis on character development. Ichi himself receives much of the attention, and Shintaro Katsu (who also played the role in all the sequels) presents us with a subtle, complex portrayal of the reluctant mercenary. His scenes with the enamored sister of one of the gang members and with the mortally sick samurai are played with great sincerity without becoming sentimental. These two characters are also sensitively portrayed. Even many of the crooks are carefully established as individuals.
The climax won't disappoint action fans, though. Beginning with a flurry of gang skirmishes, frenetically edited to a throbbing score, it ends on a bitter and almost tragic note after the inevitable confrontation between the two protagonists.
Director Kenji Misumi embellishes the slow build-up with a succession of captivating black-and-white compositions and attention to period detail. A degree of pace is maintained by making scene transitions with cuts rather than dissolves. Sets are given visual depth by being framed with foreground objects. The camera is often positioned slightly above or below the characters' eye-lines. Very precise interior lighting creates interesting patterns on and around the actors. By contrast, the daytime exteriors are overly bright and tend to disrupt the mood.
Far from being a typical samurai movie, ZATOICHI MONOGATARI is an unusually somber yet effective period drama, and probably the best entry in the long series it inaugurated.
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