In this poetic and atmospheric horror fable, set in a village in war-torn medieval Japan, a malevolent spirit has been ripping out the throats of itinerant samurai. When a military hero is sent to dispatch the unseen force, he finds that he must struggle with his own personal demons as well. From Kaneto Shindo, director of the terror classic Onibaba, Kuroneko (Black Cat) is a spectacularly eerie twilight tale with a shocking feminist angle, evoked through ghostly special effects and exquisite cinematography.
Criterion presents Kaneto Shindo’s Kuroneko in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer.
The materials used are a little rough and show some minor wear and tear that includes scratches and marks along with the visible remnants of chemical stains here and there accompanied by some flickering. But the digital transfer itself is quite stunning, remaining very sharp when the print allows (there are some slightly fuzzy moments,) and also features strong black levels with clean and distinct gray levels. Grain is evident but not heavy and remains natural looking throughout.
Even with minor print problems Criterion still manages to deliver an incredibly pleasing black and white presentation.
Criterion includes a lossless Japanese linear PCM mono soundtrack. In general it’s easy to hear and presents no audible background noise but it’s flat, quiet, and a bit lifeless. Music also sounds a little edgy. Considering the age and nature of the film this wasn’t a big surprise but as a mono track it’s fairly average.
We only get a couple of supplements but they’re decent overall. First is a 1-hour interview with director Kanedo Shindo recorded in 1998 and hosted by Shindo’s former assistant director, Seijiro Koyama. It’s a stale set up, with Koyama asking general questions and Shindo answering them, camera moving back and forth between them with the occasional longer shot of the two of them for variety, but Shindo offers many fascinating stories about his life and his work. His life was filled with many staggering losses which caused a depression through most of his early life but he talks about how that would play into his work. He talks to great extent about Kenji Mizoguchi, who helped him build up his writing, and he talks about his techniques, the advantages of using documentary footage, how it’s better to depict things symbolically, and what it’s like to still be working at the age of 86 (again, this was recorded in 1998.) Surprisingly they talk very little about specific films, only really concentrating on his early works, and Kuroneko only gets a mention. In all despite it’s rather bland presentation Shindo keeps it intriguing.
Following this is an interview with Japanese film critic Tadao Sato, who offers an intriguing if not overly insightful examination of the film. He talks about how Shindo’s early life of living on a farm plays a key factor in his films, which leads to his views of samurai basically being morally bankrupt bandits. He also talks a little about the popularity of horror films at the time in Japan, and then looks at Shindo’s expressionist style in the film, the importance of Kabuki Theater, and also talks about the various performers. It’s a decent 17-minutes with a few interesting facts but a little slight in the end.
Maitland McDonagh provides a decent essay looking at the film’s influence on Japanese horror films while also examining some of the themes found within it. Criterion also includes a reprinting of a 1975 interview with Shindo about Kuroneko.
And that’s unfortunately it. It does feel slim but the lengthy interview with the director about his career makes it worthwhile.
Despite some short comings with the source materials Criterion delivers a fairly solid digital transfer for this stunning expressionistic film. Supplements do feel a little bit slight but the lengthy interview with the director is a nice and worthwhile addition.