The new release of "Kuroneko" ("Black Cat") a simultaneously raw and gracefully spectral 1968 curio from Japanese filmmaker Kaneto Shindo, should be a special occasion for connoisseurs of arty black-and-white chills, especially those who treasure Shindo's 1964 masterpiece of war-torn horror, "Onibaba."
It begins with an assault on a farm mother (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law (Kiwako Taichi) by a band of grimy soldiers, who then burn down their house. What follows is a ghostly vengeance fugue wherein the women — now decorously draped spirits — lure passing samurai to their otherworldly open-air dwelling, where a nightly ritual of seduction ends in something decidedly more bloody for the men.
Up till the killings, Shindo maintains a fierce visual and aural grip with his stark mix of claustrophobic close-ups, inky auras surrounding brightly lighted figures, offbeat stylistic fillips (somersaults, split screen effects) and Hikaru Hayashi's percussively moody score. With the arrival of a particular war veteran (Kichiemon Nakamura) to investigate the deaths, however, Shindo — a protégé of Japan's great women-centric filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi — shrewdly allows the story's underpinnings of tragedy, lost love and patriarchal injustice to thicken his odd and atmospheric genre brew.
The result is something cinematically haunting and — in its acknowledgement of war's lasting ravages — emotionally haunted, like a deep moan from a dark feudal past.
"Kuroneko" ("Black Cat"). No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes. At the Nuart, West Los Angeles.