Friday, October 30, 2009

Mansion of the Ghost Cat

This classic Nobuo Nakagawa spooker holds many a key to the J-horror genre of recent years. Notable, that, as it was made in 1958. Many tropes and features of the modern Japanese horror film, considered so unique and cutting-edge by contemporary Western viewers, go right back to Nakagawa (and beyond). Here we have the horrific apparition of the vengeful lady ghost, the elaborate backstory, even the old corpse-in-a-wall revelation (utilized to great effect in the Korean shocker Phone).

Less familiar is the Japanese folkloric tradition of the bakeneko, or "ghost cat." The bakeneko, a demonic shape-shifter, often poses as a human, wreaking revenge on behalf of a dead owner. However, the line between human ghost and ghost cat tends to get somewhat blurred in film, most notably in movies like Kuroneko (see my review in Warring Clans, Flashing Blades) and Demon of Mt. Oe.

In Mansion of the Ghost Cat, a choleric old Chamberlain strikes down his Go master when the young man accuses him of cheating. The Chamberlain proceeds to slay the Go master's mother and grandmother (world-class asshole that he is). The Go master's beloved cat somehow melds with the spirit of his grandmother and proceeds to wreak bloody revenge on the Chamberlain and his kin. But the curse extends to all the descendants of the Chamberlain, and therein lies the connection to the modern-day (late 50s) frame story. Yes indeed, the old granny/cat isn't finished yet ...

Any fan of modern J-horror (and K-horror) owes it to him/herself to check out some Nakagawa pictures. Here's a partial list (although IMDb is always a little dodgy with their Japanese film data). A more comprehensive list can be found here, but you have to be somewhat conversant with the Japanese language.

If you only see on Nakagawa picture, make it Jigoku (Hell). It's on a Criterion release, so you won't have any trouble finding it. You'll just have trouble sleeping later ...

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