For their second title in the series of Adness/Kadokawa horror movies, Ventura International bring us a film that is thankfully a huge step up from their previous release, “Shikoku”. More Japanese folklore abound as Kev takes a look at Masato Harada’s “Inugami”.
A ghostly love story, Inugami (based upon Masako Bando’s novel) is a film that sticks by Japanese tradition. Its focus is on that of a legendary spirit known as “Inugami”, translated as “Wild dog god”. The Inugami is said to be guarded by a particular generation of family, who if crossed would unleash the evil spirit unto its tormentors. Author, Misako Bando, having come from the island of Shikoku (which made up the setting of the eponymous novel and subsequent film adaptation) has taken this local folk tale and weaved a story, filled with taboo subject matter and family prejudice. Unlike Shikoku the author was brought onboard to help director, Masato Harada in bringing her story to the screen.
Split into five chapters Inugami tells the tale of Akira Nutahara, from his arrival in a small rural community, situated at the base of a mountain in Western Japan. When his motorcycle runs out of gas, leaving him by a roadside he soon meets a young man by the name of Seiji Doi (Eugene Harada), who offers him a ride into town where the pair quickly become friends. Seiji’s family runs a paper company which proves to be a major source of income for the village and leading the paper making is Miki Bonomiya (Yuki Amami), the only woman capable of the task. Miki has spent all of her life in the village and now middle-aged her sister, Rika (Myu Watase) shows concern for her as she herself wishes to leave the village and discover new things in life.
When Akira meets Miki he finds himself falling in love with her, though she keeps her distance she soon becomes attracted toward him also, but their love is soon to be threatened by a family curse which is unbeknownst to Akira. For many years the women of the Bonomiya family have been entrusted with the task of guarding the Inugami spirits. Should these spirits not be attended to with loyalty they shall break free and roam the village with the desire to kill. As Miki’s appearance becomes more youthful by the day and concerns grow as to her relationship with Akira, rumours start to emerge and strange things begin to happen. Soon the Bonomiya family’s past will be revealed as dark forces appear over the village.
If you don’t know Masato Harada from his body of films then you may know him from his starring role as Omura in Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai. Interestingly that’s his only ever film appearance because at heart he’s a director, first and foremost and as some of his films will testify he’s a damn fine one at that.
Harada brings the tale to life with the kind of gusto that was missing on the previous Kadakawa venture, Shikoku, which was all too intent on outstripping the films that came before it but in the end it failed to have any kind of unique identity of its own. While Harada’s film doesn’t necessarily seem like anything more than a wilderness special on the outset it becomes apparent that this actual intent to display vast woodlands can indeed work in its favour. Harada discussed at one point that the spirits of the Inugami were being considered but their inconclusive appearance and contradictory claims forced him to go against the idea. His choice is a good one and as Inugami shows it doesn’t take scary dogs or monsters to drive the storyline. Far from it, Inugami is every bit as much a character driven piece that explores an intense family feud, with its elements of horror being used in conjunction with the past of the Bonomiya family. That’s not to say the film doesn’t work as effectively as a piece of visual horror. Its environment is used creatively and its slow burner of an approach builds up an often tense atmosphere. Of course Inugami‘s success comes from the copious amounts of wanton guessing.
It seems evident upon having viewed a large number of Japanese horror/drama films and likewise offerings from Korea and Hong Kong that the horror genre has begun to lean itself toward some of the more taboo subjects of late. If done well this shift in focus can provide an unsettling but surprising turn of events and in the case of Harada’s this is something he proves to embrace on an understandable level. Here he twists around what would be the main plot device of spirits running amok and by not showing them he places his interest onto other areas. Far be it from me to spoil the run up of events but Inugami is filled with a number of surprise twists that have been handled well, when they could have so easily left the film a cold and numb experience. Obviously while Harada wishes to tackle such subjects one can wonder how they’ll affect the final outcome but rather pleasantly they bring around and end to an often emotional story about pure and simple love.
It is because of Inugami‘s twists that the film has a great life span. Only when everything is done and dusted will you want to re-watch the film and pick up on the little nuances, gathering the clues that make for a generally more satisfying experience. Due to the convincing nature of the film and the characters portrayed its easy to overlook the smaller aspects until the final reel as rolled.
With a great cast, including Yuki Amami in a brilliant central performance, embracing her character for all its worth and Atsuro Watabe who deserves so much credit for his talents providing ample backup for their tale of tragedy, Inugami comes away from the recent mould of horror novel adaptations clean as a whistle. While it might not provide the kind of scares that the most hardened horror fan would wish for it does offer a nicely paced change, making it in many ways a sweet, yet sad tale of values, superstition and Japanese ideals which can often be considered as mysteries within themselves.
Ventura International brings us their second release as part of the Adness/Kadokawa line up. Although extras are sadly missing the presentation of the main feature is excellent.
Inugami receives an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer and it looks great. The film stock is of good quality and detail throughout is crisp, looking much better than plenty of other low budget productions from Japan to have seen recent DVD pressings. A lot of the film is very scenic and flowing over with greens, while flesh tones appear natural during both day and night shots. In case anybody suddenly becomes worried as to why the film goes black and white for approximately ten minutes toward the end, the effect is intentional. A spot of edge enhancement is visible, though kept to a minimum.
Heading over to the sound department…
The viewer can choose from Japanese Dolby 2.0 or DTS. While both tracks are well produced it is clear that the DTS option outdoes its Dolby brother, offering a far greater depth to the picture. With much woodland area covered, little atmospheric moments occur. During climate changes the rush of wind is carried nicely and when the pace does get a little more energetic the rear speakers handle the relatively eerie moments with ease, leaving dialogue separated through the front speakers crisp and clear. Newcomer, Takatsugu Muramatsu’s understated yet pleasant score also receives plenty of attention and provides the backdrop for a beautiful opening sequence and scenes of requiem.
The optional English subtitles that are provided are of excellent quality, easy to read and well placed.
None to speak of, bar a selection of trailers for Shikoku, Inugami, Isola and Shadow of the Wraith.
Inugami will likely only appeal to those who prefer the psychological side to horror, as opposed to mindless violence. In this case it may prove to be a frustrating experience with surreal dream sequences and taboo subjects thrown in, which some may find to be cheap measures but for those prepared to sit it out it should provide something different and ultimately gratifying.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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