by Masato Harada, 2001, 105 min. starring Yuki Amami, Atsuro Watabe,
Eugene Harada, Shiho Fujimura, Kazuhiro Yamaji, and Keiko Awaji.
Japanese villages, eh? If the movies are to be believed, they're
feudalistic sorts of places each run by a couple of families with
more power than the combined Cosa Nostra, with more familial off-shoots
than a particularly virulent strain of ivy and more feuding than
the aggregated malevolence of 150 fourteen year-olds. And, indeed,
the Japanese Village Epic has in the past provided much brooding
cinematic melodrama for the denizens of Tokyo to reminisce over,
recalling the grand old days. So what better idea, then, to blend
this passion for Samurai soap opera with the current J-Horror vogue
to produce an absolute, cast-iron guaranteed hit, right?
erotic drama, part village epic, part ghost story, Inugami
tries to be many things. Directed by Masato Harada, it attempts
to show the insular nature of rural Japanese villages - complete
with paranoia, all-powerful families, incestuous and abusive relationships
and, er, wild dog gods.
“If I go down, all the Bonomiyas go down
On the scenic, über-rural Shikoku Island, the
Doi family located in Ikeno run a successful paper manufacturing
company, overseen by eldest son Seiji. Meanwhile, in nearby Omine,
the "branch family" of the Bonomiyas bicker with each
other about nothing in particular, whilst exploiting forty-something
spinster Miki who has her own workshop hand-making paper for the
Doi company. New middle school teacher Akira Nutahara (played by
ably Atsuro Watabe) runs out of gas on the road between Omine and
Ikeno and is picked up by Seiji Doi (a convincing Eugene Harada).
Seiji tells Akira that the quickest way between the two villages
is actually by foot via the Animal Path; the two men set off down
the path, but not before Akira faints, having experienced some sort
of vision. When he awakes, he's at Miki's workshop; when he sees
her for the first time, he refuses to think she's as old as she
The Bonomiyas, it must be said, are rather Luddite;
they refuse to have a TV or telephone in the house, and patriarch
Takanao has only embraced the modern age through his (failed) Internet
trading business. All is not well within the family, however - Takanao's
debts are racking up, he's gambling, and has all but deserted his
wife Sonoko for a local floozy, and a whole batch of Miki's paper
has been blown over and destroyed by a bizarre swirling wind that
goes as soon as it arrived. The annual Ancestor Rites, a complex
ritual involving climbing the nearest mountain and giving thanks
for the gods' protection, are looming within the next couple of
months. Rita, the youngest Bonomiya daughter, has expressed her
intention to leave Omine for good after the Rites. And, to add to
the general air of disquiet, everyone has started to have bad dreams
- and matriach Tomie is even counting in the middle of the night.
Walking to Omine one afternoon, Akira sees Miki
tending some graves. He follows her back to the workshop on the
Animal Path and asks to watch her making paper, which she reluctantly
agrees to do. She's getting clearly younger by the day - she no
longer has any need for glasses and the grey in her hair is fading.
This has not gone unnoticed either by the Doi family: Seiji is summoned
by his grandmother Katsuko and told to stay well away from Miki
and Rita, even though he provides Miki with raw materials and is
dating Rita. The Bonomiya women, so it is said, cursed with the
Inugami, wild dog gods who are loosed upon those who cross the family.
Akira continues his walks from one village to the
another, and spies Miki collecting herbs and other raw materials
ready to try to make a planned masterpiece, a paper with seven different
(but yet complementary!) colours in it. He approaches her, and after
a brief conversation, hears what he thinks is a wild dog. It suddenly
starts to rain, and the pair run for shelter in a cave Miki knows
about. In there, she tells him a tale of how, as a schoolgirl, she
fell in love with "the wrong man", fell pregnant with
his child, and, although the plan was to give the baby away, it
died in childbirth. Inexplicably, there having been no
sexual tension between them up until now, Miki and Akira end up
in each others arms and the inevitable happens.
That night, Miki hears Tomie counting once more.
Tomie explains that she's checking that the Inugami gods are all
present in the urn, which is her duty to look after. If an Inugami
were to escape, she says, it would bring great harm to other families.
But yet, every night, there are many of them missing. Perhaps coincidentally
(perhaps not...) in the village there are all sorts of problems
- a former resident of the village came back from Tokyo and murdered
his wife and child before killing himself; the Local Hero-esque
motorcycle delivery girl is killed in a horrible accident; and the
villagers themselves are arguing with each other, before finally
blaming the Bonomiyas and specifically the mythical Inugami for
all their problems. And finally, the Dois are planning on selling
the Bonomiya land, including Miki's workshop, to a country club
to help clear Takanao's debts and bring a final end to the Inugami
curse. So how much further will the connection between the Dois
and the Bonomiyas be allowed to continue? What will happen to Miki
when the land is sold off? And could, possibly, the information
about Miki's past relationship prove to be significant?
Beautifully shot, Inugami,
like Shikoku, shows off the natural landscape
to perfection. The trouble is, just like Shikoku, the director has
failed to put in much of a coherent storyline in. If you managed
to keep up with the synopsis above, you'll understand just how complicated
the plot is. And if you didn't, well, my point entirely. Inugami
really can't decide what it wants to be - on the one hand, it's
like watching a whole season of Dynasty condensed into
90 minutes. Familial feuds, a crudely characterised bad guy in the
shape of Takanao, the outsider who comes in and, despite himself,
makes the whole bad situation even worse - it's all here. Likewise,
the Inugami curse just seems to be tacked on to try to provide an
air of godly mysticism to events, and there's no air of tension
at all. In many respects, it's a perfect companion piece
The performances vary wildly. Yuki
Amami as Miki is probably the best thing about the movie; she has
a dignified quality throughout, though, without wanting to give
too much away, really doesn't do mad very well. Equally,
both Shiho Fujimura and Keiko Awaji as the Bonomiya and Doi matriarchs
respectively have the required air of gravitas and don't-mess-with-me-ness.
And it has to be said that what could have been the strongest role
in the movie, Takanao, is played with cartoon vigour by Kazuhiro
Yamaji, lacking any real malevolence at all.
If you're looking for shocks, don't
come looking for it in Inugami. While it is a perfectly
competent piece of mystical soap opera, the movie lacks drive and
meanders its way towards a rather lacklustre conclusion. And if
you're looking for a village drama, look elsewhere; sadly Inugami
fails, by some distance, to be the sum of its parts.
Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 6/10
Sex: gratuitous jiggery-pokery/10
Dog Gods: 0. Well, did you spot any? Not even in the saaaacred
Inexplicable Arty Switches to Black And White: 1
Bizarre Dream Sequences Involving Abdominal Car Parks: 1
Paper Making: lots. And lots. And lotzzzzzzz. And some extra sexy
paper making, too!
Films in a Similar Style: Shikoku, Yatsu
haka-mura (aka Eight-Tomb Village), Kakashi
***An everyday story of feudal parochial back-stabbing villagers.
film is currently under discussion here
at the Snowblood Apple Forums.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2003
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
- Midnight Eye has an incisive, yet spoiler-ridden review
- photos of the premiere (in Berlin?)
- review and technical details [French only]
- technical details, and clicking Audio-Visual Materials takes you
to the trailer
- Braineater liked it. Were we watching the same film?
- long review with a couple of pictures
- nice review, but somewhat obsessing over Yuki Amami...