Movie Reviews A to Z

Shopping Links

General Links





Review © Alex Apple, 2003.

Directed by Masato Harada, 2001, 105 min. starring Yuki Amami, Atsuro Watabe, Eugene Harada, Shiho Fujimura, Kazuhiro Yamaji, and Keiko Awaji.

Rural 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?

Part 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 with me”

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 is.

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 to Shikoku.

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.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 6/10
Chills: 0/10
Violence: 3/10
Sex: gratuitous jiggery-pokery/10
Dog Gods: 0. Well, did you spot any? Not even in the saaaacred urrrrn (wooooo!)
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. Mildly diverting***

This film is currently under discussion here at the Snowblood Apple Forums.

Inugami Wallpaper

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2003

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Masato Harada
Yuki Amami
Atsuro Watabe
Kazuhiro Yamaji


http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/inugami.shtml - Midnight Eye has an incisive, yet spoiler-ridden review
http://www.bodopetermann.de/b2001/inugami/index-en.html - photos of the premiere (in Berlin?)
http://www.sanchodoesasia.com/sdj/sdj_inugami.php - review and technical details [French only]
http://www.filmhorizon.com/inugami.asp - technical details, and clicking Audio-Visual Materials takes you to the trailer
http://www.braineater.com/inugami.html - Braineater liked it. Were we watching the same film?
http://www.heroic-cinema.com/films/inugami.htm - long review with a couple of pictures
http://www.thecasualspectator.net/films/individual_titles/japan_korea/2002/inugami.htm - nice review, but somewhat obsessing over Yuki Amami...

this review (c) Alex Apple, 2003. all other text and webdesign (c) 2002, 2003 M. Apple. All characters, situations and images remain the property of their respective owners. The text and webdesign of this site may not be copied, reproduced, mirrored, printed commercially or ripped off in any other way. Do not hotlink directly to images hosted on this site.