Beware of Japanese Cats

The avenging cat witch ghost is the star of Nobuo Nakagawa’s Black Cat Mansion aka Borei Kaibyo Yashiki (1958).

Every national cinema has their own homegrown subgenres and mythology when it comes to horror films and I think Japan has some of the most unique and bizarre creatures of all such as the hopping Umbrella ghost from Yokai hyaku monogatari (1968, aka The Hundred Monsters) or the rampaging stone idol of the Majin trilogy which began in 1966. Yet, in terms of eerie beauty and supernatural creepiness, I’m drawn to the bakeneko-mono stories from Japanese folklore with their shape-shifting cat demons and one of my favorites is Borei Kaibayo Yashiki (1958, aka Black Cat Mansion aka Mansion of the Ghost Cat).     Continue reading

Akira Kurosawa’s Record of a Living Being

The Japanese film poster for I Live in Fear (1955), directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune.

One of the first Japanese commercial features to directly address the fear of nuclear holocaust and the implications of the atom bomb, Record of a Living Being, which is better known as I Live in Fear (1955, aka Ikimono no Kiroku) was an unusual and unexpected movie for director Akira Kurosawa. He had recently completed Seven Samurai (1954), a huge box office and critical success in both Japan and around the world, but his new work was much smaller in scale compared to that sprawling period epic.   Continue reading

The Macedonian Beekeeper

Imagine living in a remote area where there is no running water or electricity. There are also no established roads or available food nearby or even much protection from extreme temperatures in the winter and summer. You can also forget about any local services like a doctor or policeman or mail carrier. We’re not talking about America here but a desolate region of Macedonia where life is a daily hand-to-mouth struggle.

Winner of the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary category, Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Honeyland is a remarkably intimate and engrossing human portrait of Hatidze Muratova and her 85-year-old mother who live in primitive conditions in the deserted village of Bekirlija, Macedonia. Although it is essentially a documentary, it has the feel of a scripted drama made with non-professional actors who are playing themselves.   Continue reading