The movie Black Cat (1968), also known as Kuroneko, is a historical drama and horror film directed by Kaneto Shindō¹. The film is an adaptation of a supernatural folktale set during a civil war in feudal Japan¹.
Yone and her daughter-in-law Shige, residing in a bamboo grove, meet a tragic end at the hands of a group of samurai who not only violate them but also set their dwelling on fire. A black cat mysteriously appears, licking the lifeless bodies of the victims.
The women, however, return from the afterlife as elegant specters, lying in wait at Rajōmon. They lure the samurai troop to an illusory mansion, located where their burnt house once stood, and enact their revenge by seducing and then killing the samurai, tearing their throats with their teeth, much like felines.
In the meantime, a battle ensues in northern Japan with the Emishi. A young warrior named Hachi manages to kill the enemy general, Kumasunehiko, in a stroke of luck. He presents the severed head of the general to the governor, Minamoto no Raikō, and reveals that he fought under the name Gintoki. Recognizing his valor, the governor bestows upon him the title of a samurai. However, when Gintoki returns home in search of his mother and wife, he finds nothing but the charred remains of their house.
Governor Raikō tasks Gintoki with the mission to hunt down and eliminate the ghosts who are murdering the samurai. During his quest, Gintoki encounters the two women and recognizes them as Yone, his mother, and Shige, his wife. The women reveal that they have made a pact with the underworld to return and exact revenge on the samurai for their untimely deaths. As Gintoki has now become a samurai, they are bound by their pact to kill him. However, Shige breaks her vow to spend seven nights of love with Gintoki. Consequently, for breaking the pact, Shige is condemned to the underworld. A grief-stricken Gintoki reports to Raikō that he has vanquished one of the ghosts.
Gintoki has another encounter with his spectral mother at Rajōmon as she attempts to seduce more samurai. Upon seeing her ghostly reflection in a pool of water, he attacks her with his sword, severing her arm, which morphs into a cat’s limb. Gintoki presents the limb to Raikō as proof of his victory over the second ghost. Pleased with Gintoki’s achievement, Raikō declares that Gintoki will be remembered as a hero, but first orders him to complete a seven-day ritual purification. During the purification, Gintoki is visited by Yone, who claims to be a seer sent by the emperor to ward off evil spirits. She tricks Gintoki into giving her the limb, and then flies through the ceiling and disappears into the sky. Distraught and disheveled, Gintoki staggers through the woods to the cottage where he met the ghosts, and there he collapses. The walls disappear around him, revealing the charred remains of his family home where Shige and Yone were murdered. Snow falls and covers his body as a cat is heard meowing in the distance.
- Kichiemon Nakamura as Gintoki
- Nobuko Otowa as Yone (Mother)
- Kei Satō as Raiko
- Rokkô Toura as A Samurai
- Kiwako Taichi as Shige (Daughter-in-Law)
- Taiji Tonoyama as A Farmer
- Hideo Kanze as Mikado
- Eimei Esumi
- Shôji Ôki
- Kentarô Kaji
- Masaru Miyata
- Noriyuki Nishiuchi
- Eishu Kaneda
- Jôji Taki
- Miyako Kasai
- Kayoko Sebata
- Chiyo Okada
- Harumi Hirota
- Yoshiko Uchi
The movie was placed in competition at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, but the festival was cancelled due to the events of May 1968 in France. 
The original title translates to “In the Grove of the Black Cat” and is a direct reference to the Ryunosuke Akutagawa story, “Yabu no Naka” (“In a Grove”), which also inspired Kurosawa for Rashomon. 
The first dialogue occurs 10:22 into the film. 
The ‘wrap’ that Shige wears when she encounters the samurais changes when she takes them into the house. There is no opportunity for her to have swapped it, and the samurais do not notice the change. 
This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #584. 
“Kaneto Shindo creates an exquisitely spooky film with Kuroneko – everything is shot in a beautifully high-contrast black-and-white.”