The movie Demons (1971), also titled Shura, is a Japanese jidaigeki horror film directed by Toshio Matsumoto, based on a 19th century Kabuki play called Kamikakete sango taisetsu . It tells the story of the samurai Gengobe, who seeks revenge after falling prey to the schemes of a geisha and her husband.
The movie begins with a flashback of Gengobe’s childhood, where he witnesses his father being killed by a group of ronin. He vows to avenge his father and becomes a skilled swordsman. He joins a clan of loyalists who oppose the shogunate and plot to overthrow the government. He meets Oito, a beautiful geisha who works for the clan leader, and falls in love with her. However, he does not know that Oito is actually married to Sakon, a spy who works for the shogunate. Sakon and Oito plan to use Gengobe as a pawn to expose the clan’s conspiracy and earn a reward from the shogun.
One night, Sakon invites Gengobe to his house and offers him a drink. He secretly poisons the drink and makes Gengobe fall asleep. He then takes Gengobe’s sword and kills the clan leader and his family, framing Gengobe for the crime. He also steals a letter that contains the names of the clan’s allies and delivers it to the shogun’s men. The next morning, Gengobe wakes up and finds himself surrounded by the shogun’s soldiers. He escapes and returns to Oito, who pretends to be innocent and unaware of Sakon’s betrayal. She convinces Gengobe to flee with her to another town, where they can start a new life together.
However, on their way, they encounter a group of bandits who attack them. Gengobe fights them off, but realizes that his sword is not his own. He confronts Oito and learns the truth about her and Sakon. He is enraged and kills Oito, then sets off to find Sakon and kill him as well. He tracks him down to a temple, where Sakon is hiding with the shogun’s men. Gengobe fights his way through the guards and confronts Sakon in a final duel. He manages to wound Sakon, but is fatally injured himself. He dies in Sakon’s arms, cursing him and the world. Sakon, who has grown to respect Gengobe, mourns his death and asks for forgiveness. The movie ends with a shot of the temple burning, symbolizing the hell that both men have created for themselves.
- Katsuo Nakamura as Gengobe
- Jitsuko Yoshimura as Oito
- Sasuke Sasuga as Sakon
- Toshio Matsumoto as Narrator
The movie Demons (1971) is considered to be one of the most violent and nihilistic films in Japanese cinema history. It was banned in Japan for several years due to its graphic depiction of bloodshed, torture, and rape. It was also criticized for its political subtext, which challenged the traditional values of feudal Japan and the samurai code of honor .
The movie was inspired by the real-life incident of the 47 ronin, a group of samurai who avenged their master’s death by killing his enemy and then committing ritual suicide. However, the movie presents a twisted version of the story, where the protagonist is not a loyal and heroic ronin, but a vengeful and doomed murderer .
The movie was shot in black and white, with occasional flashes of color to emphasize the violence and madness of the characters. The director used various experimental techniques, such as freeze frames, jump cuts, slow motion, and distorted sound, to create a surreal and nightmarish atmosphere .
The movie received mixed reviews from critics and audiences, who praised its artistic merit but were appalled by its brutality and pessimism. Here are some excerpts from different reviews:
“The film is about the revenge wreaked by a shabby, down-at-the-heels samurai warrior on a faithless courtesan and her husband after the couple swindle the warrior out of the 100 ryo with which he was planning to buy back his good name.” 
Filmmaker Noël Burch said Demons was “one of the most important and beautiful films made in Japan since Kurosawa’s prime.”