Mike N’s review published on Letterboxd:
It was a toss-up between this and Onibaba as to which would be my first Shindo film, Kuroneko won the coin toss and I'm glad it did as it's yet another visually brilliant piece of Japanese storytelling.
Kuroneko is first and foremost a horror film focused on revenge, but as the story progresses it delves much deeper and switches toward subjects of loss and love. A dialogue-free opening ten minutes sets the mood as a mother and wife are brutally murdered by savage bandits and I was immediately drawn to how the opening scenes were shot - a long take of exterior surrounding the house as the group of bandits enter, a couple of shots inside the house as the murder takes place, and a final long take of the exterior as the bandits leave. Minimal camera movement and cuts are present throughout and give a very raw feeling to events.
The meat of the story revolves around the murdered wife and daughter as ghosts. They lure unsuspecting Samurai into illusions and kill them, providing some often disturbing imagery in the process. Just when this process starts to feel repetitive, a character familiar to the two women arrives to provide the main conflict. The two parties are pitted against each other with the exact same goal, and this is made all the more interesting by the history between them. It's a classic portrayal of human vulnerability, hesitation and weakness.
I'm also a big fan of the subtle cues that are used, one example being when the daughter is leading an unsuspecting samurai to his demise and she glides over an obstacle on the forest floor almost causing him to suspect something. There are a couple of other instances and they only appear for a second, but I find that small character details such as this add a lot to the experience.
Kuroneko is a beautiful movie, starting with the already mentioned minimal camerawork, it truly shines in combination with the lighting as the camera slowly moves around a room to accentuate a character so the viewer can gauge their reactions. The lightning is phenomenal, in rooms full of darkness often the only light radiates from the female characters, allowing their ghostly mannerisms to take full effect.
It's not just the lighting and camerawork, though. The dark woodland setting combined with plenty of fog usage would have me throwing money at my screen if it would actually achieve anything and I certainly couldn't forget the audio - from a steady drum beat present in serious scenes to a light instrumental tune during more touching scenes, Kuroneko is one of those films that merges visuals, camerawork, lightning and audio to create a haunting but beautiful atmosphere.
Kuroneko, like most horror films, didn't scare me, but the wonderful visual style and absorbing plot did more than enough to make sure the experience wasn't soured.