Saturday, April 12, 2008

Vamp or Not? Inugami


This was a 2001 Japanese film by Masato Harada and the central creature within it was the Inugami – which is a traditional Japanese dog spirit. However I have seen it referred to as a quasi-vampire film and thus thought to look at it here in order that we might bottom out if it is part of the genre.

The film itself looks gorgeous, thanks to sweeping shots of the Japanese landscape but, story wise I felt somewhat in a quandary as this is a film which reveals the truth in layers and I wouldn’t want to spoil that for someone watching the film. Yet we have to peel at least some of those layers away in order to get to the heart of the vampire question. I find myself, therefore, treading a thin line I normally wouldn’t when I do a ‘Vamp or Not?’ article.

Yuki Amami as MikiThe film centres around the character Miki Bonomia (Yuki Amami), she is a spinster living in rural Japan who makes traditional paper. Actually some of the paper making techniques filmed were fascinating to watch in their own right. As the film begins, and a biker travels towards the location, we see the clouds moving with unnatural rapidity and a force in the air knocks the drying papers over. This was the inugami and it is the most we see of them, an almost invisible force in the air.

Atsuro Watabe as AkiraThe biker is the new teacher at a nearby town named Akira Nutahara (Atsuro Watabe). As well as a teacher he is a calligrapher. He runs out of gas on the road and is picked up by paper trader Seiji Doi (Eugene Harada). Seiji promises to take him to town but, first, they have to go to the village, where the Bonomia are a large family, so that he can pick up some of Miki’s paper. On the way to the studio Akira seems to be effected by something and faints.

His arrival seems to trigger events in the town. Miki begins to seem younger. becoming loversThe grey in her hair vanishes and she stops needing to wear her glasses. Misfortune strikes at many and the villagers blame the Bonomia family as their female line is cursed with the inugami – or so it is believed. We hear how the eldest female is tasked at counting the inugami in a jar and ensuring they are all there and not causing misfortune. The spirits themselves are referred to as gods. The various goings on do not stop the two (Miki and Akira) becoming romantically entangled.

There are many hidden secrets surrounding Miki, most of which surround her past and an accidental act of incestuous love. It is the peeling of those layers of mystery that makes the film and I do not wish to step into that storyline deeply. The inugami themselves are spirits and there is some degree of ghost story in respect of ancestor ghosts, I took it that Miki’s becoming younger was tied into that ghost aspect and nothing else.

supernatural assaultWe do get a moment of rapid decay (or so it seemed), leading to death, but it is a spiritual assault on another and I very much took it as allegorical or symbolic. There are protagonists viewing this and afterwards it is said that the character died of a heart attack, despite the effects we saw. It becomes more of a question of whether what we see is real, but there are odd effects with a computer later that might have been intended to show that the effects are occurring in the real world.

random biteThere is one solitary bite, during a black and white sequence, but it is an assault and nothing more. There is no vampire element to the attack. I wasn’t sure about the black and white sequence itself, clearly shot that way with a purpose in mind, it was during an ancestor rite, I felt the film had more atmosphere in colour than in the monochrome sequence. When the film explodes back into colour, however, it is a fantastic visual treat. There is also a licking of blood from a wound, but it was dog-like rather than vampiric.

The film was very interesting and unusual, certainly, though ran at perhaps too slow a pace for some viewers. It was focused more on character, as well as themes of familial honour, than the supernatural. But is it vamp? Frankly, no. It is neither vampire nor is it quasi-vampire.

The imdb page is here.

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