Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Village of Eight Gravestones (1977)

Village of Eight Gravestones (1977)

October 31st, 6:30PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Village of Eight Gravestones (1977)

Tatsuya Terada (Kenichi Hagiwara) works at an airport and leads what seems a happily mundane life. Suddenly he is summoned to a lawyers offices and confronted with his aged grandfather who he didn’t ever know existed. He is then informed that he apparently has many relatives in the form of a wealthy family presiding over a small rural village in a valley surrounded by heavily forested mountains. On top of that he is informed that he has become the next heir to the family fortune. At this very moment to double the shock his grandfather has some kind of strange attack and dies horribly right in front of his eyes.

He then travels to meet this unknown family and upon arriving discovers an atmosphere of suspension and strange goings on. Soon after he arrives people connected with the family begin dying strangely and many believe it is somehow connected to a curse put upon the village by eight wondering Samurai who met there fate there centuries before.

When people talk about the great suspense film directors of the 20th century two names seem to always come up, British Director Alfred Hitchcock and French Director Henri-Georges Clouzot. But as more of his films begin to be widely available in the west in the coming decades, you might see the name of Nomura Yoshitaro added to that list. Nomura Yoshitaro, or Yoshitaro Nomura if you are using the western name order is a prolithic classical studio director, working under Japans large Shochiku Studio. During his time there he learned from and mentored many of Japans greatest directors including Akira Kurosawa in the former and Yoji Yamada in the latter. But even with his large and varied career what he tends to be best remembered for in Japan are his suspense films. He began with 1958's The Chase which was based upon a story by famed mystery author Matsumoto Seicho. It was so popular that he then directed a string of other films based upon the authors works including 1974's The Castle of Sand which is routinely pointed out as one of the greatest Japanese films of all time.
Apart from his collaborations with Matsumoto he also directed sever other suspense films based upon other works Village of Eight Gravestones being the most famous of these. Based upon a novel of the same name by Yokomizo Seishi, the films creates a murky mixture of horror and dread that few suspense films could ever hope come close to. While watching it the viewer is constantly hit by the feeling that there is something horrible just below the surface that seems to be drawing all the characters into a dark abyss. Another hallmark of a Nomura film is the cinematography, in this case opening up upon grand rural views that even in broad daylight tend to have the feel of some kind of gothic hell.

It looks like Nomura’s death in 2005 might have speeded up the recognition of his films outside of Japan compared with the trickle of praise that has been slowly growing in the west for decades. More of his films are now receiving domestic American release then ever before. For anyone who loves the genre of suspense and mystery this directors films are required viewing and Village of Eight Gravestones remains one of his best.
Japan, Director Nomura Yoshitaro. Cast Kenichi Hagiwara, Ogawa Mayumi, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kiyoshi Atsumi, 151 minutes.

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