Nature is pretty unbalanced in Inugami, director Masato Harada’s dark modern folk tale filmed from Masako Bando’s novel. On the surface, the rural village of Omine looks like a pleasant posting for new art teacher Akira Nakahura. Nice wooded hills, friendly locals, and a local paper-maker called Miki Bonomiya who seems to become more beautiful each time he sees her. But strangely she doesn’t seem so popular around the village, maybe due to the fact that everyone knows that the women of the Bonomiya clan carry the Inugami curse. For generations they have been the guardians of clay urns containing wild dog spirits. Unless given prayers, dumplings and a spiritual pat on the head, the evil canine spirits are liable to nip out for an evening’s causing of homicidal rage among the local townsfolk. Arf.
Just to make something clear from the get go; this film does not contain CGI effects of slavering spectral dogs seizing innocent villagers in their jaws and bounding off to the hills with them. For those scenes, perhaps sir or madam might like to try the French film Brotherhood of the Wolf in the cinema next door. Rather, the dog spirits of Inugami awake everything that is jealous and paranoid and mean-spirited in the human mind. The humans do the rest.
So, we have an increasingly younger woman with a blood curse, an innocent outsider, eccentric and secretive family, hostile townsfolk, and generations of secrets ripe for uncovering. And how. This film starts like a Japanese version of Local Hero(the rural setting of Omine is interesting even without the encroaching weirdness, particularly Miki’s daily task of making beautiful paper from the herbs she gathers on the hillside), but it twists and turns and unstoppers into something much darker indeed. In doing so it lays open themes of prejudice, the environment, patriarchy, and the conflict of family duty and true love (when your family duty is keeping centuries old dog spirits at bay, this is not a decision to be taken lightly).
I would guess that the depth of this intriguing and powerful story owes much to the novel, but Masato does a hero’s job in bringing all of these layers and characters to the screen. He wrote, produces and directs. This is more a literary work than a simple genre piece; not surprising given that his previous films were Kamikaze Taxi and Bounce Ko-Gals.
Like all dogs, the Inugami will have their day. They certainly carried me off to those dark green hills. They’ll get you, too.