Judge Mitchell Hattaway says these characters' self-absorption and histrionics would make them perfect for reality TV.
Our review of The Demon, published December 10th, 2010, is also available.
They'd be better off with strangers.
The life of Sokichi Takeshita, owner of a faltering printing shop, is irrevocably changed the evening Kikuyo, his mistress, arrives at his doorstep, their three young children in tow. O-ume, Sokichi's wife, reluctantly allows them into her home; Kikuyo vanishes in the middle of the night, leaving the children behind. O-ume, increasingly incensed by the constant reminders of her husband's indiscretions, verbally and physically abuses both her spouse and his progeny; Sokichi, driven over the edge, begins a series of unspeakable actions in order to appease O-ume and restore some sense of normalcy to his life, whatever the price may be.
Given the title, it would be easy to assume The Demon is your standard creature feature, but the horrors here are predominantly psychological. In fact, the original Japanese title is Kichiku, a word also translatable as "brute" or "subhuman," both of which are more accurate (but are also possibly too revealing). The main character is without question a monster, but not in the generic sense. He is instead the worst kind of monster: a human being with no concept of morality. Except for a few, very brief instances, Sokichi acts with complete disregard for the people around him. I'm treading lightly here, as I don't want to reveal too much about the plot, but suffice it to say, Sokichi's actions during the second half of this film are the ultimate betrayal of the trust between parents and children. He is not alone in his depravity, however; his mistress is an opportunistic parvenu, and his wife is a merciless harpy. This film's tagline could be the understatement of the century.
While for the most part The Demon is an exceptional psychological drama, it does have its share of flaws; while these flaws aren't fatal, they're too prominent not to be addressed. The young actors portraying the middle and oldest child simply aren't skilled enough for a film of this type; they aren't responsible for carrying the film, thankfully, but at times their performances can be grating. There are also two scenes in which histrionics undermine the drama. The first is a moment in which a drunken Sokichi breaks down and reveals the hardships in his past to Riichi, the older of his two sons. Not only is the scene unnecessary (not to mention clichéd), it doesn't ring true; its artificiality doesn't gel with the rest of the film. The second, which unfortunately is also the film's climax, has Riichi behaving in a manner completely alien to the nature of a six-year-old child; his actions are too obviously scripted and dilute the climax's impact. These two minutes of screen time could have easily been rethought and rewritten; a simple look from the boy or fewer words of dialogue would have better served the story. The screenplay was adapted from a short story by noted Japanese mystery author Seicho Matsumoto, and it's possible these scenes could have worked in the literary realm, but sometimes the written word's strength is celluloid's weakness (just ask David Lynch). Finally, the original story was published in 1957, while the film is set twenty years later. This could be my own preconceived notions interfering, but I think the film would have actually worked better had it been set during the period in which Japan was still attempting to recover from World War II, as a large part of Sokichi's economic plight seems outdated.
Home Vision Entertainment's presentation is exceptional. The film looks far better than it should, especially considering director Yoshitaro Nomura and cinematographer Takashi Kawamata's use of natural light. The story takes place during a blistering Japanese summer, and the transfer reveals every sweaty pore in the actors' faces. The blacks are incredibly deep, and there is absolutely no loss of detail in the darker shots. Nomura and Kawamata employ a muted color palette, but there are instances when a bright object—most notably Riichi's yellow baseball cap—appears; incredibly, there is no color bleeding. The mono soundtrack, presented in the original Japanese, exhibits better fidelity than I had expected from a film of this age; the abundant dialogue is clear and well integrated. There is a slight problem with the score, however; when played at higher volumes the music, especially the strings, can sound shrill and pinched. Extras include selected filmographies for the director and star, the film's theatrical trailer (which reveals too much of the plot), and brief liner notes; it's not much, but it's on par for a film of this nature.
Despite the film's flaws, The Demon is still a powerful, arresting experience. I highly recommend it; given the subject matter, however, you will probably admire this film more than you will enjoy it.
The case against the accused is without merit. All charges are dropped. Court is adjourned.
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Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
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