by Kaneto Shindo
What Raiko, the landlord, plans to do has everything to do with Gintoki. Since leaving his family, he's become something of a hero. After a battle in which literally everyone on either side was killed, he waited until the enemy general was too tired to fight anymore and cut his head off, which he presented to the high command as a trophy. They can think of no better purpose for a war hero than saving a town from an apparent monster. Raiko fills Gintoki in on the direness of the situation and sweetens the deal by promising him any of his housemaids if he can find and kill whatever's been making mincemeat of samurai lately. That does nothing for him as he still doesn't know the fate of his wife and mother. On his way home an old neighbor tells him and indeed the charred remains of the house are the only thing waiting for him. Being a war hero has come at quite a price it would seem, though on the plus side he's got nothing to lose, right? It only takes one night by the Rajomon gate for Shige to appear to Gintoki and bring him back to his own house. He notices that the women look exactly like his deceased family but notices that there is something different about them. He leaves before either kills him and in his absence the two women speak of the Evil Gods and the bargain they made. Yone senses that Shige must be desperate to see her husband again but she must remember her vow. When Gintoki returns, he and Shige make love and no one ends up dead. For the next six nights Gintoki comes to Raiko empty-handed and sleeps with his wife on the sly. After the seventh night he returns and finds Shige gone. Yone explains that she had bartered with the evil ones for seven nights with her former husband in exchange for the eternity killing samurai she had evidently signed up for. A horrified Gintoki realizes that his seven nights have cost his wife an eternity in hell. He flees the premises and the next night the killings start again. Raiko's this close to hanging Gintoki, whose claims of banishing one of the ghosts do nothing to curry him any favor. If he wants to live through the week, he's going to have to murder a ghost that may or may not be his mother, who he never said a proper goodbye too before her death. If you can think of a more strange or difficult task for anyone to face, I'd like to hear it.
Further underscoring the dreaminess of the film is the handling of the nature of the creatures. It is clear from the two women's conversations that they are evil and perhaps working for Satan himself (or whatever the 16th century Japanese equivalent is). What's not clear is just what the hell they are. The appearance of the black cat meowing just before something evil happens, not to mention their extraordinary jumping ability and occasionally appearing like cat women (complete with furry ears) in jump cuts, gives the impression of a kind of ghastly were-cat. They drink the blood of samurai like vampires yet are distinctly feline. Many of their habits are directly in keeping with vampire lore (only come out at night, must be invited in, etc.), which if anything makes them more frightening in that Shindo is never up front about what they're capable of. When Gintoki claims a piece of one of them it takes the shape of a feline-human hybrid and is the stuff of nightmares. In a film less self-assured and contained, the appearance of the cat-man limb might have seemed silly. Here it's just unnerving, as is the ghost's response to having it taken; it reminded me in fact of an old ghost story that found its way into those Scary Story anthology books Alvin Schwartz used to publish. The film found its way into my childhood unconscious...always a good sign that it’s working. Jigoku did the same thing. It reminds me just how much more terrifying it is when the supernatural comes out of your imagination and knocks on your door.