Demons (1971)

  • Year: 1971
  • Released: 13 Jan 1974
  • Country: Japan
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  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: Japanese
  • MPA Rating: N/A
  • Genre: Drama, Horror
  • Runtime: 134 min
  • Writer: Nanboku Tsuruya, Shûji Ishizawa, Toshio Matsumoto
  • Director: Toshio Matsumoto
  • Cast: Katsuo Nakamura, Juro Kara, Yasuko Sanjo
  • Keywords: samurai, geisha, exile, ronin, feudal japan,

Demons Storyline

Gengobe Satsuma, an exiled samurai cast out as an Asano clan retainer is given a second chance to join his brothers in arms to become the 48th Ronin against the Shogunate. His faithful servant gathers the 100 ryo required for his acceptance. Gengobe is also in love with a greedy geisha named Koman. About to be sold to another man, Gengobe learns that for him to keep her, her debt is exactly 100 ryo.—Vogels

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Arabicsubtitle Shura.1971.720p.BluRay.AAC.x264-Moshy
Englishsubtitle Shura.1971.1080p.BluRay.AC3.x264-Obscureness
Englishsubtitle Shura aka Pandemonium 1971 DVDRip.XviD-ZOIC
Englishsubtitle Shura aka Pandemonium 1971 DVDRip.XviD-ZOIC

Demons Movie Reviews

Brooding, suffocating vision of Hell on Earth…

A stark, desperate tale of vengeance, Shura examines the plight of Gengobe – a Ronin (Samurai without Master) – and his quest to right the wrongs done unto him. This is basically the whole plot in a nutshell, but this isn’t any kind of action adventure story or pulp fiction Samurai epic, rather a philosophical and meditative examination of manipulation and a misguided affection which blinds a man from his duty and true quest. True this is a staple of Japanese cinema – but it is one which has rarely been examined quite this painfully and as unflinchingly as it is in this film.

The theatrical origins of Matsumoto’s film are very evident from the onset of this bleak piece, an extremely minimalist affair, but this only adds to the feeling of entrapment and claustrophobia. Daylight is glimpsed only once (the first shot as the sun sinks from the blood-red sky – also the only shot in colour) and the story plays out over the course of several nights.

As with his previous film ‘Funeral Parade of Roses’ Matsumoto employs many times a ‘dual reality’ device replaying scenes first as the protagonist imagines, and then as it actually happens, constantly keeping the viewer unsettled, with shocking – though never gratuitous – spurts of violence which one is torn between finding sympathy with and being repulsed by.

This is a film which is easier to admire than to actually like, but it’s forlorn, doomed and – literally – lightless vision means it could only be truthfully recommended to those who are fans of truly downbeat cinema. A viciously dark night of the Soul.

9/10. 1 point deducted for not showing even the slightest glimmer of hope.

Demons (1971)

WOW. Rarely does a film leave you this speechless. Toshio Matsumoto’s Demons is for sure one of the greatest Japanese New Wave films, and there were so many other masterpieces made during this unofficial film movement that it’s really a wonder how still, everyone’s associations to Japanese cinema are just the films from the ’40s and ’50s, with J-Horror and late Kurosawa added in to the mix. Demons is a haunting, ballsy and unforgettable film that will linger long in the memory.

Of course, it comes with a fair share of annoying alternative titles – Bloodshed (too generic), Pandemonium (okay, well, I like this one), and Shura: The 48th Ronin (falsely implying that the main character is called Shura). The original title Shura is derived from asura, the Sanskrit name for a demon. In fact, Shura is sometimes regarded as a specific asura, a dark god of destruction, mayhem and violence, who doesn’t rest until he spills someone’s blood (echoing the mental state of the film’s antihero). The word shura is additionally a Noh drama term for a play about ghosts and suffering warriors. So yeah, Demons is the most correct translation.

It’s based on the play Kamikakete sango taisetsu by Nanboku Tsuruya, who’s better known for the often-adapted-to-film kabuki play The Ghost of Yatsuya. Indeed, Demons is a very theatrical film; few locations, all of them indoor and/or artificial, very few characters, shoestring budget, theatrical acting and dialog-driven drama. The movie is full B&W, but begins with a color shot of the sun setting to prepare the audiences for the type of film this is, and the rest of the film takes place in two nights. The dawn never breaks out, the space is extremely confined to make you as claustrophobic and paranoid as possible, not to mention the establishing shots are replaced by title cards. The theatrical style somewhat reminds me of Masahiro Shinoda’s Double Suicide, except that one went full-kabuki (or rather bunraku) on us.

Demons is a cruel, ironic tale of a samurai descending into madness and turning other characters’ lives into Shakesperean lunacy. The film knows exactly what it wants to be – brutal and unforgiving, so much so that it was banned in UK for the depressing tone and violent content. And indeed, one particular scene… Uh. There’s no sugarcoating or presenting violence as anything desirable, vengeance as noble, etc. No, this movie has a strong moral sentiment, but you’re the one left to decide what the message is.

The movie is also an alternate history tie-in with the historical event about the famous 47 ronin, a subject of many Japanese films. Here, the antihero belongs to the same clan (hence the last alternate title) but never interacts with them, nor do the other ones appear. The tale of the 47 ronin’s vendetta is as noble and heroic as possible, yet our protagonist plunges into unimaginable depths to further spice the movie’s sense of irony. There are no real relatable characters or anyone to root for, but you’re still absolutely transfixed to the plot and can’t look away. The atmosphere is splendid and the tension is unbelievable. The narrative also likes to trick you sometimes, by adding unsignalled violent fantasies of the antihero which tie in seamlessly with the rest of the story, only for him to suddenly snap out and the actual event to unvelop.

Of course I have to mention the cinematography work on this film – it’s simply mind-blowingly beautiful like in many, many other Japanese films. The overwhelming use of negative space which makes the characters look like disembodied spirits, the incredible chiaroscuro work – it’s all there, and it’s as beautiful as it is downright despicable.

Samurai Film Noir

It is sometime during the Edo period, and Soemon is a Ronin living under the assumed name of Gengobe in Fukugawa, Tokyo. Indebted and unable to acquire the necessary funds to join the 47 Ronin in their quest of vengeance, he spends his days drinking sake and his nights with geishas. One geisha in particular: Koman, who pledges her eternal love for him. This love proves to be fickle, for Koman is a married woman. After his servant Hachiemon acquires 100 Ryo for Soemon to join the Ronin, he is quickly swindled by Koman and her husband Sangorô. Left penniless once more, Soemon descends into a bloody spiral of insanity and violence from which he may never return.

Written and directed by Toshio Matsumoto- and based on the Kabuki play ‘Kamikakete Sango Taisetsu’ by Nanboku Tsuruya and Shûji Ishizawa- ‘Shura’ is a strikingly photographed tale of revenge and madness that plays like a samurai film noir. Containing hard-hitting violence, a cynical anti-hero and a duplicitous femme fatale, the film bears many of the hallmarks that informed the noir movement of the 40’s and 50’s. Told in a non-linear fashion, the narrative incorporates flashbacks, alternative scenarios and repetition, challenging and confusing the viewer. The story is a gritty, dark one, maintaining a bleak and fatalistic tone, which is only heightened by the striking cinematography from Tatsuo Suzuki.

Shot in black and white, Suzuki makes excellent, evocative use of light and shadows, creating a startling contrast that adds a sinister sense of despair and claustrophobia to proceedings. His usage of dissolves, super-impositions, angled shots and zooms heightens the narrative tension, whilst also lending the film a surreal, eerie quality that strengthens the narrative impact. Suzuki also utilises the minimalist sets- a nod to the film’s origins in Kabuki theatre- masterfully, making the most of the limited spaces in an artful and imaginative way.

A frequent collaborator of Matsumoto’s- working on at least three of his films, including the acclaimed ‘Funeral Parade of Roses’- Suzuki was at the forefront of Japanese experimental cinema. Working alongside a variety of independent directors, Suzuki made a name for himself as an innovator in terms of cinematography and its capabilities. His avant-garde work could very well be seen as influential on, or as a forerunner to, the work of Shinya Tsukamoto, or even David Lynch. Here, he leaves the audience wide-eyed in wonder at the eerie, noiresque imagery- be it of apparent floating lamps chasing our central character or the beautiful visage of a geisha, highlighting the torment in her eyes. Throughout ‘Shura,’ Suzuki’s efforts don’t just bolster the narrative and its tone- they leave you spellbound.

As do the intense performances from the cast, most notably Katsuo Nakamura as Soemon. A former Kabuki actor, Nakamura displays his character’s complex emotions and inner turmoil fantastically, utilizing expressive gestures, movements and facial expressions. He interacts with the rest of the cast convincingly, painting a compelling portrait of a man driven to madness and violence by the actions of others. Alongside him, Yasuko Sanjo delivers a masterclass in understatement as the geisha Koman. She brings much grace and elegance to the role, perhaps accrued from her years as a dancer, leaving an indelible impression on the viewer. Masao Imafuku also does fine work as the servant Hachiemon, the only real honorable one in the film; stealing every scene he’s in.

Although those who shy away from violent films might not appreciate the amount of gore in ‘Shura’, anyone who enjoys Samurai movies, or a good revenge story, will likely be most pleased by the film. Beautifully shot by Tatsuo Suzuki and featuring commendable performances from all in the cast, there’s a lot going for it. A strong narrative, deft direction- ‘Shura’ may be one of the best Samurai film noirs you’ll ever see.