Monday, June 19, 2017

CURSE OF THE DOG GOD! An Oddity from '70s-Era Toei!

A poster for the Toei horror thriller Inugami no Tatari (1977). Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Tonight, I made my way to the Laputa Asagaya for what will likely be the last installment of the Into Nightmares late-night screenings that I will see. (The program will continue, but I'm not particularly interested in the remaining titles.) Tonight's show was a film I'd actually never heard of before. It was a Toei production called Inugami no Tatari (1977), which can be translated as "Curse of the Dog God." The movie is just about as strange as that title would suggest, but unfortunately it's not as entertaining.

The movie has a pretty simple setup. A group of engineers from a mining company searching for uranium in a rural area in Japan (at least when they're not staring at naked female swimmers in a nearby river) accidentally destroys a small shrine in their truck on an unpaved forest road and runs over a dog owned by a young boy. These actions set in motion a series of bizarre events, resulting in the deaths of the protagonists' two colleagues. (One goes crazy and jumps off the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building; the other is killed by a pack of vicious German Shepherds.) The main character's bride (whom he marries shortly after the dog is run over and the shrine is destroyed) even becomes possessed by the dog-god, despite the fact she had nothing to do with the accident.

The man and his wife eventually return to the village where she eventually dies. At this point, the movie loses focus and begins to get bogged down in characters and subplots that just aren't very interesting. The supernatural elements take a backseat to the human drama, and (with few exceptions) they don't return until the last 20 or so minutes of the film.

But those last 20 minutes are a doozy. We're treated to a lot of strange imagery, including (but not limited to) disembodied flying dog heads. While the early supernatural scenes seemed to take things somewhat seriously, there is no such effort made here. It's almost as if writer-director Shunya Ito saw a screening of House (1977) and decided it wasn't outlandish enough for him.

Overall, the movie is a mixed bag. When the movie is supernatural, it's interesting and enjoyable. When nothing ghostly is happening, well, let's just say things can get a little slow. And a lot slow, too. I do love the cinematography of the rural landscapes, though. At least the film is visually appealing when the story isn't.

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