Village of Eight Gravestones
"Despite the Asian setting, it has a sort of strong sense of the gothic that brings to mind the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, with nary a pierced tongue or black fingernail in sight."
Village of Eight Gravestones (1977)
AKA: Village Of 8 Gravestones; Village Of The Eight Tombs; Village Of The 8 Tombs
Director: Nomura Yoshitaro
Producer: Nomura Yoshitaro, Sugisaki Shigemi, Oda Akira
Writer: Hashimoto Shinobu (based on the novel of the same name by Yokomizo Seishi)
Cast: Hagiwara Kenichi, Mayumi Ogawa, Yamazaki Tsutomu, Atsumi Kiyoshi
Running Time: 151 min.
Plot: A labyrinthine tale of treachery, deceit, and revenge from beyond the grave. A man who unexpectedly discovers that he is the heir to a family fortune travels to the small village where the family he never knew he had...and a 400-year old curse...await.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: A captivating mystery with a liberal dose of the supernatural, Village of Eight Gravestones is a film that can and will appeal to a wide variety of viewers. Despite the Asian setting, it has a sort of strong sense of the gothic that brings to mind the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, with nary a pierced tongue or black fingernail in sight. ("Gothic"...another perfectly legitimate word the meaning of which has been mauled and mutated by the unenlightened era in which we live. It's so depressing, I think I'll listen to Switchblade Symphony and write a poem about killing myself.)
The main character is 30-year old Tatsuya, who gets yanked out of his stable life of directing air traffic in Osaka and thrust into a convoluted drama involving a wealthy clan of long-lost relatives and grisly secrets. It begins with a surprise visit from his ancient grandfather, who suffers a mysterious attack of some kind and drops dead mere moments after meeting his grandson after three long decades.
Tatsuya's grandfather came from a small mountain village, and he travels there with a wealthy and influential native woman named Miyako for the funeral. Many awkward moments follow as Tatsuya is introduced to the Tajimi family, rich land owners from whom he will someday inherit a fortune, such as his bedridden half-brother Hisaya, and a freaky pair of elderly aunts who seem to share a single mind. More troublesome yet is the one-eyed old woman who screams about Tatsuya bringing death and misfortune to the village with him. She is, of course, dismissed as a raving old loony, but her predictions prove eerily accurate as dead villagers pile up and Tatsuya is told the chilling legend of eight samurai warriors who were betrayed and murdered by the cowardly peasants who inhabited the region four centuries ago. These people were led by a man named Shozaemon. His family name was Tajimi.
Is someone pulling strings and getting away with murder to snag the family's wealth, or is Tatsuya truly cursed? There are certainly plenty of other suspects in this backwards little town, but Tatsuya, the outsider, bears the lion's share of the suspicion. His primary allies are his half-sister Haruyo, and Kindaichi, a curious man in an ugly hat. Twist follows turn as the plot unfolds in a tapestry of deft cinematic storytelling...which, of course, is a prettier way of saying "no more plot summary."
Obviously, I liked this movie quite a bit, although keeping track of the large cast of characters did get a bit tiresome. Some of the music is jarring and out of place, and there are some bits of dialogue where the English subtitles inexplicably take a coffee break, but the overall presentation is excellent. The 2-DVD set from Shochiku/Platinum Classics has a high quality English translation and some bilingual liner notes (which should NOT be read by anyone who hasn't seen the movie yet; the "synopsis" briefly outlines the entire film from beginning to end). Despite an absurdly abrupt love scene, the story (written for the screen by the man who wrote Rashomon and Seven Samurai) maintains a strong grip on your attention, and while it may not REQUIRE a two and a half hour running time, it certainly DESERVES it. The climax contains some striking imagery that brings everything to a very satisfying close.
Village of Eight Gravestones has aged remarkably well, and still deserves a big audience. Highly recommended.
NUMSKULL'S RATING: 8/10