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The Black House - Kuroi Ie (Morita Yoshimitsu 1999)


The Black House
[Kuroi Ie]

Genre: Sexy Psycho-babble Thriller

review in one breath

Although The Black House is generally categorized as belonging to the "horror" genre it is in fact a non-supernatural psychological thriller exploring the making and mind of a "psychopathic killer". The backdrop of the story involves the intricacies of Japan's insurance agencies and the various types of questionable claims for compensation they receive. There are, for example, the yakuza who conjure up various schemes to fraudulently benefit from insurance policies. There are also the category of people officially referred to as yubikarizoku, those who inflict injury upon themselves to collect insurance payments. And then there are those who go to the extreme of injuring others in order to collect on policies taken out on behalf of the victim.

The film introduces us to each of these categories, but focuses primarily on the latter as embodied by the truly bizarre husband and wife team of Jyuozou (Nishimura Masahiko) and Sachiko Kumoda (played by the sexy and suddenly buxom Otake Shinobu). Following the apparent suicide of her (recently) former husband, Sachiko Kumoda has persistently been in contact with Keibu Wakatsui (Uchino Masaaki), a mild-mannered, mid-level manager at the Showa Insurance Company, inquiring into when she will receive the payments from her dead husband's policy. Although Wakatsui strives to put Sachiko's mind at ease, he is merely the middleman in the payment process and for the time being can only offer apologies and explanations for the delayed monies. From all appearances Sachiko's case seems normal, until that is, she requests that Wakatsui come to her home to discuss her situation in the hopes of expediting things.

When Wakatsui arrives at the Kumoda house, the (new) husband Jyuozou is in the yard. From the moment Wakatsui lays eyes on him, he realizes that something is indeed very strange about Jyuozou. His sense is impressed even further upon the audience by a strange static noise accompanying every appearance of Jyuozou. This noise seems to clearly imply a certain short circuiting of Jyouzou's intellect, a suspicion Jyuozou very quickly justifies by his quirky behavior. Inviting Wakatsui inside, they both wait in the small living room for Sachiko. Although Jyuozou loudly yells for her several times, there is no answer. Jyuozou then suggests Wakatsui open the door to the adjoining room and look there for Sachiko. Hesitantly, Wakatsui opens the sliding shoji door and peers in, only to recoil in horror at finding the Kumoda's junior high son hanging by the neck from the ceiling in an apparent suicide.

Within a day's time, Sachiko and Jyuozou are back at the Showa Insurance Company, this time inquiring how much they stand to collect from their son's suicide. Wakatsui explains that the standard collection would amount to ¥3,000,000. This amount, in addition to their previous claim for her former husband's suicide, brings the total potential payment to ¥7,500,000. Appearing quite delighted at the amount, the Kumoda's eagerly ask how quickly they can expect this money. Wakatsui explains that no payments can be made until the police officially declare the death a suicide ("jiken"). Hearing this, Sachiko strongly reminds Wakatsui that he himself was the first to discover the body and that all signs pointed to a suicide.

During the Showa managerial meetings, the enormous payments due the Kumoda's is the primary topic. It becomes clear that they all view the Kumoda family with great suspicion for some kind of foul play. Despite his objections, they assign Wakatsui to investigate the Kumoda's during the two weeks remaining until the police resolve the case. Their hope is clearly to discover some type of incriminating evidence to pass along to the police so that they might declare the case a possible homicide. Such a declaration would put an immediate halt to the Showa Insurance Company's liability in paying out this vast sum.

While the audience is trying to figure out who to believe, the Showa Managers or the Kumoda's, Wakatsui's investigation begins to turn up potentially bizarre tidbits of information. This information, however, is hardly anything that would stand up in court, but relies, rather, on neighbors' gossip and suspicions dating back 30 years to the days of Jyuozou and Sachiko as elementary school students, where they were both classmates. Rumor had it that another classmate suspiciously fell to his death while in the presences of little Jyuozou and Sachiko. Following up on these rumors, Wakatsui visits the elementary school and locates the elementary class yearbook in which the students, including Jyuozou and Sachiko, wrote their dreams for the future. Little Jyuozou foresees the death of his grandmother with whom his family lives (and she did indeed die soon thereafter). Little Sachiko writes about her dream of living in an all white house in an all white world and expresses her disgust for the Black House she lives in.

Wakatsui brings these childhood documents to his girlfriend, Megumi Kurosawa (Tanaka Misato), a psychiatrist, for some freudian analysis. After Megumi and her male counterpart analyze the childrens' writing, they begin to explain the phenomenon of the "psychopath". After Wakatsui relates to them his strange sense regarding Jyuozou, the case piques their interest and the male psychiatrist sets out to do a little investigating of his own. After only a few days, the psychiatrist arranges a meeting with Wakatsui (at a hip Tokyo gentlemens' club sporting very sexy dancers in pasties!) where he explains his certainty that Jyuozou fits all the characteristics of a psychopath. In true form to Japanese addictions to quasi-scientific causal explanations of everything, what follows is a lengthy discussion of the causes and plight of the "psychopath", interspersed with shots of the stripper in pasties. (!) Their meeting ends with Wakatsui being warned that Jyuozou is easily capable of snapping and "could kill you". Upon arriving home that evening, Wakatsui finds a long string of ominous faxes declaring "I know where you live!", and a smudged letter to the same effect with no return address. As Wakatsui stares down at the smeared envelope, the characteristic static noise can be heard, pointing to the conclusion that the letter is from Jyuozou.

The Showa Insurance company is soon thereafter informed by the police that they are extending their investigation of the Kumoda's under the assumption of foul play in the death of their son. The police, however, have no immediate plans for any arrests and require that the insurance company NOT inform the Kumoda's of their investigation. Wakatsui immediately recognizes the tight spot this puts him in. On the one hand, he must continue to deal with potentially psychopathological and definitely bizarre Jyuozou who now shows up at the office on a daily basis to inquire about the insurance payments. On the other hand, he is increasingly concerned for (the beautiful) Sachiko's safety and wishes her to understand why the delay in payments are so prolonged. Despite the demands of the police, Wakatsui writes Sachiko a letter warning her of the potential danger she faces by Jyuozou and explains that the payments will be indefinitely delayed due to the police's suspicion of Jyuozou's involvement in her son's death.

The following week, Wakatsui is called to the Kanezawa Police Station. It seems two severed arms with unusual scars in the palms were found near a local intersection and all indications point to their (formerly) belonging to Jyuozou Kumoda. By "indications" I mean that a bewildered Jyuozou is suddenly in the hospital without arms and Sachiko is attempting to claim insurance payments due to his injury. Although Sachiko's account is that she found Jyuozou laying next to the road after being hit by a passing vehicle, both the coroner and doctor suspect not only that the cut severing the arms is too clean for such an explanation but also that it appears the arms were severed elsewhere well prior to the claimed time of the accident. Meeting Sachiko and Jyuozou in the hospital room, Sachiko displays much more interest in the amount of money they can collect than in sorrow over the plight of Jyuozou. When Wakatsui relates this entire scenario to the Showa Managers, they call in their "best man", skillfully adept at whittling down to nothing the claims of questionable customers through brute force. Things start to look bright for the Showa Insurance Company when their best man meets Sachiko and Jyuozou in the hospital room and quickly shows his skill at calculated skepticism. His cool demeanor, however, is no match for the sexy, shapely, and now bereft Sachiko who quietly asks that he escort her out of the room to "discuss" the matter away from her husband's gaze.

What follows is an ever deepening psychotic spiral into which Wakatsui must descend in order to not only resolve the Kumoda case but to restore the safety and stability of his life. Amidst the complete ransacking of his apartment, a continuous barrage of threatening faxes, the unknown whereabouts of the insurance man last seen at the Kumoda's hospital room, and the sudden disappearance of his girlfriend Megumi, Wakatsui is literally forced to confront the horrors of a psychotic killer. Such horrors include but are not limited to:

  • An incredibly mobile robotic battery-powered dildo
  • A flying yellow bowling ball encrusted in glass shards
  • A goldfish swimming in the toilet bowl
  • Two incredibly large and luciously hypnotic but nevertheless psychotic breasts
  • One HUGE knife, a large iron mallet, and a swift kick to the groin

Kuroi Ie was rather comedic in a dark humor kind of way. The Kumoda's are more than over-the-top in their bizarreness but are balanced well with the unassuming and good-natured demeanor of Wakatsui. There are several points in the story where the audience will likely doubt its prior assumptions, and although it does not deliver the shock factor of a similarly good horror film, the suspense generated in following one bizarre episode to the next is quite tight and compelling.

Kuroi Ie is a more somber theme than director Morita Yoshimitsu generally pursues, though his next film, Moho Han (Copycat Killer, 2002, which stars Nakai Masahiro, leader of the musical group SMAP), is another suspense thriller. Morita is much more well-known for his work in comedy films and served as producer and screenwriter for all three of the very popular Bakayaro (Idiot! 1988, 1989, 1990) films. His penchant for comedy certainly lies below the surface of Kuroi Ie and is used to sustain the very bizarre and fascinating Kumoda characters.

Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
If you're looking for a quasi-freudian explanation of psychopathological behavior, step right up. A healthy mix of on-screen and implied (off-screen) violence. The on-screen category includes: One death by hanging. One bone-crunching, blood-squirting bite to (one's own) finger. One case of literal disarming. One unfortunate "fly and be free" gesture offered a goldfish. One death by mallet to the head followed by being stuffed into a dark crawlspace. Ditto for Sparky. One disrespectful trampling of an incredibly writhing robotic dildo (which then attempts a flee the room). One slit throat. One glass-shard encrusted bowling ball to the forehead. Several knife inflicted wounds. One repainting of the wall using the blood oozing out the back of one's skull. One near (and obviously euphoric) suffocation by bountiful busom. Sachiko oozes sexuality and obviously emits enough pheromones to hypnotize anything with gonads. And our sincere gratitude goes out to the psychaitrist who decided to call a meeting at the strip club! Mix one part examination and critique of Japan's current insurance abuses, one part quasi-freudian psycho-babble on the plight of psychotics, two parts Black Widow with a great set of knockers ("two parts", get it?), and one part deranged killer with literal skeletons in the closet!

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