Murder of the Inugami Clan (2006)

Director:  Kon Ichikawa
Cast:  Kôji IshizakaNanako MatsushimaKikunosuke Onoe
Plot:  When the wealthy Inugami patriarch dies leaving a huge estate, their lawyer hires detective Kindaichi as a series of mysterious murders befalls the family.

Genre:  Drama / Mystery / Thriller

Awards:  -
Runtime:  134min
Rating:  NC16 for some violence and nudity.

Kon Ichikawa's final film, Murder of the Inugami Clan, is a remake of his 1976 original.  Released in 2006, but only to hit our shores in 2008, this motion picture becomes all the more poignant because of Ichikawa's recent death. 

One of the Japan's premier filmmakers to emerge in the 1950s, Ichikawa's resume include classics such as The Burmese Harp (1956) and The Makioka Sisters (1983).  Though he had probably made more films than any other Japanese director to date, Ichikawa was unlucky to live in the shadow of such luminaries as Akira Kurosawa, who is often considered to be Japan's best filmmaking export.  Ichikawa's films remain influential nonetheless. 

Murder of the Inugami Clan is a throwback to the days of traditional filmmaking.  Watching it in cinemas will provide viewers with a fabulous opportunity to experience a '60s-like film in a modern environment.  The film is mostly in color though there are flashback sequences that are smartly filmed in black-and-white. 

Influenced by the poor but skillful samurai, Sanjuro, who helps to rid a town of violence and crime in Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961), Murder of the Inugami Clan features a similar character in Kindaichi, a shabbily dressed private investigator who stumbles upon a bloody family feud over a will left by their patriarch. 

Ichikawa's film has its fair share of mystery and suspense.  Couple that with a straightforward narrative style and it is likely to keep most viewers engaged.  It plays the guessing game very well, and though it is no more complicated than a game of Cluedo, Ichikawa is still able to strike a balance in offering intrigue and explanation at appropriate junctures during the film. 

The film plugs up possible loopholes by giving a detailed account of the murders and motives during the last thirty minutes, making it one of the more complete motion pictures I’ve seen this year. 

Each scene is well-paced, beautiful, and is captured in a retrofitting way.  And every time a victim of a murder is found, Ichikawa would always show the reaction of the discoverer first before shock cutting it to the lifeless and often ghastly appearance of the corpse. 

This technique is not all-out frightening, but it will certainly make viewers shiver momentarily.  Murder of the Inugami Clan is neither the best film of 2008, nor is it the best that Ichikawa has directed, but it is close to the kind of movies Hitchcock would have delivered in his prime. 

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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