Yoshitaro Nomura’s The Demon (a.k.a. Kichiku, 1978) is a dark Japanese drama that some reviewers seem to enjoy calling “Hitchcockian” and they often use words like “mystery” or “thriller” to describe it. After watching this deeply disturbing film recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that I must have watched a very different movie because I personally wouldn’t call The Demon “Hitchcockian” at all and I definitely wouldn’t refer to it as a mystery or a thriller. I suppose one could use the word “horror” when describing the film because it features some truly horrific events, but all the horrors presented in The Demon are based on real-life situations and the desperate and demonic acts of one very human man.
The film stars the talented Japanese actor Ken Ogata (The Castle of Sand, Vengeance Is Mine, Virus, Makai Tensho, The Ballad of Narayama, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, The Pillow Book, Izo, etc.) as a cheating husband named Sokichi who’s married to an infertile woman. He secretly keeps a mistress who’s given birth to three of his children, but when a fire ruins his printing business he stops visiting his second family and neglects to give them any kind of financial support.
When his mistress unexpectedly arrives at his doorstep with his three children one hot summer day and abandons the kids there, Sokichi’s world comes crashing down around him. His legal wife refuses to help care for the children and constantly nags him about his deceit and indiscretions. She also begins to horribly abuse the children and questions if Sokichi is even their real father.
Sokichi is desperate to make his miserable wife happy and he soon starts neglecting his children as well. Growing financial problems and the disturbing co-dependent relationship he has with his wife create a toxic home environment that is incredibly dangerous for the three innocent kids who are at the mercy of these deeply troubled adults. Things go from the bad to unbelievably worse as the film progresses, until the real-world horrors it presents become almost unbearable to watch.
It’s impossible to turn on the nightly news these days without coming across some horrific story about neglected, abused or murdered children. Like most sane people, I’m constantly shocked by news stories about parents who are capable of abandoning and abusing their own kids, and I often wonder how they could be so incredibly cruel. The Demon is one of the best films I’ve seen that deals with the complicated and difficult topic of child abuse and it does a truly impressive job of trying to present the reasons why children might end up abused by the adults in their lives. It also cautiously explores the reasons why children may become abusers themselves.
Thankfully the movie doesn’t attempt to offer any easy answers, but it effectively shows the events and troubling mindset that might create a truly demonic person who is willing to abuse and even kill their own flesh and blood. There is a brief moment of conservative Japanese thinking on display towards the end of the film where it seems to suggest that the ills of modern society could be partly to blame for the children’s suffering, but the events that it portrays have sadly been occurring ever since irresponsible human beings started having children.
I’ve watched countless horror films and thrillers in my lifetime and I rarely get the urge to look away from the movie screen or turn a film off before I’m finished watching it, but the events depicted in The Demon are so realistically presented and relentlessly horrific that the film became incredibly hard for me to watch all the way through. The demon in this film does not have horns or a tail and the movie contains no shocking special effects. The demonic force presented in The Demon is simply a desperate and despicable father who has forsaken his humanity and commits unbelievable acts of cruelty.
The acting by everyone involved in the film is top-notch and Ken Ogata gives one of the greatest performances of his career here as Sokichi. Ogata is a fine actor who has the uncanny ability to make the most monstrous characters incredibly sympathetic and his talents are used to full effect in The Demon. He won numerous awards in Japan for his performance in the film and it’s easy to see why. I can’t think of many actors who would be willing and able to give the complex role of Sokichi the kind of depth that Ken Ogata brings to it.
The script by Masato Ide (based on a Seicho Matsumoto novel) is really well-written and director Yoshitaro Nomura manages to turn what could have easily become a melodramatic mess into a truly nuanced and extraordinary film. The talented cinematographer Takashi Kawamata should also be applauded for adding to the films impressive look.
The Demon is currently available on DVD from Homevision.