Remakes are seldom worth the ticket, but there is interest in seeing the rarity of a director’s redoing of his own film. In commemoration of Kadokawa Productions’ three decades, Kon Ichikawa reworked his 1976 The Inugami Family/Inugamike no ichizoku as Murder of the Inugami Clan. “Inugami X 2” showed on back-to-back days at Japan Society’s Japan Cuts, appropriately along with the U.S. première of the Shunji Iwai Filmful Life/Ichikawa Kon monogatari documentary about the director, who died five months ago.
It is hard to say which eleven minutes this early “Japanese Frank Capra” who turned darker cut from his original for the two-hour-and-a-quarter reprise. Color, sets, dialogue, even humor are by-the-numbers replicas that add nothing, render the complicated story no less difficult, and do not reproduce the verve of 1976. Not bad, but just pale by comparison. Like a couple purposeless shifts -- a policeman bicycles in screen right instead of left; blood splatter is separated and moved back -- the changes are negligible, improvements none. Time having passed, most of the players are replaced; not looking that much older, in both versions Koji Ishizaka is Tokyo detective Kohsuke Kindaichi, a disheveled dandruffy Oriental Columbo, but his rounder face no longer has the boyish eagerness of the first time around.
Existing only in an untranslated DVD in Hong Kong, and thus here as an international première with live projected subtitles, The Inugami Family is a mystery in the mold of black satires such as Kind Hearts and Coronets, praise not diminished by its convolutions up there with The Big Sleep, whose author Chandler and screenwriters (including Faulkner) could not solve one of the murders.
Japanese viewers, too, found difficulty, intentional in the names of three presumptive grandson heirs, Sukekiyo (Teruhiko Aoi), Suketake, and Suketomo, plus an unofficial son in Shizuma Aonuma (also Aoi), and the gypsy-looking Saruzo (Minoru Terada) who protects “adopted”-into-the-household Tamayo Nonomiya (Yôko Shimada). The first three are the sons of Matsuko (Mieko Takamine), Takeko (Miki Sanjo), and Umeko (Mitsuko Kusabue), the recognized out-of-wedlock daughters of patriarch Sahei Inugami (Rentaro Mikuni), who paid off their different mothers to leave and also sired an illegitimate son on his factory worker Kikuno Aonuma (Akiko Kana), who vowed revenge after the three half-sisters beat and drove her and the baby away.
Two years after Hiroshima, Sahei is dying, and, with husbands and offspring, they have gathered at his deathbed, mainly to hear the will which cannot be read until domineering eldest Matsuko returns with her son Sukekiyo, a soldier thought killed in Burmese jungles in ‘42 and wearing a latex mask to hide his toasted-marshmallow face. Astute and comic private eye Kindaichi has come here to Nasu City, headquarters of massively rich Inugami Pharmaceuticals, at the request of a lawyer who is killed by poison but whose boss, Furudate (Eitarô Ozawa), asks that he stay on the case (which the broke detective is most happy to do).
Under the recurring photo of the dour deceased, the testament bequeaths the lion’s share to Tamayo, provided she marry one of the three grandsons, which settlement sets off public protestations of indignation and private greed, scheming, an avowal of incestuous pregnancy, and more murders. The build-up and unraveling will be beyond summary or complete comprehension. But it is fun, with a second soldier who hides his face, an uneasy revengers’ alliance of veterans who trade places, a police commissioner who asserts one wrong solution after another (Takeshi Katô, as Tachibana), a worshipful hotel maid who does not turn out to be love interest (Ryoko Sakaguchi, as Haru), war profiteering through drugs, and a hidden ménage that produced a fifth illegitimacy. And murders, à la Agatha Christie’s “ten little Indian boys” nursery rhyme killings but here following the family emblem in gold objects derived from a Shinto shrine: an axe, chrysanthemum, and koto (thirteen-string zither). Heads roll from chrysanthemum garden dolls, legs protrude from lake ooze, corpses peer from skylights, rowboats are sabotaged, rape is attempted, and an incriminating pocket watch and brooch prove false clues.
His countrymen rank Ichikawa up with Kurosawa, with whom he and others joined to make independent films as the Club of Four Knights. An acclaimed documentarist, too, as in extraordinary Tokyo Olympiad (1965), he leaves excess twists and turns in The Inugami Family, something avoided earlier in his vaguely similar matriarch-grandmother-heir Bonchi. Many of his efforts are based on literature, and his co-scripted Inugami adaptation of the best-seller that inspired other films and five TV series, is fine genre cinema. By last count seven Ichikawa films have been made available on U.S. or U.K. DVD, and the Inugami Family would be an admirable addition.
(Released by IVL; not rated by MPAA.)