Hold your children tight. The Demon is pretty much one of the most disturbing movies you can imagine, and it features nary a drop of blood. Even I, a hardcore horror fan and not the greatest lover of children, was unsettled. Pregnant women, mothers, and people who are sensitive to themes of child abuse and infanticide should probably not even consider taking this on. It’s not a great film- it’s veers toward melodrama and is overacted in some places- but it achieves it’s goal- to make you nauseous and to cause you to question the essential goodness of people. Some people should never attempt to be parents, as being a mother or father requires you to care about and install your interest in something other than yourself, a high-wire act some people are apparently not capable of.
Sôkichi (Ken Ogata) is a weak, pathetic excuse for a man and father, a cheating husband to Oume (Shima Iwashita) and a inadequate lover to Kikuyo (Mayumi Ogawa.) He has three adorable children with his mistress, kids who his wife apparently doesn’t know about. There is a confrontation, to which the bawling, terrified youngsters are a witness, and the near-hysterical wife leaves Sôkichi to his lover, who owns a printing shop. The girlfriend begins to beat the children, and worse. Sôkichi turns a blind eye. He is consumed by paranoia, he believes the children are not his. But then what are they? Then the infant (Jun Iichi) ends up dead.
Oume denies all responsibility for the death, but the viewer has their doubts. Oume then grooms Sôkichi to ‘get rid’ of his remaining kids. Things would be so much better, easier, and more financially stable without them. She directs particular loathing on the boy (Hiroki Iwase,) who ‘looks like his mother.’ He’s a ‘bad boy.’ To desperate or too emasculated to argue, Sôkichi sets out to dispose of the children.
You will hate the adults in this movie. They are loathsome, evil, and cruel. A real man wouldn’t allow his woman to brutalize his children, let alone agree to kill them for her. No matter how much Sôkichi displays guilt, crying and sniveling and contemplating his dark and twisty past, I could feel no sympathy for him. I told myself he wouldn’t follow through with it. A father is bound to his children. He can’t just throw them away like garbage. Well let’s just say, withholding spoilers, that I was sadly mistaken.
The children, on the other hand, are just innocent and infinitely forgiving kids just trying to get by. The boy is described as ‘stupid,’ but he proves himself to be a remarkably self-reliant tyke, walking around town doing his own thing at the tender age of six. I was concerned for the youngest actor in this movie, the infant. Babies can’t really ‘act,’ and I was thoroughly disturbed by the scene where Oume forces soft food into the kid’s mouth out of just plain meanness while he screams and struggles, a punishment for him eating off her table. The kids aren’t the greatest actors in the world, especially during the more emotionally tense scenes. Ogata tends to overact. There’s are very little shades of grey to the characters, who range from pure and kind (the children) to sadistic and vile (the mistress) to weak and basically no less repugnant than the main antagonist (Sôkichi himself, a specimen of revolting apathy and the lack of the balls to even stand up for what’s right.)
Yet there’s something about this movie. It plays on your primal fears, the fear of being a truly inadequate parent, the fear of being endangered by someone who claims to love and protect you. It keeps your interest, albeit dishonestly (by continually showing small children in danger or being abused by their caretakers.) It smashes long-standing taboos about the sanctity of a child’s life being preserved onscreen, and appeals to our fundamental motherly instincts- these moppets ought to be loved and protected, and instead they are clenched in the hateful grasp of a twisted couple that doesn’t deserve them. In this way it is not fair, but effective. In one scene, Sôkichi and Oume heatedly discuss the baby’s death. “You’re secretly glad the little brat’s gone,” Oume insists. They ‘resolve’ it by having abusive, passionless sex. This chilling juxtaposition- a dead, probably murdered child and a couple who think they can distract each other by fucking away the problem- is more disturbing than anything you’re likely to find in the annals of horror.