Yoshitaro Nomura’s 1978 film The Demon offers a terrifying exploration into the escalating lengths in which one will go to hide a devastating secret. Based on the 1958 short novel by author Seicho Matsumoto, The Demon is not a pleasant film in the slightest, dealing with challenging issues surrounding the family unit and the allegiances that may lead to its utter destruction and disarray.
The narrative follows Sokichi, played here by late Ken Ogata, who suddenly finds himself in an awkward position when his long-time lover Kikuyo (Mayumi Ogawa) arrives at his house with three children in tow that are said to be his. Sokichi has stopped sending money to Kikuyo, which prompted her to seek out and find him. Caught completely by surprise, Sokichi’s wife Oume (Shima Iwashita) is infuriated by Sokichi’s infidelity, viewing the Kikuyo and her children as obstacles to her marriage to Sokichi. When Kikuyo unexpectedly disappears one night, leaving the three children in Sokichi and Oume’s care, Oume devises an evil plan to rid the children of their lives. Using Sokichi as her puppet, she forces him to perform the monstrous actions against the children firsthand.
The Demon is a rough but fascinating look into the realm of private behavior as the cost of infidelity is viewed externally through the children themselves. Innocent as they may be, the film sees them as pawns from which Sokichi and Oume consistently battle for dominance over. In Sokichi’s case, to appease his Oume’s wishes to save his marriage and livelihood, and in Oume’s case, to only dispose of the children at any costs due to her selfish insecurities and her inability to have children of her own. The rather outlandish measures from which Oume exacts her cruelty through Sokichi is at times unbelievable given just how far he will go to satisfy her wishes. Sokichi does very little to rectify his situation through the film, which may be off putting for some viewers as he often stumbles to find the courage to stand up and claim his children.
Nomura does succeed in offering a reasonable view on the increasing normalcy of the appalling actions taken Sokichi, who is vicariously dominated by his wife, Oume. One can see the emotional struggle that Sokichi experiences when dealing with the repeated attempts to cast away his children, the conflicted nature of his behavior being played out excellently by Ken Ogata. We see him strive to abide by his wife’s own unethical and wicked wishes to save his marriage, while at the same time wanting to genuinely want to take care of his children in an honorable manner. The film is ultimately a contention over family loyalty — does Sokichi honor his marriage to a sadistically vile woman or protect his flesh and blood in the form of his children?
The narrative explores this struggle through the use of different segments chronicling Sokichi’s participatory role in attempting to get rid of his kids. The film conveys his relationship to them as evolving from initial disinterest to slowly expressing empathy for them, with Sokichi interpreting his harrowing childhood as an orphan to that of his children’s current predicament. The narrative plays upon this by exploring it opposite to that Sokichi being indebted to his wife from a financial standpoint, with Oume essentially being the primary provider in keeping both Sokichi and their family business afloat for many years, with persistent threats by Oume to leave if Sokichi decides to keep the children.
This conflicted sense of loyalty interpreted through Sokichi presents the film with a sense of plausibility as it brings forth questions regarding how far one may go to appease one side of the family over that of another. Viewed primarily as a destructive familial affair, The Demon expertly weaves its tale of familial deceit and honor with a profound sense of despair, considering the complexities that arise when unfaithfulness leads to acts of devastating revenge. The Demon ultimately questions our understanding of family loyalty and who we honor in that quest towards upholding it to the people we love and care for, with Nomura providing no easy answer.