Onibaba (1964)

ONIBABA (1964)
Article 2853 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-28-2009
Posting Date: 6-5-2009
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Featuring Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sato
Country: Japan

An old woman and her daughter-in-law survive during the wars by killing stray samurai warriors, disposing of their bodies in a hole, and selling their equipment for food. When her daughter-in-law discovers that her husband has died in the wars, she falls in love with the local man who brought the news who has returned from the wars and is now hiding to avoid being sent back to fight. The old woman hatches a scheme to keep her daughter-in-law from being taken from her by using a demon mask taken from one of the warriors.

If the fantastic content in this movie were boiled down to its essence, it could have made a nifty “Twilight Zone” episode. When I make a comment like this, it’s usually my way of saying that a movie has stretched its content too thin, but that is not the case here at all. In this one, the story is effectively fleshed out, and even though the masked samurai does not appear until about two-thirds of the way through the movie, we are given plenty of meat to chew on before then. It’s an exploration of war and its effects, and how an extreme situation can nullify normal morality; though the murder and robbery of lost samurais may seem like an awful way to make a living, if one looks at the actions in the context of the situation (a seemingly unending war that has depopulated the land and depleted food supplies for all), one would be hard pressed to find another way for these characters to survive. One is left wondering at one point a character makes the transition from being a human being to becoming a demon, and the question as to whether the old woman has actually made that transition is a fascinating one; it’s significant that the last line of the movie is her claiming that she’s a human being. Even though the fantastic content that makes this a horror movie doesn’t manifest itself until well into the movie, the movie has built up a great amount of dread already by that time; all the action takes place in a field of reeds that towers over the heads of the human occupants, and one can easily feel the fear of never knowing how close one’s enemies are while still being unseen by you. This is also one of the first Japanese movies to feature nudity and sex, and there’s quite a bit here. This one is highly recommended.

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