Onibaba [鬼婆] (1964)
Starring Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sato, Jukichi Uno, Taiji Tonoyama, Sensho Matsumoto, Kentaro Kaji
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Expectations: High, been wanting to see this one for years.
Onibaba is a stunning, visual feast for cinema fans that happen to enjoy both classic Japanese films and horror. It is more arthouse drama than true horror in today’s sense of the genre, but make no mistake, Onibaba is horrific and unflinching in its story. It’s a great, slow-moving film and if you have any interest in watching it, please do so before reading the review. I’d prefer to talk freely about this one, as I feel that a lot of what’s interesting is definitely in spoiler territory, so consider yourself warned.
Onibaba is a very small film, concerning itself with only three major characters. An older woman and her daughter-in-law (both unnamed in the film) live in a small hut in a field of tall grass. And by tall I mean taller than a man, cornfield style. These women do what they can to survive, resorting to murdering exhausted samurai who have somehow gotten away from the war that rages nearby. They drop the bodies of their victims into a huge hole and sell their armor and clothes to a shady arms dealer in another hut close by. The third main character is Hachi, a neighbor that went to war with the son of the older woman (who was also the husband of the younger woman). After informing them of their loved one’s death, he quickly starts trying to seduce the young woman, thus creating a tension between the three that can only lead to bad places.