Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Produced by Toshio Konya
Written by Kaneto Shindo
Cast: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Satō, Jukichi Uno, Taiji Tonoyama, Someshô Matsumoto, Kentarô Kaji, Fudeko Tanaka, Hiroyoshi Yamaguchi, Hiroshi Tanaka, and Kanzô Uni
Set in a war-torn feudal Japan, a prying mother in law try to keep her recently widowed daughter in law from meeting with a deviant neighbor.
Onibaba set in a war-ridden world. Onibaba is a visceral picture that makes little to no concessions. Onibaba is visceral to a tee. The world in it and its characters are utterly deprived of conventional views of morality. The never-ending war has made this world, and its characters desensitized to death itself. Cruelty is the norm now. No one makes qualms about the honor of war here, the brutality of war is never in question. The humans presented here always have this primordial and primal quality to them. The constant warfare has reduced life to a mad search for basic necessities. Everyone here live like animals. Everyone shows little interest in keeping themselves clean. Everyone looks rather unkempt. The tall grass prevalent everywhere becomes an everlasting symbol of the breakdown of civilization in this area. The Samurai, feudal Japan’s ruling class, are helpless prey here. The rule of the Samurai doesn’t extend to this area. Samurai foolish enough to get caught up in this place are killed mercilessly. Samurai here are more like commodity whose gear is meant to be sold for food.
The two lead women are left nameless. The older woman is a frightening woman whose motherly nature is more off-putting than caring. Her motherly nature rather is a perverted version where she seeks to control for her selfish benefit and pleasure. Her old age has done little to make her vulnerable. She is stern and cold as the world around her.
The younger woman is the daughter-in-law of the older woman. The wife of the older woman’s recently murdered son. She shares much in common with the older woman. Though her younger age makes her seem more feral. Unlike, the older woman who was probably more aware of the wider world. This cruel existence has better defined the younger woman’s life. Her sexual curiosity make her enthralling to watch. Both women are captivatingly beautiful in their own right despite their animalistic tendencies.
Hachi has the traits we expect for a goon of a big named villain. Hachi lacks any sort of heroic qualities. It’s even hinted that he could have been the one to kill the younger woman’s husband. Hachi is a man totally slave to his own whims, driven only by his urges. In the manner of the older woman, Hachi is the perverted version of masculinity in an amoral world.
The worldbuilding of Onibaba is immense. Its dirt and grim is enough to make the whole place undesirable. It may be set in the feudal era, but the setting like the people in it is strikingly primordial. The feeling of the world has reverted to a more ”natural” state remains ever present. Like, the endless reeds it is atmospheric to no end.
Although marketed as a horror film in some circles, the horror elements don’t appear for the most of the story. But, when it makes its appearance, it’s actually shocking. The blur between the natural and the paranormal remains elusive. Rather than an exploration of the supernatural, it’s a tool to confront the nature of justice. In the end, it becomes a study of the state of karma in this harsh world.
Onibaba is an unrelenting erotic thriller showered in rich symbolism. It crafts an animalistic world that’s high on emotion. Onibaba is highly sexually driven yet but highly austere in nature. A visceral amoral tale about the limits of human impulses.