“I’m not a demon! I’m a human being!”
Japan’s war-torn 14th century: In a marshland overgrown with endless swaying reeds, a woman and her daughter-in-law cling on the edge of survival. They mercilessly prey on wounded samurai warriors fleeing from a nearby battlefield, killing them and selling their armour for handfuls of rice. When the younger woman falls for a handsome young deserter, the mother determines to stop the affair – with unexpected and shocking results!
“People are both the devil and God… and are truly mysterious.” – Japanese writer/director Kaneto Shindo.
Onibaba is humanity stripped bare! Existence here is purely based on physiological demands – food, sex, shelter, and above all – self-preservation. There is no God to in the be found in this vast wasteland – just the ceaseless dry whisperings of the wind through the endless susuki grasses, the oppressive heat, and the utter desolation of its inhabitants. One of the most fiercely primal depictions of the human condition on celluloid, Onibaba is a haunting, mesmeric experience. A witness to the dehumanising horrors of WW II, Shindo, a committed communist, adapted a Buddhist parable to contain his virulent anti-war, anti-capitalist message. For Shindo, this dog-eat-dog world, fueled by the raw instincts of death and sex, is a microcosm of the insatiable demands of capitalism. The result is a tale of erotic noir that is psychological horror at its most brilliantly subversive. The uniquely spare quality of Onibaba serves these themes well. The dynamic wide-screen framing, minimalist dialogue and exposition and the dark and earthy performances of Nobuko Otowa and Jitsuko Yoshimura are balanced to perfection. Kiyomi Kuroda’s lustrous black-and-white cinematography haunts as much as the proceedings themselves, particularly in the film’s eerie nighttime passages. And Hikaru Hayashi’s unnerving score consisting of saxophones (to echo the sound of wind through reeds), primitivist drums, raucous tubas and ritualistic voices, has a fever to it that is equal to the stark and hypnotic beauty that permeates every frame of this film.
Onibaba is more than just a witches’ brew of Gothic horror, it is an elemental and timeless classic!