Tuesday, June 4, 2013

ONIBABA (1964) movie review

Onibaba (1964) d. Shindo, Kaneto (Japan)

Shindo’s allegorical fable (which he also scripted), examining the fate of two widows in 16th century Japan, is a masterpiece of horror conjured from everyday life. Left to fend for themselves while the men are at war, a mother (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) survive by ambushing wandering soldiers and selling their armor for food. When a lusty neighbor (Kei Sato) returns home with news that their son/husband has been slain in battle, a tension-filled triangle is formed – one rife with shifting alliances and rising passions.

But it is the appearance of a lone, demon mask-wearing samurai (Jukichi Uno) one night that sets off a terrifying chain of events, resulting in the unforgettable, nail-biting conclusion.

While not a fright flick in the traditional sense, Shindo’s dynamic staging of the susuki field as a living, undulating entity creates a palpable atmosphere of unquelled longing, and desperation, aided immeasurably by Kiyomi Kuroda’s gorgeous b/w cinematography and Hikaru Hayashi’s stellar jazz soundtrack (which surprisingly never seems out of place in this medieval setting).

Trivia:  The iconic demon mask was reportedly the inspiration for the flashing "Pazuza" imagery in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.

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