Tuesday, 7 July 2020

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Onibaba


Dir: Kaneto Shindo. Cast: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Satō, Taiji Tonoyama. 1964.

When I first saw Onibaba, I was instantly taken by how unsentimental and adult it is in terms of its attitude and presentation. Its nudity is casual. The nature of its characters is unapologetically brutal and self-serving. Their actions reveal humans with the hearts and morals of insects. Artistically, its imagery is striking, pulling the viewer into its simple story that, at its core, reveals human nature at its most raw and mercenary.

Set during a 14th century civil war in Japan, Onibaba tells of an old woman and her daughter-in-law who await the return from battle of their son/husband, and in the meantime, make do by killing soldiers and selling their armour and possessions. While the object of their attention remains AWOL, another soldier returns to his home nearby, which causes tension between the two women. There is more, but this is where anyone intent on not eroding a first-time viewing for others should stop, and so I will. 

Onibaba is a hag-demon from Japanese folklore. Director William Friedkin says that its representation here contributed to the look of the demon Pazuzu in Father Karass’ dream within The Exorcist. Aside from any common physical characteristics, these two horror classic share something bigger — an exploration of the human condition under extraordinary conditions. Onibaba is arguably the best Japanese horror movie ever made.