Deep within the wind-swept marshes of war-torn medieval Japan, an impoverished mother and her daughter-in-law eke out a lonely, desperate existence. Forced to murder lost samurai and sell their belongings for grain, they dump the corpses down a deep, dark hole and live off of their meager spoils. When a bedraggled neighbor returns from the skirmishes, lust, jealousy, and rage threaten to destroy the trio's tenuous existence, before an ominous, ill-gotten demon mask seals their horrifying fate. Driven by primal emotions, dark eroticism, a frenzied score by Hikaru Hayashi, and stunning images both lyrical and macabre, Kaneto Shindos chilling folktale, Onibaba
, is a singular cinematic experience.
A curse hangs over Kaneto Shindo's primal Japanese classic like a looming storm cloud, but the supernatural has got nothing on the desperation and savagery of the human animal trying to survive the horrors of war. In 16th-century Japan, a hardened middle-aged woman and her young daughter-in-law have turned predator to survive, murdering the soldiers who wander into the sea of pampas grass surrounding their hut and selling their weapons for rice. When their war-deserter neighbor returns home and makes his moves on the young woman, their numb equilibrium is complicated by greed, jealousy, and lust. The consequences are terrible and not exactly surprising, but they are gripping. Shindo's unnerving close-ups, bobbing handheld camerawork, and soundtrack of pounding drums and howling flutes gives Onibaba
a queasy intensity. Shooting in stark black and white, he makes even the waving of the grass look ominous as it all but swallows everyone who enters. --Sean Axmaker