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Onibaba (The Criterion Collection)

4.5 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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 Shindo’s 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

Special Features

  • New digital transfer with restored image and sound and new English subtitles
  • New video interview with writer/director Kaneto Shindo
  • Rare super-8 black & white footage provided by actor Kei Sato, shot on Location during the filming of Onibaba
  • Stills gallery featuring production sketches and promotional art
  • Rare english translation of the original short buddhist fable that inspired the film
  • Filmmaker's statement from writer/director Kaneto Shindo

Product Details

  • Actors: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Satô, Jûkichi Uno, Taiji Tonoyama
  • Directors: Kaneto Shindô
  • Writers: Kaneto Shindô
  • Producers: Hisao Itoya, Kazuo Kuwahara, Setsuo Noto, Tamotsu Minato
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Black & White, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: March 16, 2004
  • Run Time: 103 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00019JR5Y
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,277 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Onibaba (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Zack Davisson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 19, 2004
Format: DVD
The Noh mask in and of itself is a frightening thing. Featureless and unmoving, it is designed to change expressions when the wearer turns their head a certain way, and captures shifting shadows and light. Filmed in color, it would not have nearly the same impact as the devil's face that leers at us in "Onibaba." Director Kaneto Shindo has utilized the full power of this ancient Japanese artifact, using its supernatural powers to show us the true face of a very human evil.

The story is of the flotsam and jetsam of war, the left-over non-combatants who must still live by whatever means they can while commerce and industry is devastated and all able-bodied men are soldiers. In this harsh environment an old woman and her daughter-in-law become carrion crows, murdering lone samurai who have escaped wounded from a battle, then selling their arms and armor to a dealer who then sells it back to the armies, to strap around more corpses-to-be and eventually be recycled into more profits for the women.

Into this self-sustaining cycle comes Hachi, a friend of the old woman's son and young woman's husband, who claims that the son/husband is dead and he intends to leave behind the fighting and settle near the two women. The young woman is still young, and lusts for the life and vitality she senses in Hachi. The old woman, fearing abandonment and starvation, plays on the superstitious fears of the young woman, haunting her with a stolen Noh mask of a devil's face.

The transformation from the death-cycle of the old and young woman, to the living passion of Hachi is a powerful transition in "Onibaba." The raw, naked sexuality between Hachi and the young woman (who is never given a name) is unexpected in a black and white film, and thus all the more powerful.
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Format: DVD
The deconstrunction and demystification of the samurai myth had been a project Akira Kurosawa had taken upon himself and that had seemingly reached a conclusion in YOJIMBO (1962), but Shindo's ONIBABA (1964) takes it a step further by presenting them as bedraggled and exhausted, hungry and at the mercy of two seemingly innocuous women. Shindo's world is hot and sultry, the characters weak and vulnerable. This is a very good depiction of the affects of war on the fringes of society and the lengths certain parties must go to in order to survive. As well as exploring this theme Shindo also adds several intriguing layers, sexuality and jealousy make a potent combination, as does the inserion of old Japanese folk tales. The result is a film that shows the eroticism of human beings in their most natural and stripped down state. Be hypnotised by the swaying grass fields and the sumptious black and white cinematography in this Japanese gem. Criterion's disc is very good.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I remember having seen Kaneto Shindô's ONIBABA in a little arty movies theater when I was about 15 years old. I've never forgotten its atmosphere even if this event happened some 30 years ago. I was really haunted by this sex story that took place in a swampy prairie of the medieval Japan.
Onibaba's characters are lost in the middle of a field covered with uncut grass and wheat. We have to dive into this scenery that is the fourth main character of the film if we want to discover this tragic and fantastic tale of love and jealousy. An impressing number of scenes are already part of Movie History and will stay for a long time in your memory : the love scenes between the young woman and Hachi, all the scenes involving the mask of the stray samurai and also the first murder committed by the women if I may select chosen moments of this masterpiece.
As always, the copy presented by Criterion is nearly perfect. Bonus features include a recent interview with the director Kaneto Shindô who's well over 90 now and a home movie shot by Kei Sato during the shooting. Frankly, I can't see now what can prevent you from enjoying this unforgettable film.
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Format: VHS Tape
One of the greatest of all films of the supernatural, Onibaba, 1964, elicits shivers based on its perfect fusion of atmosphere, character, and setting. In feudal Japan, samurais coming home from warrior duty pass through fields of tall waving grass--a powerful leit-motif here--and are enticed by an older woman and her widowed daughter in law to follow them for a much-needed meal. But the two women have no intention of providing food for the men; they've constructed a booby trap that kills.
Stripping the now-dead warriors of their armor, the two sell it for food; this is their nasty means of survival in a desperate land. The younger woman, however, needs more than food to survive. Her hunger for the touch of a man is greater than that for food and she finds one who she is sure will satisfy her. But her mother-in-law is enraged by this possibility. Finding a mask on one of the dead samurais, the old woman dons it, mimicking a demon, to frighten the younger one.
The mother-in-law's scheme does not go as planned.
The director, Kaneto Shindo, has here created a sparse, riveting tale that transfixes the viewer because of its down-to-the-bone simplicity. Greed, fear, jealousy, and rage are all expressed with a minimum of action, but when they are on display, they're intense and that much more powerful. The subtle black and white cinematography is a perfect complement to the film's simplicity of tone. No tale of the supernatural can ever work without at least one of man's baser emotions present, and it works much more effectively when the expression of those emotions is lean amd nean, as it is here.
The much-touted current Japanese horror film, Ring, has been given enough attention by the media to, at long last generate its ultimate homage, an American remake.
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