Onibaba


Dir: Kaneto Shindo
Star: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sato

In medieval Japan, a woman and her daughter-in-law make a scant living by murdering samurais who are roaming the country as a result of the ongoing civil strife, and bartering the possessions for millet. They're waiting for their son/husband to return from the war; but it's his friend Hachi who returns, bringing grim news. However, the new widow finds her affections being redirected, much to the disgust of the mother, who decides to stop the new relationship, by any means necessary. If you're like us, you've probably already anticipated where this one is leading, though to Shindo's credit, he's less concerned about concealing this than... Well, that's where the film lost me, I'm afraid.

Ok, I get the point that the hole into which the dead samurai are tossed is a symbolic vagina, surrounded by a swirling sea of pubic grass. It's not exactly subtle. Indeed, Shindo opts to whack us over the head with the sexual metaphor to an almost ludicrous level, from the opening statement: "The Hole. Deep and Dark. From ancient times its darkness has lasted." The director would have been better served with some nice sessions of psychotherapy to work out his issues, rather than inflicting this on the audience, I'm afraid, because it's preciously thin material to sustain a 100-minute film. That said, this has some nice photography, and occasionally creepy moments, though the impact is dimmed because no-one here is in the slightest bit likeable - and neither is the screechingly atonal jazz score. As Japanese folktales go, this doesn't live up to its reputation.

D
[July 2007]


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