Friday 26 July 2013

Onibaba [1964]

Kaneto Shindo’s seminal psychological horror film Onibaba was a gem among gems in the Japanese New Wave movement. This incredible dive into the human psyche provided a nightmarish a depiction of the baser and primeval sides of human nature, otherwise concealed under veneers of civility, amplified and revealing their grotesque sides courtesy a socio-political backdrop so harrowing that even mythological depictions of hell would seem a luxurious place in comparison. Set in mediaval-era Japan torn apart by bloody feudal wars, an older lady (Nobuko Otowa), whose son is away fighting for one of the sides, and her young daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura), somehow eking out a survival in a hostile environ surrounded by tall grasses by killing samurais, dumping their bodies in a mysterious hole, and selling their armours to corrupt merchants in return for food; during the lull periods they eat whatever they manage to lay their hands on. Their structured and isolated regime, however, gets disrupted beyond repair with the arrival of a rakish samurai who evokes carnal desires in both the women. As the younger, repressed and gullible lady is easily seduced by him, it evokes intense jealousy, anger and insecurity in her vicious, sinister and crafty mother-in-law, leading the film to a devastating finale. The excellent acting apart, the stark and brilliantly expressionistic B/W camerawork and the thumping percussion-based score further added to the unsettling atmosphere and discomfiting themes of this peek into a diabolical and godless netherworld devoid of humanity and morality, and filled to brim with opportunism, grime, casual violence and sexual aggression and uninhibitedness.

Director: Kaneto Shindo
Genre: Drama/Psychological Horror
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan


Sam Juliano said...

One of the truly great Japanese films, and Shindo's masterpiece (though certainly THE NAKED ISLAND and KURONEKO are great films as well) Your discussion of human nature and the film's pre-eminence in the Japanese New Wave is vital of course. The drum-dominated score is classic and the expressionism visually stunning.

Great review!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. I was just left stunned by what I saw - be it the powerful imagery or the relentlessly grotesque content or the nihilistic world view. I'd really need to catch up on the 2 Shinoda films you strongly recommended.