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Short summary

In the Fourteenth Century, during a civil war in Japan, a middle-aged woman and her daughter-in-law survive in a hut in a field of reed killing warriors and soldiers to trade their possessions for food. When their neighbor Hachi defects from the war and returns home, they learn that their son and husband Kichi died while stealing supplies from farmers. Soon Hachi seduces the young widow and she sneaks out of her hut every night to have sex with him. When the older woman finds the affair of her daughter-in-law, she pleads with Hachi to leave the young woman with her since she would not be able to kill the warriors without her help. However, Hachi ignores her request and continues to meet the young woman. When a samurai wearing a demon mask stumbles upon the older woman at her hut asking her to guide him out of the field, she lures him and he falls in the pit where she drops the bodies of her victims. She climbs down the hole to take his possessions and his mask, and she finds he is a ...

The demon mask used in the movie inspired William Friedkin to use a similar design for the makeup in subliminal shots of a white-faced demon in The Exorcist (1973).

Initially refused a certificate in England by the BBFC in 1965, but resubmitted in 1968 where it was approved with an X classification albeit with some cuts.

Onibaba's literal meaning is Demon Hag

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.

Award: Grand Prix Inter-Clubs du Cinéma (France 1966).

This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #226.

User reviews


  • comment
    • Author: Yainai
    This particular flick caught my attention with the box description of "an old woman and her nubile young daughter lure unwary samurai into a wheatfield to rob and kill them." Well, there wasn't much luring...most of the samurais were just unlucky enough to wander into the old woman and nubile young daughter's home territory...but the movie was still a superb little find...in a suburban Blockbuster Video, of all places! This movie, which I found to be faster paced than most Japanese period pieces, is just DRIPPING with weird psychological overtones. The story involves an old woman and her daughter-in-law living off the spoils of wars. Various samurai from countless wars are always stumbling into these bandits' territory and to be summarily jacked for their armor and weapons. It's one big happy family until an old comrade of the daughter's husband returns home and reports that the daughter's husband is dead. We're never really sure if this man killed the husband or not...but that issue is soon is overshadowed by the sexual tension of two women who haven't been with a fella for some time. Eventually, the nubile young daughter helps herself to this new lover, much to the jealous rage of her mother-in-law. So the old woman hatches a scheme to separate these two lovers...but keeping them apart is as difficult as keeping apart two dogs in...well, you get the idea. The cinematography of this film is excellent. Each shot is meticulously and lovingly shot, building the tension and supplying the canine symbolism. The music is unusual too...it starts off with some hepcat bebop and then regresses into what I can only guess is theme music for an oni (Japanese ogre). I would highly recommend Onibaba for those evenings where everyone feels a need to be disturbed and entertained at the same time. It also doesn't hurt that Jotsuki Yoshimuru, who plays the daughter-in-law, happens to be drop dead gorgeous...in a punk rock sort of way. You'll see what I mean when you check out this flick. I doubt you'll find this flick at Blockbuster Video...unless you find one in the middle of a wheat field.....
  • comment
    • Author: Xellerlu
    To describe this film in one word, that word would have to 'wow', or something to that effect. In short, Onibaba is an absolutely spectacular cinematic spectacle, and one that has few equals in it's field. In fact, it's the perfect fusion between art-house cinema and atmospheric horror! Loosely based on a Buddhist fable, Onibaba tells a story of lust, envy, wrath and betrayal which is wrapped up by way of a hideous demon mask. Onibaba is a human drama before it's a horror movie - all the character actions are driven by their various needs and wants, and the all the comeuppance emancipates from there. The characters and their actions are constantly fascinating, and it's that which predominantly keeps the film alive. We follow a mother and her daughter-in-law; a couple that are forced to eke out an existence in war torn Japan by killing passing samurai's and selling their belongings for food. Their existence is upset one day, however, when the son's friend, Hachi, returns from the war to the place where the two women live.

    The title of the film roughly translates into English as 'demon woman', and that is an apt title for this story. Although the film doesn't contain any actual demons or other mythical creatures, the real horror comes from the character actions and the film succeeds as a horror film in that way. The atmospheric location, which consists of a huge area covered in reeds, adds weight to film's claim to the horror genre also and the location provides a truly stunning set for this story to take place. The film also features a dark pit, which the women use to dump the bodies of the Samurai they kill, which adds to the fantasy and inventive element of the story. The film is cinematic poetry on many levels, from the bleak yet beautiful cinematography, to the elements of the location mentioned - all the way down to it's central piece of imagery - the mask itself. The mask is the film's centrepiece, and the part's where it features are the most memorable of the movie.

    Prolific Japanese director Kaneto Shindô takes us on a tour-de-force of atmospheric direction. He spends a fair amount of time focusing on the reeds blowing in the wind and many of his angles focus on the sky, which will no doubt irritate the less adept viewers amongst us - but the rest of us know that this is a way for Shindô to aptly portray his setting, and every instance when he did that was a delight for yours truly. There are many great shots in this movie, and if you're a fan of technical prowess, Onibaba is your film; and even if you're not, this film is a must see.
  • comment
    • Author: nadness
    Onibaba is a very well done film, purposefully using black and white cinema to its' advantage in this stunning portrayal of murder, jealousy, and uncontrollable human instinct in a dark period of Japan's history.

    A film that aims at portraying the baser side of human nature and investigating human psychology, it is chalk-full of symbolic scenes and sequences. From start to finish it draws you in with the odd imagery and scenery of Japan's rural areas, and even though in this film though there are very few characters and elements that are to it, both visually and literally, through its' minimalism it effectively tells its' story.

    This film is both very artistic & symbolic as well as literal and upfront, juxtaposing very graphic, real images of the face of humanity that demand the viewer to infer much throughout the whole of the film. When going into this film, I would say that it is very important for the viewer to think of the film as being very symbolic for the instincts and base nature of mankind, and perhaps even a 'state of nature' portrayal of humanity. If you watch this film with that in mind, it will help with the inferences that one must make to get the most out of this film.

    As it stands by itself, aside from the deeper meaning, it is an intriguing story that is a veritable 'slice of life' film in the darker sense, viewing the way that people had to live during a period of war and hard times in feudal Japan. It deals with the hardships that these people face, and their method of survival, in addition to a very human story of jealousy and portrayal with a very interesting culminating point that I did not expect at all. The climax of the film is very much worth the build-up, though at times it seemed to be rather slow.

    Overall, a very important piece of film when it comes to the symbolism and techniques employed. Through its' minimalism and black-and-white cinematography we are really treated to a great film that is, of its' own right, an influential and great movie. The cinematography is exceptionally good, especially the use of the reeds and the light at night.

    I would recommend this film to anybody with a serious interest in film, as well as anybody who likes a good film that investigates the darker side of human nature.
  • comment
    • Author: Arlana
    "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

    • Nietzsche


    The characters in Onibaba dwell in the bottom rung of Maslow's Pyramid.

    Food, sex, shelter, survival - though not necessarily in that order.

    Sexuality permeates every frame of this film. It is ever-present along with the oppressive heat and the marshland weeds.

    The stark black and white cinematography perfectly captures the desolate mood.

    The score – atonal free jazz backed by tribal rhythms - though completely anachronistic works surprisingly well.

    One of the most fiercely primal depictions of the human condition on celluloid, Onibaba is a hauntingly erotic masterpiece.
  • comment
    • Author: Andromajurus
    In the 1400s raging wars between two emperors is being fought. This is not about the wars, but about the poor people struck by it. In a rural location camouflaged by a huge field of tall reeds are two huts. In one of them a young woman lives with her stepmother, her husband went to war. Having had failed crops three times that year they are stricken by poverty. The only way for them to survive is to steal, and the only things to steal are uniforms and swords from dead soldiers or heavily wounded soldiers and then sell them to the underworld. Which by the way is funny, I never thought of the underworld in rural medieval setting before.

    This story is just as grim as the demon on the cover. The wind howling in the reeds make for very creepy atmosphere. The music consisting of drums and brassy wind instruments really intensifies the drama.

    Just as in sand in Teshigaharas equally excellent 'Suna no Onna' serves as symbol, metaphor and is very important in creating atmosphere we have in 'Onibaba' the tall reeds.

    The theme in this, the basic needs and emotions of people, will never be dated. The psychology is thick and real. They are victims of their leaders actions. With all the wars being fought today this is still happening today, please remember that.
  • comment
    • Author: Phobism
    Onibaba is a supernatural horror film based on a Buddhist fable. It's about a couple of women in feudal Japan surviving the hardships of war by murdering and robbing stray samurais who wander unwittingly into their path. Their domain is a huge field of tall reeds with an ominous deep hole at its centre where they dispose of the unfortunate men they kill. Things are complicated when a male neighbour returns from the war and unleashes sexual tensions within the women which ends in horror. And that is to say nothing of the demon mask...

    Onibaba is an artistically strong piece of cinema. From the outset the film is aurally intense, with repetitive beating drums announcing the beginning of the tale. The widescreen frame is consistently used brilliantly, with beautifully lit black and white photography. From the constantly swaying reeds to the close-ups of the protagonist's faces, the visuals capture the mysterious yet ominous beauty of the natural world, while emphasising the intense emotions of the protagonists. The setting ensures that the atmosphere is one of claustrophobia. In fact one of the themes of Onibaba is the way that the natural landscape can shape the way we are. The field of reeds allows the women to get close enough to kill warriors; it is one of the things that shapes them into killers, as it allows them to murder at will undetected. Similarly, the film is an allegory on capitalism. The war has forced these starving women to find their own way to survive the hardships all around them. They take extreme measures to feed the capitalist machine, as they murder and sell on that which they steal to a local low-life. Capitalism has dehumanised them and the black hole in the centre swallows up the victims. But aside from this, it is an intense human drama intertwined with eerie supernatural horror. The scenes near the end of the film with the demon in the reeds are beautifully creepy. While the horrific curse of the mask results in some scary and disorientating final scenes. In addition, there is a powerful depiction of female sexuality. These women are no shrinking violets. They are aggressive, amoral and deadly.

    Onibaba is a film that is sumptuous both visually and aurally; yet its characters and story are devoid of beauty. It's one of the best examples of a horror art film.
  • comment
    • Author: Grinin
    ONIBABA had been, for as long as I can remember, one of a select group of art-house horror movies – namely Carl Theodor Dreyer's VAMPYR (1932), Georges Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959) and Harry Kumel's DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971) among others – which I seemed destined never to catch up with in my lifetime. Thankfully, however, albeit all fairly recently, I've succeeded in watching each and every one of them, the latest case being Kaneto Shindo's film just a couple of days ago by way of Criterion's remarkable presentation on DVD.

    Seeing one particularly tantalizing still and reading about it in film-reference books since childhood had certainly raised my expectations sky-high. Well, having seen it now, I can safely say that it's an excellent movie: striking cinematography, both evocative and rich in imagery, is counterpointed by an unusual yet highly effective music score; direction and acting are equally superb, and the film easily ranks among the finest Japanese films (one of my favorite exponents in World Cinema) I have ever seen. The film's overpoweringly torrid, even carnal, atmosphere reminded me of Hiroshi Teshigahara's WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964), whereas its supernatural connotations recall Masaki Kobayashi's epic horror compendium KWAIDAN (1964) – but also look forward to Shindo's own KURONEKO (1968), an equally stylish (and perhaps even more fanciful) ghost story.

    Still, ONIBABA's reputation as a 'horror' film is somewhat misleading: these elements only come into play during the film's last third (in fact, the very few characters and equally minimal dialogue and plot gives rise to a rather slow – but never tedious – pace), culminating in a truly horrifying final sequence…yet they are so classily presented that THIS is what most viewers remember about the film! Even so, I think that the film's frank depiction of both uninhibited sexuality - via the frequent daughter-in-law/neighbor sexual encounters and the striking image of the nude 'mistress' within the sleazy trader's lair - and repressed desire - the memorable scene of the externalization of the mother's frustration (at her daughter-in-law's continuing sexual activity and, with it, the realization of her own fading looks and subsequent rejection by the neighbor) upon a tree trunk – is an equally remarkable achievement.

    In fact, I was somewhat surprised by the copious (if always tasteful and inoffensive) amount of nudity in the film, though this was certainly required not only by the themes discussed above but also by the film's setting in the sweltering heat of Japanese marshes. From the very first sequence – the elliptical and cold-blooded murder of the ravaged warriors, reminiscent of an early one in Akira Kurosawa's THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958) - the mother and daughter-in-law are seen returning to their huts, gobbling up their miserable lunch and expire of fatigue, practically naked, on their bunk-beds as any legitimate bread-winner would do after a hard day at work, indicating that this state of events has been their daily routine for some time now. For an equally impressive look at the reality of the hardships imposed upon those who stayed behind during the period in which the Japanese waged feudal war on each other, one needs only to refer back to Kenji Mizoguchi's sublime UGETSU (1953) - quite simply one of the most beautiful black-and-white films ever made which, coincidentally, just like ONIBABA, may also be regarded as an exquisite ghost story.

    If I had to name one slight gripe I had with the film, it would be the exact same one eminent British film critic Leslie Halliwell had had with my favorite Luis Bunuel film, THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972): '…makes all its points beautifully and then goes on twenty minutes too long.' I don't concur with his judgment on the Bunuel film but, in ONIBABA's case, the clandestine night-time journeys of the daughter-in-law towards the neighbor's hut do tend to get repetitious, although I must say that the recurring swishing sounds and entrancing images of the reeds being parted by the girl's breathless running is highly effective and, in the director's own view, full of erotic implications. One thing I particularly liked about ONIBABA is the film's ambiguous and slightly inconclusive ending: did the neighbor get killed when he visited the trader's lair?; did the mother fall to her death in the very same pit she used to 'store' her victims?; how would the daughter-in-law be able to survive now that both her accomplices have met their doom?

    The DVD extras, especially Shindo's delightful interview, were both illuminating and entertaining. I do hope Criterion proposes such classic Japanese fare more frequently (only Kurosawa seems to be amply represented so far) as one really cannot get enough of them…
  • comment
    • Author: Detenta
    Set during a very dark time of war,where weapons and food are the items of barter due to their scarceness, which sees two different Emperors on the throne of Japan and Kyoto destroyed by fire….our story is that of a Mother and her Daughter–in-law who have been left on their own to fend for themselves while the son/husband of our main protagonists is away at war….The Mother and daughter duo take care of themselves by killing any stray Samurai/warrior that passes their way and stripping them of their armour and weapons which they then trade for millet from the unscrupulous Ushi. One night Hachi a neighbour who had been at war with the missing Husband/son arrives at their hut in a very bedraggled state and tells them of his untimely death.The women are distraught…..Hachi has made his intentions clear he wants the daughter-in-Law as his woman……The Mother afraid of being left alone warns the daughter off ……….The ensuing drama is a tale of their sexual tension in the high summer heat, which is exemplified by the swaying of the reeds/grass, the faster the reeds blow in the wind the higher the sexual tension .The mother plays on the fears of the daughter by telling her tales of Demons who prey on those who do wrong….the wrong being sex outside of marriage, but this is just a smokescreen as the mother throws herself at Hachi and asks him to sleep with her…Hachi refuses, this is the final straw for the mother.The mother meets a Samurai General who is lost in the reeds, she kills him and takes the very scary Demon mask which he wore and wears it herself each night to scare the daughter when the daughter sneaks out for her nightly fix of lust with Hachi. This a very technically proficient film, not really a horror film until arguably the films last quarter…..it has surprisingly a lot of nudity which is not intrusive but is put there by Shindo to show that nudity is not really an issue for someone who has to kill every day just to survive. Shindo also uses Black and White to stunning effect at a time when it was probably easier to film in colour……..this is not a horror masterpiece……This is a Cinematic Masterpiece!
  • comment
    • Author: Fegelv
    Loosely based on a Buddhist fable warning against the evils of bitterness that is Onibaba. The Director Kaneto Shindo, has created a psychosexual tale of dubious morality and unrequited lust which is a fantastic cautionary fable with a dark and unique atmosphere all of its own, which in my mind puts it up with the greats of the horror genre.

    The plot revolves around two women who live in feudal Japan who live in mysterious marshlands who keep themselves alive off the death of wandering soldiers by selling there armour and clothes. This allows them to survive while the younger woman (Nobuko Otowa)'s husband and the older woman (Jitsuko Yoshimura)'s son is away fighting in the wars. However, all of a sudden they find the very nature of their daily existence thrown into turmoil by anger, fear and jealousy, brought on by a man named Hachi (Kei Sato), their neighbour. He returns from the wars with the news that the younger woman's husband is dead, and although initially distrustful, the wife strikes up a passionate affair with him... much to the disgust of the older woman, whose anger is not so much derived from a sense of immorality but that the older woman is jealous of the younger woman as she to seeks a passionate night with a man also, but later she realises that her younger accomplice might leave with Hachi and have her fend for herself, which turns her jealously to fear. Then, one night, a chance encounter with a passing soldier who wears a terrifying demon mask gives a plan to the conniving old woman involving a demonic visage and the daughter-in-law's natural fear of hell. However not all goes to plan...

    Stunningly beautifully photography by Kiyomi Kuroda which at times gravely still and voyeuristic, at others, frightfully haunting, the cinematography breathes as much life into this film as any of the characters it captures. Also set to Hikaru Hayashi's unique score, which combines a 60s jazzy aesthetic with a more traditional drum based sound, Onibaba is frightening not so much for genuine horror moments but for the fact that it serves as a warning for what human beings are capable of. Like the best parables, it transcends its location and time period and still resonates to this day with its darker aspects of lust and hate.
  • comment
    • Author: Nirn
    Director Kaneto Shindo's ONIBABA is a fantastic, rich, atmospheric horror film set in an amazing rural location. Its influence on decades of rural-set genre pics is undeniable.

    In a medieval, warring Japan, a wild, young woman and her mother-in-law rob and kill lost samurai in order to survive. Problems begin when the younger woman becomes involved with an intended victim.

    Staged in a rural world of tall, swaying grass and swollen rivers, the film contains little dialogue and little exposition. It relies heavily on the non-verbal performances of the female leads and the superbly conveyed location.

    It is erotic, creepy, sensual, savage and beautiful.

    Cinematic poetry.
  • comment
    • Author: romrom
    When I first saw this incredible movie many years ago I knew I had seen something unique.I can only re-iterate all the favourable comments which pre-ceed this note.If you have never experienced Onibaba then you are missing out on a movie which will disturb and move you.See it at once.
  • comment
    • Author: Negal
    This film was not at all what I expected.

    It had more of a plot than I thought it would. I had no idea what it was about before I saw it, only that it was a stylish horror film that draws influence from the Kabuki. I assumed it would be sort of surreal and abstract, kind of like a nightmarish dance. But it was very traditional in the way it stuck to the story. Which wasn't bad. In fact, I really enjoyed it.

    I also thought it would be slow and, to tell the truth, boring, but it surprised me in how it kept my interest throughout. It didn't indulge in needlessly long takes just for the sake of appearing "artistic", and there was always something happening, always a development.

    One of the great things about this film is the way the director uses the surroundings to create a stuffy, cramped, yet isolated atmosphere. The tall grass is always present and we never get to see what's more than several feet away from the characters. Don't laugh, but it reminded me of the fog in Silent Hill (the video game, not the movie).

    SPOILERS BELOW:

    I may be wrong, but I thought I detected some Hitchcockian influence in the film. The whole domineering mother-figure theme, the way the audience is in on the secret while the other characters stay oblivious. Also the plot had that wicked streak that is present in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Especially the bit of "poetic justice" at the end - she pretended to be a demon, therefore she became a demon.

    I loved the tonal shift about two thirds of the way through, from realistic drama to a sort of haunted folktale. And the ending was just perfect.
  • comment
    • Author: Viashal
    There have been some truly outstanding Toho movies over the years, and even when they aren't on point they still usually deliver something of value. Sadly that is not the case here, which begs the question whether Onibaba is the worst Toho film?

    Merging their bleak, dark samurai epics with the horror genre should have yielded something quite special but alas not this time.

    It tells the story of two women who live deep within a field of tall reeds. They make ends meet by killing samurais who wander from battle, looting their corpses and selling on what they find. One finds love in a neighbor while the other meddles with a mysterious masked samurai who has become lost.

    Going in I really wanted to like this, not only did I want to like it but honestly I expected to. The premise looked solid, it's a Toho film and generally they handle horror really quite well, not to mention the extremely high IMDB rating.

    So what went wrong? Sadly Onibaba is a boring, lifeless affair that comes across to me as being quite pointless. It doesn't really go anywhere, it plays out like reality television. Namely a camera is there but the people in front of it aren't exactly telling a story with a beginning a middle and an end.

    Sorely disappointed, I expected so much more from this.

    The Good:

    Great setting

    The Bad:

    Ill fitting score

    Very boring

    Ultimately goes nowhere
  • comment
    • Author: Samulkree
    Wow,I saw this movie on Cable recently.Both of the women in this story are just trying their best to get by and survive in a bad situation.I could tell it was on a limited budget but very well written.It was erotic with frontal nudity and even filmed in the 60's.It had me on the edge of my seat the whole time.I was trying to figure out where they were going with the whole thing.I kept trying to decide if I sympathized with the old woman more than the young one.Then at the end I felt sorry for both of them.What a great story.This one needs to be on Cable more often.This one is a must see even for people who only like contemporary films.I would recommend it to anyone.
  • comment
    • Author: Nekora
    Kaneto Shindô is a name no one has ever heard about, but his "Onibaba" is a brilliant masterpiece that can easily compete with some of acclaimed genius director Akira Kurosawa's greatest films, such as "Throne of Blood" and "In the Woods". This is a dramatic and very sober tale, set during a devastating civil war in Japan and focusing on two left-behind women living in a seemly endless field of reeds. In order to survive, the women (an elderly lady and her daughter-in-law) kill random samurai that pass through the reeds and sell their armor to a weapon dealer. When a male neighbor returns, claiming the women's son and husband got killed in battle, the young woman develops feelings of lust for him. The old woman quickly gets jealous and afraid and thinks of ways to tear the young couple apart. The power of "Onibaba" almost entirely depends on the minimal amount of filming locations and the unsettling cinematography. Director Shindô portrays the body-high reeds as some sort of inescapable hell, complete with surreal death traps (the pit!!) and lurking mystical forces (the mask!!). The monotonous, black-and-white camera-work excellently illustrates the poverty and misery of the women. Long before turning into a petrifying horror story, the film is a mesmerizing allegory on the human behavior when faced with war and solitude. The music is fantastic and the script contains some downright brilliant dialogues. Probably the best I've ever seen in Asian film-making! Onibaba's biggest trump unquestionably is the genuinely eerie demon mask, used by the old women to tame her daughter-in-law's growing lust. This relic is breathtaking and effectively suits the atmosphere of this Japanese masterpiece, which is weird...grim...and totally unique!
  • comment
    • Author: HappyLove
    While not the greatest Japanese movie ever made, this proves that you don't need Akira Kurasawa to direct an excellent Japanese film.

    "Onibaba" is Japanese for "grandma-monster" and this refers to a story the older woman tells the younger in order to get her to stay home and stop carrying on her affair with a ne'er-do-well. Unfortunately, when the older lady dresses up AS the monster in order to scare her, things change for the worse unexpectedly.

    Despite this brief description, this isn't really a horror movie, but a tale about three basically greedy people. So what did I like about it? Well, the story has such interesting twists and turns that keep the viewer guessing and it is a good study of human nature in its worst form. Overall, very odd but captivating.
  • comment
    • Author: Ranicengi
    Survival in the War In the Fourteenth Century, during a civil war in Japan, a middle-aged woman (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) survive in a hut in a field of reed killing warriors and soldiers to trade their possessions for food. When their neighbor Hachi (Kei Satô) defects from the war and returns home, they learn that their son and husband Kichi died while stealing supplies from farmers. Soon Hachi seduces the young widow and she sneaks out of her hut every night to have sex with him. When the older woman finds the affair of her daughter-in-law, she pleads with Hachi to leave the young woman with her since she would not be able to kill the warriors without her help. However, Hachi ignores her request and continues to meet the young woman. When a samurai wearing a demon mask stumbles upon the older woman at her hut asking her to guide him out of the field, she lures him and he falls in the pit where she drops the bodies of her victims. She climbs down the hole to take his possessions and his mask, and she finds he is a disfigured man. The she uses the demon mask to haunt her daughter-in-law to keep her away from Hachi. However, when she decides to remove the mask, she has a surprise.

    "Onibaba" is a raw film by Kaneto Shindô disclosing how two women are capable to survive in the war in the Fourteenth Century in Japan in an environment of sexual tension and murders. This film is tagged horror genre, but indeed is a brutal and erotic drama. The black-and-white cinematography is magnificent and the camera work is exceptional. In accordance with information available in Internet, the mask was inspired in a Shin Buddhism parable. My vote is seven.

    Title (Brazil): "Onibaba, A Mulher Demônio" ("Onibaba, The Demon Woman")
  • comment
    • Author: Mbon
    A woman stares at a sea of high grass blown by the wind at night, torn between the desire to reach her lover and fear of what might be lurking in there.

    A tale of lust, greed, jealousy and deception, Onibaba has the elegant simplicity of legends. Feudal Japan: an old woman and her daughter-in-law murder and rob stray soldiers to survive, dropping their corpses in a gaping hole in the midst of a susuki grass field. When a comrade of the daughter-in-law's husband returns to a nearby hut, she starts an affair with him. The old woman plans revenge using a frightful demon mask found on a dead soldier.

    Onibaba is a seminal psychological horror with a bare-bone plot, but a setting and an atmosphere which are as good as anything in the genre.

    7/10
  • comment
    • Author: Dilkree
    Japan's enjoying a Civil War in the 15- or 1600's, and two peasant women, a middle-aged woman and her daughter-in-law, are reduced to savagery: they ambush weary samurai who are trying to hide out in their lair of tall suzuki grass. After spearing the soldiers in the backs, the women strip them of pricey weapons and armor, which they'll sell to a black-market profiteer for sacks of millet (you know times are bad in Japan when rice is unavailable) . . . but not before disposing of the samurai's carcasses down a very large, almost bottomless hole in the earth.

    The bread-winner of this family, the mother's son, has already joined the wars, along with a boorish neighbor who lives nearby. Well, the boorish neighbor finally returns home alone, and relates a doubtful story about the son getting ambushed and killed by vengeful farmers. It doesn't take very long for the fellow to take advantage of the bereft women's plight: he assists the women on one of their murders (cutting a better deal for himself with the black-market creep), and commences making for the freshly widowed daughter-in-law. Who, naturally, jumps at the opportunity: mourning is a luxury of civilization, of which there's none in Kaneto Shindo's *Onibaba*.

    And so the situation intensifies: the daughter-in-law starts sneaking out of their hut at night after the mother appears to be asleep, in order to enjoy assignations with the lusty neighbor. It might as well be said here and now that, for 1964, the sex scenes depicted in *Onibaba* were far ahead of their time, even by the standards of "foreign films". Breasts are bared, the breathing is heavy, and the flesh is sweaty. The mother, meanwhile, who has forbidden this relationship, is very well aware of what's going on. She tries several ways to sabotage the nightly trysts: telling the daughter-in-law that the neighbor is nothing more than a dog sniffing for a bitch in heat; offering her OWN body to the neighbor (she's immediately rebuffed); threatening the daughter-in-law with stories of a Shin Buddhist version of Hell ("the mountain of needles, the rivers of blood!") reserved for those who give in to lust. All of this fails; but then an unexpected opportunity arises when the mother unexpectedly meets a strange samurai wearing a demon mask that he refuses to remove from his face. . . .

    Such is the plot of *Onibaba* (trans.: "Demon Woman", though perhaps *The Hole* remains a better title for English speakers). Shindo shows us a vivid world in which civilization has deteriorated to barbarism. The huts in the grass hardly appear to be human dwellings, seeming rather to be mere extensions of the wild, grassy landscape. The women spend much of the day walking around with breasts bared -- why bother about the niceties? Farming, an advance in the evolution of human society, has been rendered pointless due to the depredations of the warriors who are pointlessly fighting each other. Thus, the women's slaughtering of stray samurai is an outgrowth of a general regression. Human life is cheap -- worth about two bags of millet, to be exact. The primary motivation of each character is unadorned survival. Food, sleep, and procreation are the drivers. Indeed, this explains the mother's desperate attempts to keep the daughter-in-law at home with her: survival would be that much harder for her if the daughter-in-law throws her over for a new life with the neighbor. But while

    *Onibaba* is about survival, it's also about how sex is the very touchstone of survival. The lustful trysts of the young couple are contrasted with the older woman's agonized diminishment of sexual capability: the body withers, but -- cruelly -- desire remains. Shindo gives us a stark symbol of this when the mother, after a bit of voyeurism, clutches a denuded, barren tree trunk: her only son is dead, and no future fruit can be harvested.

    The most pervasive symbol of the movie's concerns is, of course, that big gaping hole amidst the hairy grass. It serves to connote both the endless hunger of a bottomless mouth and the mindless procreation of savages. Shindo is as adroit as Shakespeare (cf. *King Lear*) in depicting a certain nausea when it comes to the genitive organ of the female. It's no coincidence that the mother finds the tool of her tragedy within that hole, nor is it a coincidence that she hysterically claims to be a human being in the film's final shot, as she leaps over the pit. In this movie, death would be a mercy. Survival, meanwhile, is non-negotiable. Whew! -- some fairy-tale, eh? 9 stars out of 10.
  • comment
    • Author: Jonide
    I forgot where I had heard about this movie but one of the things that intrigued me about it was that the demonic mask in this movie served as the inspiration for the subliminal demon face flashes in "The Exorcist". I ordered the Criterion Collection edition DVD and watched it last night. While nowhere near as scary as "The Exorcist", this film still managed to make me feel unnerved in that subtle sort of way that Japanese horror films seem to excel at.

    LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD:

    The movie follows a middle aged woman and her daughter-in-law living in feudal Japan. The son of the woman is out fighting in a war and they await his return, living day to day. In order to survive, the two women ambush samurai unlucky enough to venture through the tall grass surrounding their hut and trade the armor and weapons for food and any other necessities. The bodies are dumped into a hole in the earth afterwards. Hachi, a man who had left to war with the woman's son, returns with news that the son had been killed in an attack. Without a second thought, he immediately begins to court the son's wife, caring little of their loss. The daughter-in-law resists at first but the two begin to carry on a moonlight affair when she sneaks out of the hut to see him. The older woman gets jealous, scheming to sleep with Hachi herself. But things take a strange turn when the older woman is visited by a war deserter wearing a mask he refuses to take off.

    I don't want to give away anymore of the movie but what I liked about it was its overall frankness. The emotions in this film are very raw and handles human sexuality in a way that I found pretty surprising, given the year that this film was released. The pace of the film is slow and everything unravels at its own speed but I think that's what makes the last half of the movie so good. While the film isn't the scariest thing I've ever seen, I felt this crawling in the pit of my guts while watching it that grew and grew as the movie progressed onwards, especially at the arrival of the masked war deserter. It's a simple, yet complex tale with a satisfying ending that I think I could safely recommend. The horror aspect of the film works more on a psychological level and doesn't rely on cheap shocks and scares to get you. I thought the music was very good and the black and white photography used in the film creates images that are sure to stay burned in your mind after you watch it. There are scarier horror films that have come out of Japan but I think this one fits in neatly alongside them. If you're looking for something dark, moody and unsettling, I strongly recommend this film.

    RATING: **** out of *****.
  • comment
    • Author: PanshyR
    This film was one of the few Japanese films in the 1960's to get a limited theater run in "art houses" and caused some controversy over the scenes of nudity and suggested lesbianism. But the film is minor gem in the world of Japanese cinema.

    A woman and her daughter in law sell body armor in feudal Japan in order to survive in their small shack in the middle of a wheat field. However, the two women kill renegade soldiers by chasing them into a hidden pit lined with wooden spikes. Things go profitably until one solider escapes the plot but wins the heart of the younger woman. The older woman fears being left alone and tries to warn the girl from seeing the young man---to no avail. But one night, a solider wearing a monstrous mask is run into the pit and the older woman uses the mask to scare the girl back to their home. However, the woman is unable to remove the mask from her face...and when she does, her face is a bloody mess. The younger girl flees in terror, in the direction of the pit....

    The film is wonderfully photographed---the wheat field literally glowing in the moonlight, much like the perspective camera shots from "I Walked With A Zombie" but much more crisp. Story-wise, everyone tries to justify their actions, which usually leads to traditional Japanese tragedy.
  • comment
    • Author: Yahm
    I really had no idea what I was getting into before watching this film. The story is pretty simple: a woman and her daughter-in-law eek out an existence during a warring medieval Japan by murdering lost or wounded samurai and selling their belongings. Then, a male neighbor escapes from his conscription and returns home, inciting lust, jealously and suspicion. Ooh.

    I can't help but say that I was disappointed in the film. But it has a lot of merit to it. First of the all, the black and white photography is absolutely gorgeous and mesmerizing. The soundtrack is also really impressive--I liked it a lot, although it might just be my avante garde background speaking for me. But on top of this, I wasn't particularly impressed. I found myself yawning through the film, even though I fully understood what the film was about and why it was going about doing what it was doing.

    I can't say it's because I prefer Hollywood-style film and stories. God knows that I've watched and loved my fair share of films from all over the world. This film, however, with its slow exploration of sexuality was rather uninteresting. Maybe because there was nothing surprising about it? Maybe because I saw nothing I didn't expect? (Outside of the aforementioned photography and soundtrack. I think I'd also have to admit that the editing was pretty neat at times.) I think the problem with the film, for me, is that it doesn't sufficiently build up its characters enough for me to care whether there's lust or not, and whether there's anything really at stake when it's started or stopped. I couldn't care less what happened to the characters. And so there really was nothing but an exercise in film-making set before my eyes. Yes, good craft, but the matter of the film reminds me of one too many film school shorts that I've seen.

    Points for the artistry, but boo on the storytelling. I can see why people might like it, but it certainly didn't work for me. 6/10.
  • comment
    • Author: Gagas
    I'm not going to go into any long, complicated discussions on Onibaba. Suffice it to say that it is one of the most original and best films I've ever seen. It's truly breathtaking. It grows to a fever pitch of fear by the finale. The black and white photography is also amazing. 10/10.
  • comment
    • Author: Cemav
    Although often described as a horror movie, 'Onibaba' is for the most part completely devoid of any scary moments. In fact, the only thing it has in common with modern horror fare is that it seems to contain a strong subtext trying to keep young women's more frisky urges in line and discouraging them from having any fun.

    Caught in the middle of political turmoil in feudal Japan, a girl and her mother-in-law try to survive by killing soldiers who stray into the nearby cornfields and scavenging their weapons and armour to sell to the local arms dealer. When the rogue Hachi returns from the war alone, bringing news of the sons death, the older lady is suspicious of his story and to her disgust he begins to try and seduce her daughter-in-law. Scared that she will be left to fend for herself, and also a little jealous if her strange and suggestive handling of a nearby tree is anything to go by, she tries to keep the two apart, even resorting to dressing as a demon to scare the girl on her nightly trips to Hachi's hut.

    For the most part 'Onibaba' is fairly dull, with an unnecessary number of long shots of the whispering cornfields. The girl is clearly just sex-mad after being cooped up with her mother-in-law and would jump on any man she found - although strangely Hachi keeps his big white Japanese man-nappies on throughout. The whole idea of the nearby pit the two women use to dispose of the bodies being a source of ancient evil is left completely unused and, despite the demon mask being very scary, it's not at all effective because we know exactly who is behind it.

    However, just as I was beginning to get seriously bored of the whole 'horny lass running through corn sees demon and runs home screaming' affair, two deliciously unpleasant fates befell two of the unsavoury lead characters. Shame all the good bits are left for the last 5 minutes.
  • Cast overview:
    Nobuko Otowa Nobuko Otowa - Kichi's Mother
    Jitsuko Yoshimura Jitsuko Yoshimura - Kichi's Wife
    Kei Satô Kei Satô - Hachi
    Jûkichi Uno Jûkichi Uno - Samurai General
    Taiji Tonoyama Taiji Tonoyama - Ushi
    Someshô Matsumoto Someshô Matsumoto - Runaway Warrior A
    Kentarô Kaji Kentarô Kaji - Runaway Warrior B
    Hosui Araya Hosui Araya - Ushi's Follower
    Fudeko Tanaka Fudeko Tanaka - Old Woman
    Michinori Yoshida Michinori Yoshida - Samurai with Blood
    Hiroyoshi Yamaguchi Hiroyoshi Yamaguchi - Horse Riding Samurai A
    Hiroshi Tanaka Hiroshi Tanaka - Horse Riding Samurai B
    Kanzô Uni Kanzô Uni - Horse Riding Samurai C
    Nobuko Shimakage Nobuko Shimakage - Child
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