Onibaba is a classic Japanese horror movie. It’s set in the 14th century, during the time of the warring states when Japan was torn apart by civil war. It follows two women, a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law who eke out a living by waylaying wounded samurai and selling their equipment to a corrupt merchant. ]
I figured since this was considered a classic that I would really enjoy it. However I’m disappointed to say that I really didn’t. I found it quite dull actually. There were some things that I really did like about it, but for most of the movie I felt like it just kind of drifted aimlessly.
That being said, the movie was beautifully shot. I didn’t find it very scary, not really, but the atmosphere set by the cinematography was creepy in and of itself. It was shot in black and white, and took place in a huge field of reeds. The reeds were literally everywhere and stood taller than all the characters. They closed in on and framed every scene, lending an air of claustrophobia. There was a sort of quiet desperation to the entire film: the movie took place in desperate times when there was scarcely enough food to feed an army much less the common folks. Also there was a brooding pit that opened amidst this sea of reeds. The women would dump the samurai they found down it once they dispatched them.
The two women are on the edge of starvation, and when Aichi returns from the war it starts to drive a wedge between them. Aichi and Kichi were drafted into the war. Kichi was the old woman’s son and the daughter-in-law’s husband. Aichi returns home alone and starts to make advances towards Kichi’s wife. I don’t want to give away too much, but suffice to say shenanigans ensue.
Music was used sparingly in this film, only for scenes that I imagine were supposed to be scary. I liked the music though, as it was pretty interesting. It mainly consisted of drum rolls punctuated by what sounded like death screams or screams from battle.
The word “onibaba” means “demon woman,” and the name is why I watched it. Or rather, the mask to which the name refers. I came across the movie when I was poking around for information about “the Exorcist,” especially that white demonic face that would appear randomly throughout. Turns out “Captain Howdy” was inspired by the demon mask in “Onibaba.”
All in all this movie left me cold. I was bored through most of it in all honesty. It didn’t scare me and it didn’t entertain me all that much either. The cinematography was beautiful though and the music well done. It had a good atmosphere, but to me at least nothing of real substance happened inside that atmosphere it so well developed. If you like old timey movies, give this one a shot. If you are looking for a scare, I’d look elsewhere. Maybe the Exorcist…I know that movie scared the crap out of me!