Horrorfest 2022/Let’s Get Criterion Presents: Onibaba (1964, Kaneto Shindo)

Finally I got around to watching my copy of Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba on Halloween, which is an eerie and slow burn nightmare tale of murder, madness, and family bounds fraying amongst the ruins of war torn Japan. Two women, one older (Nobuko Otowa), one younger (Jitsuko Yoshimura) have a man (Kei Satō) come between them, as the younger woman is dealing with her husband being dead as a result of the civil war raging at the time. The older woman, realizing that she can’t kill people by herself, decides to use a samurai mask that is really super freaky looking and tales of hell to scare the younger woman into staying with her. Does all of this horribly backfire? What do you think, ha ha? Of course it does, in gloriously shot black and white cinematography that only adds to the movie’s unsettling atmosphere and strong feelings of dread.

I rather liked the dynamic between the two women, and one can argue that what happens to them is karma, yet I felt that the movie’s finale and last act is more a fulfillment of a bleak destiny that was hanging over them the entire time. Toho did a great job with this movie, and even though I don’t think it’s a great movie I feel it is a very strong one, a film that I should probably watch again and look even more closely at. Criterion did a fine transfer job as usual, and I would like to see more of Shindo’s work. My only issue is that I’m not sure the movie really had an ending, although I guess that often happens in foreign cinema.

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