Onibaba is a Japanese horror released in 1964, directed by Kaneto Shindô. It tells the story of two women in a remote location, who earn their living killing Samurai and selling their belongings.
Hello, there! I’m dos Santos, and this is Ulven Reviews, with Movies and series from all over the world and all eras. Today we’ll talk about Onibaba, beginning with a plot summary, through the review and finishing it with a symbolic Rating. Here we go!
In a remote swampy area, surrounded by fields of high reeds, two women ambush and kill Samurai that get lost in the area. The old woman (played by Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law (played by Jitsuko Yoshimura) steal everything they can from the corpse and then dump it in a pit.
The women take the stolen items to a man named Ushi (played by Taiji Tonoyama), who gives them two sacks of millet in return. He also offers a third sack for sex, but the older woman rejects it.
Soon Hachi (played by Kei Satō), a neighbor, gets back after deserting. The son of the old woman, the husband of the younger one, went to war with Hachi but didn’t return with him because he was killed on the way back.
Hachi gets interested in the younger woman, and after some time, she returns the feeling. Eventually, the older woman sees the couple in his hut and gets horny and jealous.
Not long after, her jealousy turns into anger and resentment, prompting her to plot a way of separating the young couple.
Onibaba, just like Boyz N The Hood, was one of the movies I watched back in the day when I began getting interested in Cinema for real. If it wasn’t for this reason, it would probably get lost in my memory, because the first time I watched, it was really underwhelming.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but the plot was really simple and straight forward, and although it was not bad by any means, I was expecting something more.
As time passed, I started to appreciate simple plots a lot more and also comprehend the other aspects of the film, like the approach to women’s sexuality and the critique of mindless violence. So my view of Onibaba became much more positive later.
The movie is serious, slightly tense, and very sexual. I don’t remember any lighthearted or funny moments to break the tension, although there might have some that I don’t recall.
The closest thing to comic relief or lightness the movie presents is Ushi. He’s cheeky and relaxed, and it’s the most likable character in the film. By the way, he’s never forces anything with the girl. Sometimes older depictions on media are creepy or straight-up abusive in this regard. Take Macunaíma as an example that has rape as a way of seduction.
The older woman is also an interesting character. She’s grumpy even when she’s trying to ask Ushi to fuck her. It’s like, despite her horniness and jealousy, she never drops her facade. Also, she was not so old. She was around forty at the time of the movie’s release. They only added some make-up and bushy eyebrows to make her older. Love the brows, by the way.
The acting is pretty standard for the Japanese films of this era. However, it might be a little different and peculiar for those who are not used to it. Like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the performances are a little more dramatic and over the top than the usual modern film.
Something I didn’t use to notice back in the day unless it was too obvious, but I do now, is the visuals of the movie. Onibaba is gorgeous in this aspect, especially the lights and shadows, creating an amazing contrast.
I also really appreciated the cam movements and angles that enhanced the emotions, help to tell the story, and set the mood. This camera work together with the tall reeds makes very compelling dynamics.
The ambient sounds are satisfactory and fundamental to make that remote location surrounded by vegetation believable. The score, however, is not my favorite. As I mentioned in the review of Three Outlaw Samurai, another Japanese movie released in the same year, I’m not a fan of this sort of movie score.
Another thing I think it was a little inferior is the killings. I’m used to Samurai Cinema (A.K.A. Chanbara), which usually has lots of bloodshed and fights, and the deaths are not always perfectly executed. But in Onibaba, it’s way too noticeably fake.
Onibaba is an iconic horror movie. It’s competent, simple, entertaining, and good-looking. But even though it was one of the first films I watched when I really began getting interested in Cinema, it wasn’t particularly remarkable to me beyond that. So, I’ll give Onibaba 8 Moons.