Wednesday, November 01, 2017
Written, designed, and directed by Kaneto Shindo, Onibaba is the story of a mother and daughter-in-law who kill fleeing samurai warriors to support their meager life as they later befriend a former warrior leading to a dark love triangle of sorts. Set in medieval Japan, the film is a study of poverty and desperation as well as the role of women in those times as they deal with temptation and jealousy. Starring Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sato, Jukichi Uno, and Taiji Tonoyama. Onibaba is a ravishing yet harrowing film from Kaneto Shindo.
Set during a civil war in medieval Japan, the film revolves around two women who kill fleeing samurai warriors in order to sell whatever they can to support themselves as they encounter a man they know who lives nearby as it causes tension between the two women. It’s a film that play into this need to survive as well as evade the chaos of war as these two women kill samurais in secrecy through landscape of tall reeds near a river where they sell it to a merchant. Kaneto Shindo’s screenplay starts off with the lives of these two women in which the older woman (Nobuko Otawa) is waiting for her son to return while the younger woman (Jitsuko Yoshimura) is married to that woman’s son. While getting water at a nearby river, they meet a former samurai named Hachi (Kei Sato) who had fought with the older woman’s son. He would help them kill fleeing samurai warriors as he expresses interest towards the younger woman much to the chagrin of the older woman.
Shindo’s direction is definitely stylish in terms of the visual language that he creates as it is shot largely on a location near the river with tall reeds. The film often gazes into these tall reeds as if it acts some kind of protection from the outside world as in the middle of this landscape is a hole where the women would dump the dead bodies. Shindo’s usage of the wide shots would capture the scope of the locations as it would include scenes of Hachi and the younger woman running around in absolute ecstasy to express their growing love for each other. There would be some close-ups and medium shots to play into the emotions including scenes set at the huts the main characters live in as they’re built by Shindo with straw and wood as it serve as this world of where the women live in as well as the hut that Hachi lives nearby.
Much of the direction is dramatic until the third act as it relates to the older woman’s jealousy towards the younger woman and her encounter with a masked samurai warrior (Jukichi Uno) as it would set the tone of what is to come. The visual language would also come into play as it relates to old Japanese folklore about demons and ghosts where the older woman is convinced that her daughter-in-law will go to hell for straying from her husband though it is believed he’s dead. During this encounter with the masked samurai warrior, the old woman would ask why he’s masked as it’s even more mysterious into his answer as it play into this air of mystique. Even when she sees what the mask does as it would play into the film’s climax into everything she told her daughter-in-law about the ideas of hell and demons. Overall, Shindo crafts a rapturous yet ominous film about two women struggling to survive poverty during a civil war while battling for the affections of a man.
Cinematographer Kiyomi Kuroda does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography with its emphasis on setting a mood for some the scenes at night to play into the suspense and horror that would come for the film’s third act. Editor Toshio Enoki does excellent work with the editing as it play into the suspense as well as some of the drama to convey the loneliness of the characters and the desire to connect in a very isolated environment. The sound work of Tetsuya Ohashi is fantastic in playing into the natural environment of wind and water as well as the sounds of war from a distance that the characters would look at from afar. The film’s music by Hikaru Hayashi is amazing for its mixture of bombastic yet eerie Japanese percussions with elements of strings as well as some jazz arrangements from the brass to play into something that is disconcerting to the drama.
The film’s superb cast feature a couple of notable small roles from Taiji Tonoyami as the black markets merchant dealer Ushi who would give the two women whatever they need in exchange of the things they gather after killing the samurai warriors and Jukichi Uno as the masked samurai warrior who would meet the old woman wondering where is the road to Kyoto while remaining ambiguous over why he wears a mask. Kei Sato is excellent as Hachi as a former samurai warrior who chooses to return to civilian life and not return to the service as he finds himself seducing the younger woman for companionship. Jitsuko Yoshimura is brilliant as the young woman that is hoping for her husband’s return as she deals with loneliness and her own sexual desires as she engages into an affair with Hachi that leads to neglecting her duties to help the older woman. Finally, there’s Nobuko Otawa in an amazing performance as the older woman who deals with aging and the growing neglect from her daughter-in-law as she tries to bargain with Hachi forcing her to deal with the realities about her son’s fate as well as her loneliness prompting her to seek some form of spiritual guidance.
Onibaba is a sensational film from Kaneto Shindo. Featuring a great cast, exotic visuals, a gripping story, and a brooding score, it’s a film that play into the temptation that two women deal with as well as their own role during a civil war in medieval Japan. In the end, Onibaba is a phenomenal film from Kaneto Shindo.
© thevoid99 2017