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Onibaba (1964)
Review Rating:   Very Good  
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Catalog #:
ONI 030, Criterion 226
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1 (NTSC)

March 16, 2004



Genre: Drama  
Lonliness, lust, and truly bad karma follow two women haunted by a Buddhist demon in a desolate long-grass marsh in feudal Japan .  



Directed by:

Kaneto Shindo
Screenplay by: Kaneto Shindo
Music by: Hikaru Hayashi
Produced by: N/A

Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sato, Jukichi Uno, and Taiji Tonoyama

Film Length: 103 mins
Process/Ratio: 2.35 :1
Black & White
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages: Japanese Mono
Subtitles: English
Special Features :  

Interviews: New video interview with Kaneto Shindo (21:07, in Japanese with English subtitles) / Rare Super-8mm black & white and colour footage shot on location during the filming of "Onibaba" (37:55), (provided by actor Kei Sato), with notes / Production & Art Photos: Stills gallery with 25 images of production sketches and promotional art / Misc: New essay by Chuck Stephens (in 12 page colour booklet) / New high-definition digital transfer with restored image and sound / Filmmaker's statement from Kaneto Shindo / Rare English translation of the original Buddhist fable that inspired the film / Theatrical trailer

Comments :

In Feudal Japan, two nameless women (a mother and daughter in law) scrape out a meager existence by selling the swords and clothing of Samurai who die (or are murdered) in their Susuki fields. When Hachi (a friend of the young woman's dead husband) returns from battle, he begins an openly sexual relationship with the young woman, causing abandonment issues in the old woman, and maybe some lust of her own

Put bluntly, the characters are all hot, hungry and horny, which suits the landscape on both visual and karmic terms- what else is there to do in purgatory except suffer and not get what you want? When a masked Samurai arrives, his death swirls the lust and hunger of the other three into a vortex that engulfs them all.

Extras include a trailer, production stills and promo art, and a long series of behind-the-scenes 8mm films taken by actor Kei Sato (who plays Hachi) that document the difficult shooting conditions. There's also an interview with Shindo, where he explains how he took his inspiration from the Buddhist fables he remembered from childhood. Other content includes liner notes from Film Comment editor Chuck Stephens that lay out both Shindo's career and the state of Japanese film at the time of Onibaba's release. For true completists, there's a translation of the original Buddhist fable that inspired Shindo.

The film veers from existentialist allegory to all-out ghost story, all to a vaguely be-bop score (think of Cronenberg's Naked Lunch soundtrack with Japanese overtones). It's beautifully shot in crisp black and white, and is genuinely intelligent and creepy, but is finally a disappointment simply because it seems to stop, rather than end. With all that pent up karma, sex and death, you actually want to take a peek at the hell that everyone seems so concerned about. If nothing else, it would never be boring.


© 2004 Michael John Derbecker

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