Quick recap: Two women, an old woman and daughter-in-law, make a living by killing soldiers and then selling their armor for money in medieval Japan . One day, the old woman kills a soldier who was wearing a demon mask. She then uses the mask to keep her daughter-in-law from having sex with the creepy guy next door, because that’s apparently how problems were solved back then.
Fun (?) fact: When the old woman removes the demon mask from the dead soldier, she is greeted with a gruesome, disfigured face. The director has stated that the makeup effects were supposed to symbolize A-bomb survivors and how they were seen as outcasts.
My thoughts: I realize that I have seen a lot of foreign films lately, which has its pros and cons. On one hand, I’m getting to watch something that most people claim they know about, but really don’t. On the other hand, I have to be really cautious to remember that ‘foreign’ isn’t a genre of movie. As I watched Onibaba, I was reminded on several occasions of another Japanese film, The Woman in the Dunes. In reality, there really isn’t much the two have in common, except for their language. This project has become a bit more complicated as I am starting to reassess some of my views on movies.
Since I mentioned genre, I think it’s fitting to add that Onibaba is considered a horror film to many people. That strikes me as odd because the mask doesn’t even show up until the last half to two thirds of the film. Most of the film is comprised of the daughter in law sneaking out of her hut to get with the creepy neighbor and the old woman being angry about it. I suppose that the first few scenes that show the woman killing the soldiers and then throwing them in a pit may seem scary, but I wouldn’t classify the whole film as ‘horror’. The mask itself was rightfully scary, especially when the daughter-in-law encountered it in the reeds and the final scene where the old woman finds she can’t remove the mask is also unnerving. But not a horror film ,in my opinion.
Another reason why I don’t believe Onibaba to be a horror film is because the movie doesn’t center on the mask, but instead the conflict between the two women. Hachi, the creepy neighbor returns from war at the beginning of the movie with bad news. His friend, the old woman’s son, and daugther-in-law’s husband, has been killed. As can be expected, everyone is sad about the whole affair, although not very long because Hachi almost immediately starts hitting on the daughter-in-law. She refuses him at first, mainly because that would be a jerk move, to see another guy while you are still living with your mother-in-law and your husband has only recently died. But soon, feelings overtake her and she starts sneaking out and having sex with him. Now if this had been a modern movie, we might have expected the old woman to sit the girl down and tell her to stop being a jerk. But of course, that’s not what happens. Instead, the old woman tries to convince the girl that a demon will get her if she continues seeing Hachi. The girl doesn’t listen because, you know, sex. So then the old woman tries to come on to Hachi and offer herself instead. He refuses because the old woman is kind of creepy. It just seems like a lot was done to keep the girl from seeing Hachi instead of actually talking to her. I found the situation much more amusing than scary.
On a different note, I am once again surprised by what was allowed back in 1964. There is lots of random nudity and of course sexual scenes. I’m pretty sure there is male frontal nudity as well because at some point the young couple just said ‘screw it’, and started running around naked to piss off the old woman. The scenes where the soldiers are killed are also violent, almost on par with what you might see today.
Final review: 2/5. The movie ends when the old woman realizes that she is being punished for meddling in between her daughter-in-law and Hachi but also Hachi gets killed so everyone learns a valuable lesson about something. I wouldn’t sit through this again or even recommend it.
Up next: Cleo from 5 to 7 or Brazil