Onibaba  (1964)

Octoblur 2015 - #15: Onibaba (1964)

 
By dorrk, October 14th 2015
Octoblur: If the quality doesn't scare you the quantity will.

Many of my favorite new-to-me movies from the past year have been from Japan, with several of them shot in a stark black-and-white that adds a palpable layer of doom to already foreboding atmospheres. So maybe I was predisposed to enjoy Onibaba, Kaneto Shindô's tense and desperate drama of desire and desperation that milks plenty of distress from the basic needs of the human condition before nipping into horror for its emotional finale.

Two women — a mother (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) — struggle to survive in the grasslands of rural Japan while Kichi, their son and husband, respectively, is away fighting in a prolonged civil war. Food is so scarce, the women's only recourse (short of prostitution) is to murder stray soldiers, dump their bodies in a deep pit, and trade the looted armor and weapons for a few bags of millet. However, the bond formed by their co-dependency is tested when their coarse neighbor, Hachi (Kei Satô), returns from the war with some bad news and his own agenda.

Much like Hiroshi Teshigahara's excellent The Woman in the Dunes, Onibaba brilliantly uses a tactile landscape and its relentless weather as a canvas so actively hostile that even before the plot slowly unfolds, the mere fact of existence is established as a riveting conflict. This allows Shindô the room to patiently reveal the new desires and schemes that these two women contrive to pile on to their daily struggles without ever losing a handle on the steadily encroaching tragedy and despair that seems intent on devouring everyone in Onibaba's godforsaken world.

With its limited cast, Onibaba needs strong performances from its three principals, and they deliver fantastically. Otowa's penetrating, withering glare is unforgettable, and Yoshimura wonderfully swings from despondent soulleness to passionate exhilaration. Satô balances the intensity of his two co-stars with the light nonchalance of cynical self-interest.

Onibaba seems like maybe it would be a bit of a misfit during a horror marathon, but it qualifies with its ending alone. Few movies I watch this month will be able to match its sense of dread, and it throws in some skin-crawlingly gruesome images to cement its claim to the genre while also delivering much more.

Great lesser-known horror movies

Fun, weird & dark corners worth exploring.
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

Demon Seed (1977)

Demon Seed (1977)

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)

Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)

Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)

The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse (1981)

The Guest (2014)

The Guest (2014)

The House Of The Devil (2009)

The House Of The Devil (2009)

Housebound (2014)

Housebound (2014)

The Johnsons (1992)

The Johnsons (1992)

Kill List (2011)

Kill List (2011)

Little Otik (2001)

Little Otik (2001)

Motel Hell (1980)

Motel Hell (1980)

Orphan (2009)

Orphan (2009)

Seed Of Chucky (2004)

Seed Of Chucky (2004)

Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

Spider Baby... (1968)

Spider Baby... (1968)

Starry Eyes (2014)

Starry Eyes (2014)

The Stepfather (1987)

The Stepfather (1987)

Suicide Club (2001)

Suicide Club (2001)

A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)

A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)

Dorrk's Top 20 horror movies

The boring list of horror essentials. If you haven't seen these yet, what are you doing?
The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist (1973)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Shining (1980)

The Shining (1980)

Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975)

The Thing (1982)

The Thing (1982)

The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Psycho (1960)

Psycho (1960)

Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist (1982)

Alien (1979)

Alien (1979)

The Omen (1976)

The Omen (1976)

Rosemarys Baby (1968)

Rosemarys Baby (1968)

Halloween (1978)

Halloween (1978)

Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu (1922)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein (1931)

The Return Of The Living Dead (1985)

The Return Of The Living Dead (1985)

Suicide Club (2001)

Suicide Club (2001)

Repulsion (1965)

Repulsion (1965)

Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

Trailer for Onibaba (1964)

Beware: Galleries may contain spoilers.
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More Info:

Stay tuned here and on twitter @Popgap to see what I choose to inflict upon myself this Octoblur!

Links

Here are my Letterboxd lists for 2014 & 2013:
https://letterboxd.com/dorrk/list/octoblur-2014/
https://letterboxd.com/dorrk/list/octoblur-2013/

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