Onibaba (1964)

Onibaba (1964), written and directed by Kaneto Shindo.

"Demon hag".

At first we think these might be actual demon women. From their hut in an endless sea of tall grass along a wide river they murder wounded samurai, strip their gear and dump the bodies in a convenient hell hole in the middle of a field. Their killing, eating and drinking is animalistic, without restraint or compunction. Later, when sneaking out to see a neighboring man returned from the wars, the lust is purely hormonal, the irresistible urge that will defy Hell itself.

They are not demons, just a young woman and her mother-in-law reduced to savagery during wartime, the only way they can survive. As it happens, murdering samurai for their gear is a literal underground economy.

The story is suggested by Buddhist fables of women imitating demons by wearing masks and the horrific consequences. The plot is coolly echoed a few years later in the director's Kuroneko (1968): mother and daughter-in-law abandoned in wartime predate on samurai until separated by desire and jealousy.

We have more nudity than I remember seeing in 1960s Japanese film, but maybe I have been watching the wrong directors.

The score combines traditional drumming with modern sax and horn jazz. As always in these spooky films the spirit-world music and sound effects are moderately creepifying.

Available on DVD from Criterion. Image quality is just fair.

In an extra the director says: