Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
A couple of Japanese peasant women are able to survive in time of mediaeval war only
by murdering lost samurai warriors and selling their armour. The eldest argues with her
unfaithful daughter-in-law, over an affair she's carrying on with a neighbouring man,
while her husband is away fighting. Later, the old crone uses a hideous mask, taken
from the leprous face of an ambushed soldier, to frighten the young woman on midnight
trips off to see her lover. However, these stalk 'n' scare tactics backfire when the
disguise won't come off.
If there's such a form as eastern gothic, then director Kaneto Shindo's story of witchcraft is undoubtedly a very fine example. The stunning black and white cinematography affords this film's milieu the suitable mood and atmosphere in abundance. Despite its rather ambiguous fantasy content - we may debate whether diseased faces under the demon mask result from a genuine hex or a simple pox - Onibaba (aka: The Hole; The Demon) is widely acknowledged a classic horror film instead of just a bizarre period drama. Dubiety issues from the film's brooding tone, and its play on eerie oriental superstitions, rather than an overt supernatural presence. A great deal is achieved here by mere suggestion, while repetitive clips of the ever-swaying marsh reeds are clearly intended to be of symbolic significance; perhaps an allegory of the political instabilities of the time?
The video is released in its original language and proper aspect ratio, with English subtitles. Shindo made a sequel of sorts, the graphic Kuroneko (aka: Black Cat, 1968).