Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day 310: Onibaba (1964 ) - Rank 5/5


Dreamlike and carnal, "Onibaba" is a delightful tale of petty revenge and infidelity that plays out like an ancient Japanese parable. Set during fourteenth century feudal Japan, a mother and her daughter-in-law live in a small hut amidst a veritable sea of susuki grass (resembling an expanse of wheat to the degree that I found myself channeling Woody Allen from "Love and Death" on more than one occasion. "Fields of wheat, cream of wheat..."). They make a living by killing samurai and soldiers that become lost in the giant grass field, dumping their bodies in a tremendous pit and harvesting their weapons and armor for trade. When a neighbor returns from war, he recounts how the mother's son (and daughter-in-law's husband) was killed, a tale that points the finger of blame squarely on him. But it doesn't matter much to the young girl that this man is responsible for the slaying of her husband, because she's horny as shit. Soon, she's fleeing to his hut at night, like a dog in heat, for sex that makes Tyler Durden's "sport fucking" in "Fight Club" seem tepid. Problem is, the mother is far more vengeful and when she manages to kill a samurai and steal his oni demon mask, she uses it to dress as a ghost and scare her daughter-in-law away from her sexual escapades.

While it's difficult to explain why the film is so delightfully macabre, for that would involve detailing the dark and darker twists the story takes as it progresses, take my work for it that this is one of the most enjoyable exercises in vengeful scheming I've seen in cinema. The night shots are particularly haunting, with high contrast exaggerating every curve and shadow of the demon mask to chilling proportions. The cold winds perpetually blowing through the grasses brought the surroundings alive, adding to the eerie atmosphere. The score heightens the surreal settings and frenzied emotions through a mix of manic drum beats, howling gales and birds squawking. There are just so many elements working together to make this both a beautiful and spectral film.

Watch the Trailer

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