Onibaba (1964) Review

OnibabaThe literal translation of Onibaba is Demon Hag. However, this 1964 Japanese cinematic classic is much more than a simple supernatural horror.

Working as both a parable on the times it was made and an exploration of superstition and its power over people, Onibaba is tale for all times.

Written and directed by Kaneto Shindo the Japanese film director, screenwriter, film producer, and author who directed 48 films and wrote over 200 scripts in his 100 years alive on this earth, the film tells the story of two women living in Fourteenth century Japan during a period of war and famine.

Residing in a small hut in a field of long reeds, the pair survive by murdering soldiers who mistakenly wander into their territory, stripping them of their clothes and possessions to sell and dumping their bodies in a deep dark hole full of their past kills.


Their world changes drastically when a neighbor Hachi (Kei Sato) returns, telling them that his friend, the older woman’s son and the younger woman’s husband had died in the fighting.Onibaba

Although bonded by their grief at first, soon the mother (Nobuko Otowa) realises her widowed daughter in law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) wishes to move on and start a new relationship with Hachi who is pursuing her to sate his own urges.

Filling her young charges mind with tales of sin and the hellish punishments for such impure desires, it is not until the old woman meets a demon masked samurai that she manages to conjure up a plan to force the illicit lovers apart. However a much darker fate awaits them all.

A bleak tale beautifully filmed, Onibaba is visually stunning from the speechless start to its horrific and disturbing end. The spectacular setting amid the seven foot susuki grass, subtle performances and driving drums of the soundtrack all adding to the extremely affecting experience.

Inspired by a Shin Buddhist parable, the film is full of symbolism and deeper meaning, both relating to the historical period of the 50 years of civil war it is set against and the post war Japan it was made in – a country scared by atomic bombings.

In Onibaba all life is worthless and survival is everything. Killing is a business and people are a commodity to be stripped of their valuables for sale in exchange for food or of their clothes for sex in exchange for protection. The destructiveness of desire is a strong theme as is the desperate acts people will perform to get what we want especially in such a harsh and unforgiving world.

Onibaba Onibaba

This graphic violence and explicit sexuality sets Onibaba apart from other films from Japan at the time, so far in fact that Kaneto Shindo bypassed the strict censors to release it, influencing many other films that followed including In the Realm of the Senses.

Released by Masters of Cinema in a wonderful package filled with extras, Onibaba is a dark and disturbing tale epically filmed with imagery that will stay with you long after the movie ends.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ★ ½ ☆ 



Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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