Onibaba (1964)

Directed by Kaneto Shindô, this is based on a Japanese folk tale and set at the time of feudal wars between Samurai armies. A wife and mother live alone in swamp­land and survive by ambushing and killing the wounded warriors involved in the conflict and strip­ping them of their armour, before disposing of their bodies in a hole (‘The Hole’ of the title).


(see tech­nique notes: “The World of The Story”)

From the opening frames of the film, the phys­ical envir­on­ment domin­ates the story: a sea of waving reeds through which the char­ac­ters plunge blindly and aggress­ively on their pre-determined paths. Within a few minutes of the action, the specific values of this world are estab­lished as we see the women brutally murder and strip two Samurai warriors.

It’s clear that this is an inver­sion of a caste system and a symptom of the chaos of war, one in which the weak become pred­ators, and their former lords and masters, the prey. It’s not just the viol­ence. There is a wild­ness that permeates through the story, a sense that anything can happen in a random and chaotic universe.

© David Clough 2010

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