Sunday, December 7, 2008
Kaneto Shindo (Japan, 1964)
In Onibaba, Shindo’s camera is set amidst tall swaying grasses, filling the screen with pure motion and direction. But look closely in the reeds to find a society of scavengers existing on the dregs of feudalism. Two women eke out a living by luring wounded samurai to their deaths and selling their victims’ armor. Their animal-like existence is interrupted when the younger of the two begins sneaking off with a male neighbor. Her companion dons a terrifying battle mask in a desperate attempt to keep her young accomplice at home, but the mask has a will of its own: she can’t remove it. In warring Kyoto, meanwhile, strange things are happening: “Day was night, a horse gave birth to a calf,” a traveler reports. Shindo examines what he calls “the primitive beneath the civilized veneer” of society, integrating elements of horror and the supernatural, a jazz score, and jarring you-are-there cinematography.
• Written by Shindo. Photographed by Kiyomi Kuroda. With Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sato. (105 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, B&W, ’Scope, 35mm, Permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)