Two parts period drama, one part horror film, Onibaba seems conflicted on which of the two genres it really wants to be. It starts off fully as a pseudo-romantic drama set in fourteenth-century Japan, and continues in that vein for a good hour of the running time before the horror elements are introduced, so if you’re recommended this film based on what a great horror film it’s supposed to be, you’ll likely be asking “what the heck” for the first half of the film, so be prepared. That said, there’s still a lot about this film that is done right, and I can see how this would become influential in the years to come. I should also mention that the translated title isn’t just ‘The Demon’, but ‘Demon Hag’, which fits the film and its content much better than the title provided by the Book.
Two unnamed women live in a small hut in an endless field of grass, as a war is going on in the cities to the north. Due to the war, the younger woman’s husband is killed, and the other woman, her mother-in-law, is unable to farm for herself; thus, the two women opt to kill passing travelers for their possessions and equipment, selling them to a black market dealer who lives nearby. As I mentioned, the film initially starts off as a romantic drama (for lack of a better genre for it); another male villager named Hachi makes his way back to them, and informs them that the son/husband is dead. He then begins to make moves on the young now-widow, which the mother-in-law disapproves of, and she tries to find a way to end the relationship. Then, an hour in, a wandering samurai wearing a demon mask appears, and the elder woman tricks him into falling to his death, whereby she collects his things, including the mask, finding his face underneath is disfigured. Thus, she attempts to use the mask to break the two apart once and for all, and let’s just say that things don’t end up going very well for her when she decides to wear the mask in a rainstorm. For such a simplistic film, concerned with the triangle of characters for the entirety of the film, that plot description was indeed lengthy, but like I said, it takes a while for the actual horror elements to show up, so I went as far as that. Even still, this film is incredibly atmospheric. That it is set entirely in a seemingly endless field of grass or maize adds incredibly to the film’s aesthetic, and many a shot lingers on the waving brush, or a character making their way through it, with the sun or moon silhouetted in the background, making for a hell of a lovely shot. The film also sticks to its time period very well, through the set of the women’s hut and the outfits of everyone involved. Really top notch production all around, and it shows in the end product.
Even if you do end up going into this one with the wrong impetus, thinking it is principally a horror film when, to be perfectly fair, it kinda isn’t, my suggestion would be to stick with it; it ends up being worth it in the end, even if the ending itself is a bit of a drop-off. Plus, even with the integration of the plots of the two halves of the film, it still does feel like two films smushed together, but unlike other films of this description, it is smushed together quite well, so there’s that. Overall, I won’t say you’re guaranteed to like this one, but I liked it a good deal, so it’s somewhat reasonable to assume that most of the people who would read a blog like mine would get something out of it as well. It’s worth a shot, at the very least.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10