Onibaba (1964)- Blu-Ray Review. Eureka Masters of Cinema

onibaba mask

Made in Japan in 1964, Onibaba has become one of the most talked about Japanese classic horror movies and it has had a good Blu-ray release from Eureka in the UK on their Masters of Cinema range.

Directed by Kaneto Shindo the film is set in 14th Century Japan during a Japanese civil war where the normal peasant farmer people are forgotten about and have to somehow survive in the wilderness. A couple of women, the older woman (Nobuko Otowa) and this younger woman (Jitsuko Yoshimura) who is her daughter-in-law, are waiting for her son to return from the war.

To survive and stay alive until then, they kill any rogue samurai who happen to wander into the vast reed marsh where they have set up home. They steal the Samurai weapons and clothing and sell them to get food after dumping the bodies into a deep pit.

When Hachi (Kei Sato) returns from the war he tells the women that her son and younger woman’s husband was killed and he has returned alone. Hachi’s return has a big impact on both women, the older one scorns him for returning without his son, but the younger one becomes more attracted to him and the sexual tension grows between them.

When he seems to be building a wedge between the women the elder sets up a plan to split them up so she will return and stay with her to survive. But things take a turn when a masked Samurai appears and sets in motion a terrifying series of events.

onibaba blu ray

The film has beautiful and stark black-and-white photography, the widescreen image shows you the eerie grassland landscape and the excellent music and sound effects add to the spooky atmosphere of the drama.

To be fair it’s not a horror film as such, apart from the last 10 minutes but is more of a drama about loneliness and what can happen when lust, desire and selfish greed take control. The movie is quite sexually explicit for its time but this is a core element of the story.

Because of the nudity and sexual scenes, the film was first rejected by the BBFC in the UK on its first submission and then it was released in a heavily edited form after its second submission. This release is the full uncut version.

The iconic mask, so prominent in the poster image is not seen until the final section but its impact is striking and frightening. Kaneto Shindo said that the effects of the mask on those who wear it are symbolic of the disfigurement of the victims of both Atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

The disc released in the UK by Eureka has a striking transfer with superb contrast. Audio is original mono but the sound effects and pounding music come through well.

Extras are an introduction to the film by Alex Cox, an audio commentary by director Kaneto Shindo and the stars of the film, Kei Sato, and Jitsuko Yoshimura, 8mm footage (40 – minutes) shot on location by lead actor Kei Sato, trailers and a 30-page booklet.

It has also had a Blu-ray release in the USA by Criterion.

A striking but slow-paced thriller that comes recommended.

FILM – 7.5 PICTURE – 8.5 AUDIO – 7 EXTRAS – 8

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