If palpable atmosphere is the measure of a fright film,
then few can match the photographic lyricism of this 1965
Japanese release. Onibaba, nearly overwhelms the
viewer with its otherworldly sense of mysticism, seclusion
and desperation. Detailing the degrading poverty of 17th
century Japan, every scene of this unsettling classic is
texturally rich, though the camera never ventures beyond
the waving fields of grass where the story takes place.
The field is home to an aging widow and her daughter, who
lure unwary samurai to their doom as they return from war.
Upon selling the armor they've stripped from the bodies,
the two women deposit the corpses in a pit concealed by
the head-high grass.
A young farmer, returning from battle to his home across
the field, threatens to woo the daughter from her possessive
mother's side. The terrified widow, willing to employ any
means to forestall her desertion, pries a ritual mask from
the face of a dead samurai. Wearing the mask, she stalks
the field by night, hoping to frighten the romantic inclinations
out of her daughter.The scenes of this grinning visage emerging
suddenly from the grass as the young lover runs to meet
her paramour are some of the most truly frightening in all
cinema. The widow's actions backfire hideously.
The acting in Onibaba is uniformly excellent but
the wind is the film's true star. The unnerving sound of
it continuously whooshing and wafting through the tall grass
cannot be construed by the viewer as mere ambience but more
a subliminal indication of the omnipresent evil inhabiting
the film. The sure-handed direction of Kineto Shindo, expertly
photographing the shadowly interplay of desperate people
amid a bleak landscape, make Onibaba a film experience
not to be missed.
The Japanese knack for delivering mood-drenched thrills
should be explored by any true genre fan. Forthwith, these
Based on the writings of expatriate author Lafcadio Hearn,
an American who made Japan his home in the late 1800s, this
trilogy of ghost stories is nearly as unsettling at times
as Onibaba. Each segment explores a different aspect
of Japanese folklore and superstition. The portion detailing
the experiences of a young man painted head to toe with
protective religious symbols is particularly disturbing.
Director Kenji Mizoguchi's eerie story of two peasants seeking
fame and fortune in 16th century Japan was a prize winner
at the Venice Film Festival. In their travels, the protagonists
encounter spirits and rampant violence conveyed through
some of the most haunting photography this side of Onibaba.
Throne of Blood (1957)
Akira Kurasawa's samarai retelling of MacBeth is
an undeniable classic on many levels, but it is the film's
supernatural content and depiction of bloody vengeance that
remain with the viewer long after the story's conclusion.
Highlights include a frenzied ride through a haunted forest,
and Toshiro Mifune's encounter with a ghostly clairvoyant.