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A Filmmaker's Review: "Onibaba" (1964)

by Annie Kapur about a year ago in movie
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5/5 - A film of terrifying manipulation...

"Onibaba" - the demoness, the demon hag, a demon all the very same. You may think of something far more complicated when you hear that word than the film actually puts out. When a man returns home alone, without a woman's husband and without another woman's son, he is reprimanded for not looking after them. He is ostracised for returning home without his pals. When he seduces the widow of one of the dead men, she goes visiting him regularly whilst war rages on around the tall grass maze in which they live. Her mother is distraught, not believing that the man is in any way, good news. Telling her daughter a story about heaven and hell, she tries to scare her daughter into submission to her rules through religion but it doesn't work. It doesn't work until one night a demon appears to her daughter. A demon chases her back home, intercepting her journey to her new lover. But there are terrifying consequences for everyone involved.

The themes of this film are definitely scattered around the main theme of manipulation. Everyone is manipulating everyone else. The mother is manipulating her daughter into submission to her own rules via scary stories of religion, heaven, purgatory and hell. The man who has returned is manipulating a woman who has lost her husband and is still in shock of that. The widow is manipulating her mother by lying to her for night upon night, thinking that she does not know she is seeing this man.

The backdrop of war makes it all the more brutal. You get a real Stephen King "In the Tall Grass" vibe from this film which chills you to the bone. It is absolutely terrifying. When the young woman runs across the reeds because she is frightened of who or what may be lurking there, it becomes all the more real. You can hear the plants almost whistle as she runs through them, catching on them along the way. There is no other sound and honestly, there does not need to be. The sound in this film is purely based upon the various natural surroundings that we have in the scenes. The pit in which the women dump unsuspecting samurai and soldiers not only makes this an anti-war film but also, a horror film in which the women are the ones who ultimately control everything. They control everything until everything begins to control them.

When it comes to the themes of manipulation there are definitely other things going on. As we have said, there's a big theme about the power of religion over humans in order to control what is thought of as chaos, there is also the supernatural and the belief in it. Now, this theme of the supernatural is different to the theme of religion and you're going to have to watch the film in order to get that because it is kind of the whole point.

The way in which manipulation is explored therefore, is possibly my favourite in any film ever. It ultimately becomes a three-way thing in which everyone manipulates everyone else. It becomes a huge part of the storyline and you really need to understand the way in which the manipulation almost ends to understand the absolute climax of the film. There is no other way to look at it. At first, I thought this was going to be a fantasy film but honestly, I was wrong. This is a film that is honestly, very realistic - it is very human and there is something that preys on your life after the movie as well. It makes you think about how you are being manipulated, especially by the movie. Who’s side are you on anyway?


About the author

Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

150K+ Reads on Vocal

IG: @AnnieApproximately

Pronouns: (she/her/hers)

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