Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba (1964) is generally considered to be a classic of Japanese horror—and not without reason, though I’m not entirely convinced it quite deserves its reputation. It is undeniably unsettling and, unlike many Japanese films of the era that get tagged as horror, this one unquestionably is. And it’s not especially subtle about it—for instance, the shock-effect musical sting with the title card (not unlike the one on the new film Insidious). It’s also lit like a horror film, and is surprisingly gory for the era. The story of two women in 14th century Japan eking out a bare existence by murdering hapless—sometimes wounded—samurai warriors, stripping them bare, dumping their bodies down a mysterious hole, and selling their armor is also horrific. (Had they eaten the corpses, Kaneto Shindo would have made the first Japanese hillbilly cannibal movie.) Still, the film just doesn’t entirely work for me—in part due to the sometimes grating musical score—but this is a film I’d still suggest giving a try, especially if you’re a fan of Japanese cinema.
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