Onibaba

Onibaba ★★★★½

Entry number 18 in Shocktober 2014.

I wasn't expecting this to be as sexy, or maybe lusty, as it was. There's nothing in the early goings to suggest that it will become a bit of a reverse morality tale, with the mother of a dead warrior trying to keep his wife from running away with his friend and neighbor. This description undersells the power of the setting, which is roughly 14th century Japan and, more specifically, in the middle of a giant field of super tall grass. It's that grass that hides people from each other and creates an uncanny other-worldliness in which this fable takes place. Described by its director as an allegory for post-nuclear Japan, Onibaba contains some fascinating cultural details, some of which were probably lost on me. One that wasn't is the mask of a samurai that enters the film late but gives it the final kick in the pants it needs to bring everything to a head. When it is removed from his face, the scars and boils left behind are grotesque renditions of the burns from the nuclear attacks the Japanese suffered at the end of WWII. It's terrifying and it's hard to watch as a citizen of the country that made and dropped those bombs. If this is the kind of art they made in response to our violence, how much worse must that violence have been in the first place? Deeply unsettling stuff.