Onibaba (1964)

Viewed March 17th

In a small hut in a remote area a mother and daughter are haunted by what may or may not be a demon wearing a scary mask.

Onibaba creates a harsh, yet vital cinematic world. There's the hut where the women live, there's the dark, "ancient" hole that they have to avoid, and there's the village where they can trade in items they've scavenged from dead samurai. Around these locations are the ever-flowing water grasses--soft yet choking, perpetually filling the frame with flowing, vegetative motion. The mother's face tells us about this lonely, minimal grass world: it is unloved. Sex in this world is always just over the horizon, seeping through the friction of the grass blades, but it is not erotic (as it is in director Kaneto Shindo's Kuroneko); it is a raw fact. The memory of bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem to be lurking in the background, but the bleakness of this world seems just as tied into something Shindo suggests is immemorial and inherent to human beings. The abrupt ending of the film gets at this. You expect the film to extend another few minutes as the story wraps up in a more traditional mode, but, instead, it ends with the mother, her face deformed by the demonic mask she wore to scare her daughter away from having sex, leaping across the ancient hole shouting "I am a human being! I am a human being!" And it freezes at that point. We leave this world with her perpetually hovering above this deep, dark hole, madly proclaiming her identity as a human. By ending the film at that key line, repeated for emphasis, Shindo asks us to consider it as something more than throwaway dialogue. This woman is telling us that she is a human being, or--to put a slightly different spin on it--that human beings are her.