Onibaba (1964)"I'm not a demon! I'm a human being!"
Built on a fairly simple plot involving a mother/daughter team who scrape an existence by murdering samurai for their armor and possessions. A friend of the mom watched the daughters fiancee die and now boldly lusts after the daughter. The characters behave at the most base levels of humanity. Their hunger for food is matched by their ravenous sexual appetites, and the story is bold, shocking and filled with layers of meaning. This would make an excellent companion piece with Woman in the Dunes. There's just as much to discuss about the people, the landscape which consists of cramped dwellings and tall grass which surrounds a deep hole where men meet their end. (Obvious sexual symbolism, but packed with resonance.) There is also a demon.
I hesitate to mention the demon since it doesn't appear till the last half-hour, but that's really what puts this film over the top. The entire thing just gets better and better as it goes and by this point all of the great dynamics just explode. Even here, I thought I knew where things were headed only to be surprised by twists better than what I expected.
For a film from 1964, the subject matter is surprisingly adult. There's a lot of nudity, so much so that it it goes well past any titillation into more cavalier terrain. Even the way they sleep, spread on their backs with their robes half open defiantly paints their status and class as people who care little for modesty. In one scene the ladies find a small dog and viciously attack it like a couple of grizzly bears. They don't say a word or think twice about it, hunger has made them animals.
I love the photography of this film. Lots of high contrast black and white and some beautiful slow-motion imagery of grass in the breeze that would make Tarkovsky jealous. How rare to find a film with one consistent vision that balances the beauty of Malick with the grit of something like Drive. Onibaba is an incredible drama of sexual politics gone horribly wrong. I strongly urge people to check it out. It's not as difficult to get into as I might have made it sound. I'm just trying to preserve the surprises.★ ★ ★ ★