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Onibaba – Review October 13, 2009

Posted by Cello in Asian Horror Reviews.


Onibaba opened up in theaters in a time where people didn’t rely on special effects to get their point across. It is categorized as a a psychodrama with some mild horror elements. Onibaba (which means Demon Woman in Japanese) is set in Medieval Japan and focuses on two women protagonists.  These two women survive in a sea of grass by killing stray samurai. When a friend of their son and husband returns, a tale of lust, jealousy, and mysterious supernatural forces unfolds.

Shot in black and white, this Kaneto Shindo film deals with the selfishness of humanity, where relations exists because of advantages to be gain, mutual or otherwise. This is how two women scrape an existence in a time of anarchy in Japanese history. Men seem to be marginal to their lives, and exist only as potential threats. Their lives appear to be nothing more than eating, retrieving water, laying in wait, and bargaining with their stolen goods. The film features some for the time very daring nudity and sexuality which resulted in it being censored the world over, even in Japan.


Horror films affect people in different ways. Whether they strike fear into the hearts of those who watch them, or those that just are not interesting. Narratives aside, the film is a successful combination creepy atmosphere and simple camera work. The only mark I can say that goes against Onibaba is that although it is a unique experience, it lacks the raw intensity of modern Japanese horror films, and may not be as visually horrific as modern horror films.

Something I wish was addressed more in the film was characterization. We don’t see enough form the characters. Essentially, it leaves a lot to be desired. Frankly put, Onibaba delivers shivers based on its perfect fusion of atmosphere, character, and setting. For a powerful experience in real terror, see this film. It is a masterpiece of the supernatural.



1. goregirl - October 13, 2009

The more black and white horror I see, the more I come to appreciate it. Two woman who live off of what they steal from dead soldiers is a pretty bleak premise for a film. Thanks for reviewing this one! I really love ‘Onibaba’ and think it is an under appreciated classic.

2. glothelegend - October 14, 2009

Hmmmmm….the last (and only) black and whit Japanese film I’ve seen was 7 Samurai, which was a great movie, and is a known classic. This looks pretty interesting.

3. Nathan Bartlebaugh - October 14, 2009

Brilliant movie. Would love to do a film series that combined this one, Ugetsu, and Kwaidan. Three masterpieces, but all very different. I think this one is the most striking and original of the three, and Kwaidan the most artistic and abstract, with Ugetsu probably being my favorite overall–the one that feels most thematically complete.

Great write-up for it.

4. Alex - October 19, 2009

Wow this sounds really interesting- great post! Adding it to the netflix queue…

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