(1964)4Jonathan CrowBrimming with ambient dread and sensuality, director/ writer Kaneto Shindo's Onibaba masterfully evokes a world of grinding desperation, feral lust, and otherworldly menace. In a patch of tall swamp grass at the edge of a war, an old woman and her nubile daughter eke out a miserable existence of killing and scavenging. When her threadbare subsistence is threatened by the presence of a rakish neighbor, the old woman tries to frighten the girl with a frightening mask. The end of the film, when her plan fails tragically, is both horrific and brilliantly absurd. In many ways, this film is similar to Kenji Mizoguchi's masterpiece Ugetsu (1953), a supernatural drama about women struggling to survive during wartime. Yet, while Mizoguchi's characters remain self-effacing and self-sacrificing, Shindo's are aggressively sexual, brutally violent, and thoroughly amoral. Onibaba is a visual tour-de-force, featuring sumptuous black-and-white cinematography, elegant horizontal camera movement, and a stark, claustrophobic visual style. It is a hypnotic, profoundly spooky work that will haunt you long after the credits roll.