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Prisoners of the Grass,
This review is from: Onibaba [Masters of Cinema] [DVD]  (DVD)
Never has a film been more a prisoner of its own environment than this film, which is shot entirely amongst the beautiful swaying susuki grass. Hiroshi Teshigahara's "Woman of the Dunes" was a similar captive to the all pervading sands it was filmed in. It is as if the characters of the film are marooned on an isolated island, where they scavenge off the flotsam that comes their way. In this instance it happens to be the hapless half dead soldiers of 14th century feudal Japan who fall victims to an old woman and her daughter in law. These unfortunate victims are polished off in brutal fashion by the women and then robbed of all their armour. The bodies are then dumped unceremoniously down a sinister black hole. They then sell their ill gotten gains for much needed food and then wait like spiders for the next juicy flies to fall into their web. Just when things seem to be going so well a man enters their lives to turn their cloistered existence upside down.
The film was a financial success which is unsurprising given the heavy marketing of the strong sexual content. Strong for the time I should hasten to add! Apart from a few bare breasts and some simulated sex there is only enough naughty content to upset a prudish granny. It all seems a bit tame by todays standards! The film was initially refused a certificate in the UK. It is beautifully shot amongst the grass with some memorable scenes, none better than the young woman running breathlessly through the swaying sea of grass to her lover, the grass seeming to possess a life of its own. The repressed emotions are beautifully conveyed by Nobuko Otawa as the older woman, with mere glances and expressions. Otawa also happened to be the wife and muse of the director Kaneto Shindo. Jitsuko Yoshimura seems to effortlessly become the object of desire that would make most men lust after, her frustrated sexual desires slowly erupting to the surface. The film is accompanied by an exceptional score by Hikaru Hayashi which seems to beat a rhythm that lies at the very heart of the film. It is an example of how music can perfectly complement a film.
Alex Cox gives a brief but interesting introduction to the film. This is a piece of movie making that sticks in the mind and has influenced other directors. Asif Kapadia's recent "Far North" seems to be an inferior Arctic version of "Onibaba". The film still has the power to disturb even after all these years which is a credit to the movie making skills of Shindo. It has received mixed reviews with one critic eloquently describing it as a "pot pourri of ravenous eating and blatant sex". Well yes, one cannot deny it has plenty of both, but I think the critic missed the sheer mesmeric beauty of the film. It is wonderful to look at and is a masterclass in repressed emotions, deserving to be part of the "Masters of Cinema" series.