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This review is from: Onibaba [Masters of Cinema] [DVD]  (DVD)
Japan during the feudal era relegated the peasants to the edge of extinction as they could no longer grow crops due to the incessant raiding and fighting of the Samurai classes. Clasping their bushido code, the samurai lopped off inferior heads with impunity as the law was replaced with disputed power. Knowing this leads us to the film where the Bushido "values" are turned upside down. Women on the margins have ripped up the rule book. The film focuses on two women, daughter in law and mother in law who wait for their son and husband to return after being dragged off to fight on one of the many sides of the era.
Two peasant women embark upon a "will to power" to avenge their plight as all the men have been plucked from the land to engage in the futile struggle of the men of power. Surviving they strike up a two woman team who prey upon the "vulnerable" Samurai who enter the swamp world they inhabit. Filmed in a stark black and white the film reaches into the primeval ooze of life to show how those cast out into the margins survive hand to mouth. Within this world a sexual frission and erotic desire cackles with an electric spark. Also within this bubble, supernatural elements arise, in the shape of a mask which entraps the wearer. Everyone as the film depicts wears a mask to the outside world.
Detailing the exploitation which takes place between the women and the Samurai and the women and those who prey upon them, the film resonates with an emotional quiver wrapped up within a cold austere mask. Very Japanese in its slow pace and filmic vision of how nature operates within a system of social collapse it deserves its masterpiece status. It is no gung ho, sex filled opus however. It rests upon an emotional tension rather than an enforced titillation which is why I presume it has survived so long.
It reminded me of those black and white Robinson Crusoe episodes of the 1960's in its stark haunting beauty. Just to add the film score is one crazy banging accompaniment mixing Japanese percussion and jazz to add an extra bow to the tension.