Writer / director Kaneto Shindô (who passed away earlier this year) made his first horror masterpiece in 1964 with the film Onibaba. The film won numerous awards and the Grand Prix at the Panama Film Festival. The story is set in 14th century Japan. War has ravaged the land and starvation is common among the poor folk. Two women, an older woman with a white streak in her hair and her daughter-in-law, attack random samurai who have fled the war, kill them and rob the corpses in the high grass fields of their home. They dump the bodies in a pit and then sell the armour and swords for millet from a shady black-marketeer. The women are waiting for the son / husband to return from war as they try to survive by relying on each other.
Then a nearby neighbour returns from battle and informs them that the son / husband is dead. He then starts to seduce the recently widowed daughter-in-law much to the chagrin of the mother. The mother fears she’s about to be left behind alone. She needs the daughter to help kill samurai. The final act of the film moves from dramatic realism to creepy fable as the mother tries to break-up the daughter-in-law and the neighbour, first by offering herself to the neighbour and then, well I won’t spoil the fun.
I recently wrote about Kaneto Shindô’s later film Kuroneko which deals with similar themes. Two women abandoned by a son who went to war and the terrible things that have happened to them and the horrible things that they do. This film has a more erotic overtone than Kuroneko has and while the latter film has more supernatural elements in it, this film has it share of creepy moments. The film moves at a fast pace and the ending is perfect. An excellent horror film.