Onibaba

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason_Els, Mar 15, 2004.

  1. Jason_Els

    Jason_Els Screenwriter

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    I've been waiting for Onibaba for ages and was thrilled to hear Criterion was working their magic on this wonderful Japanese horror classic but now it seems to have pushed back to March 16. The original release date was March 9. Did anything happen to cause this? Supposedly my DVD shipped from Amazon already so I'm hoping there wasn't a technical issue though I would think a delay of seven days wouldn't be enough to correct such a problem.
     
  2. Jordan_E

    Jordan_E Cinematographer

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    Hey, that's on IFC right now, but it's described as a story of sexual jealousy in war-torn Japan, so I passed on watching it.
     
  3. Chris Clark

    Chris Clark Agent

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    I'm in the same boat you're in, Jason. We watched a film print of Onibaba for part of a class I'm in and the minute it was over, I was already racing to get to a computer to preorder it. A simple, yet deeply disturbing film. Great stuff.

    My order is sitting in a postage sorting facility in Kentucky, but I'm pretty mellow to the delays. As long as it comes.
    Recently, I ordered single items on the same day from Beijing, China and Louisville, Kentucky and the Beijing order arrived first!
     
  4. Justin_S

    Justin_S Producer

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    This is one of my favorite horror films. It is pure brilliance, and one of the best examples of Asian cinema. I have been wanting this on DVD for a long, long time now, and when I heard the Criterion DVD was coming, I was overjoyed. I am definitely picking this up tomorrow, and I know the perfect place that never fails to stock the newest Criterions on release day.
     
  5. ChrisBEA

    ChrisBEA Screenwriter

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    Ordered this blind based on comments around the web.
    It shipped last week, hopefully have it in a day or 2.
     
  6. Jason_Els

    Jason_Els Screenwriter

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    I have to tell you, for me this is a blind buy. It is my most anticipated blind buy ever. And though we're to get 8" of snow later today I'm going to head over the mountains to NJ to get it.

    Subarus own snow. [​IMG]
     
  7. Mark Cappelletty

    Mark Cappelletty Cinematographer

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    It's pretty intense. I remember that I'd been out in Los Angeles a month and got Clive Barker to come to Loyola Marymount University to talk about "Candyman." He told the crowd that two of his favorite unsung horror films were "Eyes Without a Face" and "Onibaba." I tracked 'em down, but only as grey-market boots and eventually got the "Onibaba" LD. The Criterion DVD blows their LD out of the water and I'm thrilled to learn that they're planning to release (as per Glenn Erickson's column at DVD Talk) "Eyes Without a Face" this summer. NICE.
     
  8. BrentPollard

    BrentPollard Second Unit

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    "Quote"

    The Criterion DVD blows their LD out of the water

    Does that mean you have a copy? Could you give us a bit of a review?[​IMG]
     
  9. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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  10. Mark Cappelletty

    Mark Cappelletty Cinematographer

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    I just checked it for PQ. I haven't had time to watch the film yet. Nice transfer, what looks to be good extras and a creepy animated menu!
     
  11. Jason_Els

    Jason_Els Screenwriter

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    I braved the other idiots on the road and drove down to Rockland to buy it. Right now I'm watching two pretty cool 1950's sci-fi classics, Rocketship X-M and Destination Moon before I pop it in as my special feature for the evening.

    I have to say, the artwork for the case of Onibaba is wonderful. Very distinctive, original, and great coloring yet spare in the Japanese aesthetic. I can't wait!
     
  12. Jason_Els

    Jason_Els Screenwriter

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    Just finished watching Onibaba. Here's my review:

    [​IMG]

    Onibaba
    1964
    103 Minutes
    Black and White
    2.35:1 (OAR) Anamorphic
    DD Mono
    Japanese with selectable English subtitles

    Production
    Director............Kaneto Shindo
    Cinematographer.....Kiyomi Kuroda
    Original Score......Hikaru Hayashi
    Editor..............Kazuo Enomoto

    Cast
    Woman...............Nobuko Otowa
    Young Woman.........Jitsuko Yoshimura
    Hachi...............Kei Sato

    When I was a boy my family stayed at my aunt's summer house while waiting for our new house to be completed. My aunt had a beautifully illustrated book of a Japanese story about demons. I don't remember much of the plot but the demons were the most frightening depictions I had ever seen and memory of them haunted me from then on.

    As time passed I became aware of a shadowy Japanese movie about a demon that haunted a tall-grass wetland and slew samurai unfortunate enough to wander into the demon's domain. Nobody I talked to knew what the movie was, I couldn't find it in books. I had to wait for the vast trove of information in the internet to finally find what it was I was seeking. Now, 30 years after that book of demons frightened me silly, I have finally found and seen that shadowy movie about Japanese demons. That movie is Onibaba.

    And shadowy it is! Onibaba takes place during the medieval Japanese "Warring States" period when Japanese civilization was brought to its knees by so many warlords that society could barely function. Men were pressed into armies, farmlands became battlegrounds, and those who weren't slaughtered in battles or raids were driven to near starvation and forced to do whatever they could to survive. Into this social anarchy, Shindo introduces us to a middle-aged woman and her young daughter-in-law living in a tall reed swamp. Devoid of men or neighbors the pair are forced to survive by murdering samurai, who wander into the swamp and become lost in the tall grass, and selling their arms and armor for food. The women then drop the bodies into an old well to the great happiness of the crows who have come to wait upon the two women, knowing a good meal will come.

    In the midst of their misery comes a neighbor, Hachi, returning from war bearing news of the death of the woman's son. The pair become, for a brief moment, a trio then a triangle. For the old woman, Hachi's return brings suspicion that he murdered her son and that he might have sexual designs on her newly-widowed daughter-in-law. For the daughter-in-law, Hachi's return just might be a ticket out of her chaste and murderous existence. And in this swamp of death and near starvation, come the demons.

    Carl Jung would have loved Onibaba. For Shindo, the demons aren't always from a supernatural plane, but rather created out of our own, most basic desires and it's those demons that rule the three primary characters of this film. The women's search for food brings them to murder and slaughter of whatever they can find including, in a brutal scene, a lost puppy. Yet starvation isn't the ruling demon here, it's sex. Shindo purposely infuses a desperate, almost vicious sexual desire in his characters so intense that the spirits of nature react with the same fury. As the old woman begins to lose her daughter-in-law to Hachi's base animalistic lust she turns to stories of demons to frighten her daughter-in-law. The demons answer this call and the result brings into this story the one supernatural element of Onibaba and the catalyst for its climax.

    Shindo's camera photographs this perfectly. In the style of Ozu he frequently keeps the camera on the same plane of view as his characters but like Kurosawa the camera isn't afraid to move in dynamic harmony with his characters as their passions, of lust and hatred, rise. Using black and white, high contrast filmstock, Shindo places us in the midst of his characters, viewing their world from their perspective. The crude, barren life of his subjects is laid even more bare by the spare sets and the ever-present grass swaying in the wind and rain. We are as if trapped in a world with no orients, driven by instinct, mirroring the barbaric existence of the characters. In an interview also on this DVD, Shindo states that he purposely used black and white to keep the film bleak as possible and chose cinemascope to make his characters appear insignificantly small in the endless grasslands that surround them.

    Shindo's choice of score too, reflects the intensity of his characters by using brash horns and African-style percussion rhythms in a jazz-like manner. If there's one failing in the film, this is likely it. I would have personally preferred traditional Japanese music as I feel it could have been more haunting and suitable to the period. The music, as it is, does reflect the mood of the film and its spare use means it isn't intrusive. The eerie sound effects are very subtle and seem to come out of the wind in the grass, as if made by spirits; restrained but completely effective.

    Criterion's print comes from a high-definition digital transfer from a 35mm fine-grain print and it looks fantastic. According to Criterion, "Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed..." The result is beautiful. As Onibaba frequently relies heavily on chiaroscuro for the moon and hearth-lit interior scenes any print degradation would have been all the more distracting. I don't know what the print looked like before, but Criterion's presentation is completely satisfactory.

    The titles and graphic design for Onibaba are simple yet beautiful. The titles are animated using cartoon-depictions of the characters yet done in a spare, Japanese manner with coordinated colors. It's a novel yet elegant effect and I've noticed even the spine stands out on my DVD shelf when placed among other titles. The disc includes an interview with Shindo, at a very sharp 91, done during the 1980s when the laserdisc was produced. His comments about Onibaba are illuminating, interesting, and direct. It works. Also included is an 8mm home movie taken by Kei Sato of life on the set in the makeshift camp that was created for filming in such a remote location. Interestingly, Shindo forced his cast and crew to stay on location for the entire shoot or lose all their pay. What contemporary production companies wouldn't give for that kind of power! A trailer and a gallery of promotional materials round out the offering. As usual, a first class job by Criterion.

    The big question, of course, is did Onibaba meet all my lofty expectations for a work of Japanese horror? Yes and no. I'm actually very happily surprised and glad that it isn't what I expected. In some ways Onibaba is scarier than what I had imagined and in other ways not so much. It wasn't the Japanese gothic horror I imagined at all like Kwaidan. At its roots, Onibaba is not a horror film at all, but rather a study in sexual politics played by ruthless people and how karma always catches-up in the end. Jung would argue that the heightened passion of the characters resulted in the seemingly supernatural occurring but Shindo leaves it to the viewer to determine. Onibaba, however, is still a deliciously frightening look into what exists just below the surface of civilized society, a reminder, if you will, of just what we are all capable of when pushed to the brink of extinction. The demons, it seems, are within us, waiting for the moment when we make them manifest in the material world.
     
  13. Jason_Els

    Jason_Els Screenwriter

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    Shameless bump so those who haven't heard of it might take an interest [​IMG]
     
  14. Lars Vermundsberget

    Lars Vermundsberget Supporting Actor

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    This is one of the few of the recent or upcoming Criterions that I thought I wasn't going to buy, but I guess I'll have to reconsider...
     
  15. Bob Turnbull

    Bob Turnbull Supporting Actor

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    I bought this blind and just received it last Thursday (it was part of an order with items just released last Tuesday). The cover was the first thing that grabbed me and this thread put me over the top. I think I had also visited the Criterion Forum thread about it.

    Watched it over the weekend. Fabulous.

    Not what I expected given many of the references to the horror genre. But that's fine...It had a rich set of themes and stunning cinematography. Especially each reveal of the mother in the field at night with the mask. Yowza.
    I'm on a roll with early sixties black and white movies having just watched Knife In The Water previous to this.
     

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