JAPAN 2021


Japan 1964, 103 mins
Director: Kaneto Shindo

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away some of the plot.

Kaneto Shindo’s best-known feature still packs a genuine wallop for its violence, its startlingly explicit sexuality (it’s not remotely surprising that the BBFC rejected it outright on first submission and scissored it second time round) and its almost Beckettian view of a conflict-ridden world reduced to a gigantic field of untamed susuki grass, in which people scrape a barely subsistence-level living by preying on others who are either permanently or temporarily weaker than themselves.

The two women at its heart are never named, but we can tell everything about them from the way they behave when they ruthlessly spear two samurai to death, dump the bodies in what appears to be an unfathomably deep hole and swap the men’s possessions for a meagre bag of millet. Like animal scavengers, their actions are dispassionately practical, their amorality driven by the need to survive without their presumed-dead menfolk. But when the soldier Hachi arrives to pass on news of the younger woman’s husband, they experience a different kind of hunger, and the resulting urges underpinning almost everything thereafter give the film’s overtly demonic final act a much more potent psychological charge than it had in the Buddhist fable that inspired Shindo. In the original, the younger woman provoked the older woman’s jealousy purely through her religious self-betterment, whereas here both women’s impulses are all too primal.

But Onibaba’s lasting greatness and undimmed potency lie in the fact that it works both as an unnervingly blunt horror film (and how!) and as a far more nuanced but nonetheless universal social critique that can easily be applied to any parallel situation – even, as Doug Cummings points out, a futuristic post-apocalyptic one. Although the title literally translates as ‘The Demoness’, Shindo makes it clear that the women are as much victims of their lowly status and unfortunate circumstances as they are agents of their own destruction.
Michael Brooke, Sight & Sound, April 2013

A contemporary review
Kaneto Shindo obviously likes to milk his situations for all they are worth – and then some. In The Island, two uncommunicative peasants haul endless buckets of water up and down a hillside, until it eventually becomes apparent that their silence is merely an artifice designed to inject drama into the situation; in Ningen, four assorted people are set adrift in a boat, and it only requires a little manipulation to persuade cannibalism, heightened by a cunning assortment of emotions, to rear its ugly head.

Onibaba, made by exactly the same team, has the same striking surface as the two earlier films, and the same tendency to fall apart if examined too closely. But, if impossible to take seriously, Onibaba is at least amusing in its extravagance (much grunting, rushing about, and howling at the moon by the frustrated lovers; murder victims despatched with a lurid ruthlessness worthy of a Hammer horror), and Kiyomi Kuroda’s fine photography makes the most of the bizarre setting: a marshy plain beside a river, completely overgrown with tall, waving reeds. In the opening sequence, two horsemen gallop down the river bank, two fleeing samurai thread their way through the forest of reeds, their path betrayed only by ripples on the surface, until glittering spears suddenly stab out of the darkness at them. Nothing else in the film quite matches this opening among the reeds, or its aftermath in the ruthless stripping of the victims and disposal of their corpses, except perhaps the encounter between the old woman and the General. Here, as she warily picks her way through the moonlit swamp, followed by the ghostly stranger in the demon mask, the film suddenly acquires, momentarily, the quality of legend which Shindo was presumably after all along.
Tom Milne, Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1966

Director: Kaneto Shindo
Production Companies: Kindai Eiga Kyokai, Tokyo Eiga
Executive Producers: Hisao Itoya, Setsuo Noto, Tamotsu Minato
Producer: Toshio Konya
Screenplay: Kaneto Shindo
Director of Photography: Kiyomi Kuroda
Editor: Toshio Enoki
Art Director: Kaneto Shindo
Music: Hikaru Hayashi

Nobuko Otowa (mother)
Jitsuko Yoshimura (daughter-in-law)
Kei Sato (Hachi)
Taiji Tonomura (Ushi, the merchant)
Jûkichi Uno (warrior)
Tatsuya Nakadai (Onimasa)

Japan 1964
103 mins

JAPAN 2021
Early Summer (Bakushû)
Mon 18 Oct 14:30; Tue 19 Oct 20:35; Wed 20 Oct 17:50; Thu 18 Nov 20:20 (+ intro by Professor Alastair Phillips, University of Warwick); Sun 21 Nov 11:30
The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (Ochazuke no aji)
Mon 18 Oct 18:10; Wed 20 Oct 20:40; Thu 21 Oct 14:40; Mon 8 Nov 14:30; Tue 23 Nov 14:40
Tokyo Story (Tôkyô monogatari)
Mon 18 Oct 20:20; Thu 21 Oct 14:30; Sat 13 Nov 14:10; Tue 30 Nov 14:00
Throne of Blood (Kumonosu-jô)
Tue 19 Oct 18:10; Thu 21 Oct 20:35 (+ Inside Cinema: Akira Kurosawa); Wed 27 Oct 20:30; Tue 9 Nov 20:40; Fri 12 Nov 14:15 (+ Inside Cinema: Akira Kurosawa); Sat 27 Nov 20:50
Early Spring (Sôshun)
Tue 19 Oct 14:30; Wed 20 Oct 20:15; Thu 21 Oct 17:30; Sat 20 Nov 14:50; Tue 23 Nov 17:40
Tue 19 Oct 20:55; Thu 21 Oct 17:55; Fri 19 Nov 14:30 (+ Inside Cinema: Akira Kurosawa); Fri 26 Nov 18:10; Sun 28 Nov 12:00 15 (+ Inside Cinema: Akira Kurosawa)
An Actor’s Revenge (Yukinojô henge)
Wed 20 Oct 14:15; Mon 1 Nov 14:30; Thu 11 Nov 20:40 (+ intro by Jennifer Coates, The University of Sheffield); Sat 20 Nov 12:15
Souls on the Road (Rojô no reikion)
Fri 22 Oct 18:00; Sat 30 Oct 15:30
A Page of Madness (Kurutta ichipeiji)
Sat 23 Oct 13:00; Mon 15 Nov 20:50
Silent Cinema presents: I Was Born, But… (Otona no miru ehon – Umarete wa mita keredo)
Sat 23 Oct 15:00; Sun 28 Nov 14:45 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive curator)
Our Neighbour, Miss Yae (Tonari no Yae-chan)
Sun 24 Oct 12:40; Mon 1 Nov 18:15 (+ intro by season co-programmer Alexander Jacoby)
Humanity and Paper Balloons (Ninjô kami fûsen)
Sun 24 Oct 15:00; Tue 2 Nov 20:45
Talk: A Time of Change and How Japanese Film Bore Witness to It
Mon 25 Oct 18:20
Children of the Beehive (Hachi no su no kodomotachi)
Mon 25 Oct 20:45 (+ intro by season co-programmer Alexander Jacoby); Mon 8 Nov 18:20
The Life of Matsu the Untamed (aka The Rickshaw Man) (Muhomatsu no issho)
Tue 26 Oct 20:40; Sun 7 Nov 11:40
Fallen Blossoms (aka Flowers Have Fallen) (Hana chirinu)
Sun 31 Oct 13:00; Wed 3 Nov 18:20 (+ intro by Japanese film scholar Alejandra Armendáriz-Hernández)
My Love Has Been Burning (aka Flame of My Love) (Waga koi wa moenu)
Fri 5 Nov 18:30; Mon 15 Nov 17:40
Love Letter (Koibumi)
Sat 6 Nov 12:30; Sun 21 Nov 14:40 (+ intro by Irene González-López, co-editor of ‘Tanaka Kinuyo: Nation, Stardom and Female Subjectivity’)
An Inn at Osaka (Ôsaka no yado)
Sat 6 Nov 15:30; Sun 21 Nov 18:00 (+ pre-recorded intro by Professor Hiroshi Kitamura, College of William & Mary)
Godzilla (Gojira)
Sun 7 Nov 15:50; Tue 23 Nov 20:40
Marital Relations (Meoto zenzai)
Sun 7 Nov 18:20; Thu 25 Nov 18:00 (+ pre-recorded intro by Professor Hideaki Fujiki, Nagoya University)
Sansho the Bailiff (Sansho Dayu)
Mon 8 Nov 20:40; Sun 28 Nov 18:20
She Was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum (Nogiku no gotoki kimi nariki)
Tue 9 Nov 18:20; Tue 30 Nov 20:40
Harakiri (Seppuku)
Wed 10 Nov 18:00; Tue 16 Nov 20:25
Night Drum (Yoru no tsuzumi)
Wed 10 Nov 20:50; Tue 16 Nov 18:15
Talk: Female Archetypes in Classical Japanese Cinema
Thu 11 Nov 18:10
Yearning (Midareru)
Fri 12 Nov 18:20; Fri 26 Nov 21:00
Elegant Beast (aka The Graceful Brute) (Shitoyakana kedamono)
Wed 17 Nov 20:50; Sat 27 Nov 18:30 (+ pre-recorded intro by Professor Yuka Kanno, Doshisha University)
Talk: The Family and Home in the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema
Thu 18 Nov 18:00
Fri 19 Nov 20:50; Tue 30 Nov 17:50
Tokyo Olympiad (Tôkyô orinpikku)
Sat 20 Nov 16:40; Wed 24 Nov 18:40

Supported by

In partnership wtih

With special thanks to

With the kind support of:
Janus Films/The Criterion Collection, Kadokawa Corporation, Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, Kokusai Hoei Co. Ltd, Nikkatsu Corporation, Toei Co. Ltd

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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