Film / Onibaba
Yeah, I wouldn't have put that on.
"People are both the devil and god—and are truly mysterious"
—Writer/Director Kaneto Shindo

Onibaba (鬼婆) AKA Demon Hag is a Japanese Psychological Horror samurai film from 1964, written and directed by Kaneto Shindo. It is based on an old Buddhist Fable, but the film is notable for its uncompromising modern vision, including frank depictions of sexuality and ruthless female power, fast cuts, slow motion, unusual angles, and a frantic soundtrack mixing natural sounds and traditional drumming.

It was filmed in a field of high susuki grass, meaning that neither the characters or the camera were able to see more than a few feet, which helped to create a claustrophobic, entrapping effect. The action takes place during one of the many bloody wars of Japan's feudal period, but centers around a small group of poor fishing villagers who must eke out an existence on the outskirts of the brutal war, highlighting the social conflict between the ruling samurai and the poor farmers on whom they built their empires.

An older woman and a young woman await the return of Kichi, respectively the older's son and younger's husband, who was taken away to fight in the war. The two women have been surviving by murdering wandering soldiers and giving their armor to a secondhand dealer. The man's friend and fellow soldier, Hachi, returns and tells the two women that Kichi was killed on the way back. Eventually the younger woman and Hachi embark on an affair, which the older woman doesn't like at all, leading to dark consequences.

The iconic mask inspired the design of the demon in The Exorcist. Also, the film is named after creatures in Japanese folklore, which you can find here.

Onibaba provides examples of:

  • Becoming the Mask: Literally, when Kichi's mother-in-law's attempt to scare her backfires.
  • Black Widow: Kichi's mother.
  • Catapult Nightmare: The young woman has a dream of the demon.
  • Clingy Costume: After a while, the mask doesn't want to come off.
  • Cool Mask: The mysterious samurai Kichi's mother-in-law leads through the susuki grass wears one of these, supposedly to protect his handsome face.
  • Crapsack World: The peasants are trying to survive while surrounded by armies who destroy their fields, take their crops, steal their daughters, conscript their sons, and where wandering deserters haunt the roads.
  • Creepy Crows: Are there crows hanging out by the hole where the women throw soldiers' corpses? Of course there are. Later Hachi sees them flying up out of the hole after presumably snacking on what's at the bottom.
  • Dangerous Deserter: Groups of them pass through regularly, and they're often hungry. Hachi, himself is one of them, despite being somewhat more sympathetic than the norm, he is still a desperate, untrustworthy criminal.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: The older woman fondles her breasts and then humps a tree after watching the younger woman have sex with Hachi.
  • Demonic Possession: Or is it?
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The random burglar, or whoever, who shows up at Hachi's hut out of nowhere, and kills Hachi when Hachi returns.
  • Dramatic Unmask: The older woman finally manages to yank the mask off the samurai's face, only to find that he is badly deformed. At the end, after the younger woman resorts to whacking the mask off the older woman's face with a mallet, she is horribly deformed as well.
  • Evil Mask: The mask eventually leaves its wearers horribly mangled, and may turn them into demons.
  • Fanservice: Multiple shots of both women topless in their hut, sex scenes between the young woman and Hachi, Hachi clad only in a loincloth, Hachi and the young woman running naked through the grass and rice fields. This was one of the first movies in Japanese history to have significant nudity.
  • Fanservice Extra: Ushi the fence has a naked lady lounging around in his dirty little cave.
  • Ghostly Glide: OK, so the older woman is using the mask to scare the younger woman, but that doesn't really explain how she glides like that.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: All of the main characters survive by killing passing soldiers and selling their weapons and armor to a guy who sells it back to passing armies. This would be pretty "black," but it's clear that the endless wars are to blame for reducing the characters to this almost animalistic existence.
  • Hollywood Darkness: There must be a full moon every night, because it's always pretty well lit, with beams of light on the two women in their hut as they sleep. There's even a spotlight on the Pit Trap in the final scene.
  • Lovable Rogue: Hachi (at least, the girl seems to think so).
  • Kick the Dog: Or eat the dog, if you're two peasant women on the ragged edge of starvation.
  • Meadow Run: The young woman likes to go dashing through the tall grass to Hachi's hut for sex. Later the two engage in a nude Meadow Run through the grass and the rice paddies.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Kichi's mother makes a pass at Hachi. It's equal part lust and fear of Hachi and the younger woman pairing off and leaving her behind.
  • No Name Given: The woman and her daughter-in-law are never named.
  • Not Worth Killing: When the samurai tells the woman to show him the road to Kyoto, she says that he'll kill her after she does. He asks what the point of that could possibly be.
  • Pit Trap: Deviously hidden in the high grass.
  • Repeat Cut: The final shot of the older woman's ghastly face as she leaps over the Pit Trap is repeated six times, as she screams that she's not a demon, before the film cuts to black.
  • Ronin: The creepy mask guy is a samurai who fled after his army was defeated in battle.
  • Skunk Stripe: Appropriately, the murderous older woman sports one of these.
  • Untranslated Title: "Demon Hag", actually a Japanese myth.