Onibaba (1964)

onibaba poster 1964 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Creepy and atmospheric

Story is solid but could develop more

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Onibaba

Studio:  Kindai Eiga Kyokai/Tokyo Eiga Co Ltd.

Genre(s):  Drama/Horror

Release Date(s):  November 21, 1964 (Japan)/February 4, 1965 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

onibaba jitsuko yoshimura nobuko otowa

It’s hard out there for a couple of ladies

A young daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) and her mother-in-law (Nobuko Otowa) have been surviving by killing and robbing bandits and army deserters that happen to pass through the fields and marshes surrounding their homes.  When the girl finds she has been widowed, she begins to see another soldier named Hachi (Kei Satō), the older woman objects…and the younger woman finds she is being haunted by a demon who seems to want to destroy her.

Written and directed by Kaneto Shindo, Onibaba (鬼婆 aka Demon Hag) is a Japanese jidaigeki (aka period) film.  The film The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #226).

I love horror, and I’m always looking for different types of horror.  While Onibaba is a period piece, it is also considered a horror film by many…and the story is rather horrific.

onibaba demon mask

The Onibaba is coming for you!!!

Despite being an original story, it comes off as a kind of moral fable of jealousy and survival.  The woman are survivors, but the lowest type of survivors that live off those who are also bottom feeders.  The older woman isn’t respecting the memory of her son as she pretends to be, but is ultimately jealous of the youth of the younger woman…and her jealousy corrupts her (which ties into the folklore of the Onibaba).

Nobuko Otowa gets the obviously juicier role as the older woman who is past her prime and angry about it.  She’s trapped in a life that she doesn’t want but also doesn’t want the younger woman played by Jitsuko Yoshimura to be happy…since she isn’t happy.  Yoshimura and Otowa don’t have a ton of personality, but the movie is kind of superficially about them anyway…it is more the idea of them.

onibaba ending mask cracked nobuko otowa

Ok…I admit it…not my best plan

The visuals of the film are great.  You have the mystery of the long grass fields, but you also have the jarring and creepy look of the Onibaba demon mask.  Like the famous Twilight Zone episode “The Masks”, it feels like the mask reflects the illness and the sickness of the wearer.  I kind of wish that like in The Twilight Zone episode that the older woman’s face had become the demon mask when the mask is finally removed (in a painful scene), but the symbolism might have been too head on.

Onibaba is a creepy morality tale of the dangers of aging and jealousy.  The spirit of the Onibaba doesn’t corrupt but latches on to the corrupted people that let it in.  The ending of the movie is kind of vague with the older woman pursuing the younger woman through the grass toward their pit trap…the younger woman clears the trap, but it is unknown if the older woman makes it or falls…but the youth is always ultimately caught by the passage of time.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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