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Onibaba [Masters of Cinema][UK] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
  • Audio Codec: Japanese LPCM 2.0 Mono (48kHz/16-bit)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Subtitles Color: White
  • Region: B (Region-Locked)
  • Certification: 15
  • Run Time: 103 Mins.
  • Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
  • Studio: Eureka Entertainment (Masters of Cinema)
  • Blu-ray Release Date: January 25, 2013
  • RRP: £20.42

Overall
[Rating:4.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:5/5]

Inspired by a Buddhist tale of a demon hag (the literal translation of the title’s kanji), Shindō Kaneto’s 1964 film Onibaba (鬼婆) is one adapted from a centuries old Buddhist tale. It is one of dichotomies, a juxtaposition of sex and violence, of love and lust, of the spiritual and the physical. It’s a visceral tale, yet one that is also visually stimulating and rife with metaphor and symbolism.

Set during Japan’s Sengoku (戦国時代) or Warring States Period when the country was in a constant state of civil war between battling shogunates, the film focuses in on an older woman (Otowa Nobuko) and her young daughter-in-law (Yoshimura Jitsuko; Pigs & Battleships; The Insect Woman) whom we meet as they set upon two weary soldiers who have made their way back from war and find themselves in the tall leaves of suski grass looking for rest. But rest they will not have; they are ambushed by the ice-cold mother and daughter team who kill them and pick their armor and supplies for sale to a local subterranean black market thug. It’s how they survive in these harsh times. Later, as the pair are sitting down to a hot meal of millet, they are surprised when they are interrupted by Hachi (Satô Kei). Recently escaped from war himself and starving, Hachi bursts in looking for food and brings the women bad news — their son and husband was killed. His return sets off a series of events that will have dire consequences, upsetting the balance in the partnership between the two women. As he begins to woo the young woman away with his sexual advances and, despite the older woman’s warnings, eventually wins her over, the mother-in-law embarks on a plan to scare her away from Hachi with tales of hell and demons. Little does she realize that her ploy just might leave her a demon in reality as punishment for her deviousness.

With its nearly claustrophobic filming style, lingering close-ups, seething sexuality, undulating shots of tall susuki grass fields that stand as obvious sexual metaphors, Onibaba is at once a thriller, ghost story, and erotic allegory on the perils of lust. The film was groundbreaking for its time in its use of overt sexuality, its blend of sensual and spiritual themes, and the heightened reality of its cinematography. It laid the groundwork in Japan’s film industry for films to come such as Ôshima Nagisa’s In the Realm of the Senses, and continues to stand as one of the most eloquent and unique films in cinematic history.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

This is a beautiful transfer licensed from Toho that arrives in an AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series. Apart from what looks to be some blown out whites on occasion, possibly intentionally done by the filmmaker, the image here is practically flawless. Grain structure is so finely layered yet natural in appearance, detail in close-ups is astounding, and the nuance in darker areas is good, with only some minor issues with crush that is, again, a consequence of the noir-ish filming style.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4/5]

This is a fine audio monaural audio presentation in LPCM 2.0 (48kHz/16-bit) with surprisingly good dynamic range and, despite some unavoidable crackle in some of the louder dialogue passages, has fairly clean dialogue. The lows are also somewhat extended, within reason, given the age of the film and recording techniques and equipment of the day.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:4/5]

Eureka gives us plenty of material apposite to the film, including a much appreciated 2000 commentary by actors Satô Kei and Yoshimura Jitsuko (with English subtitles) and 36-page booklet with essays and variation on the original Buddhist tale from which the film draws its inspiration. This things all go a long way in helping to obtain a much deeper understanding of the film.

The Supplements:

  • Alex Cox Introduction (1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:06:18)
  • Commentary – Recorded in Japan in 2000. It features director Shindō Kaneto and actors Satô Kei and Yoshimura Jitsuko.
  • On-Set Footage (1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:38:02)– This Super-8mm black & white and colour footage was shot by the actor Satô Kei (Hachi) during the filming of Onibaba in the summer of 1964.
  • Original Trailer (2.35:1; 1080p/24)
  • Booklet: 36-page booklet contains essays, “Shindō’s Onibaba” by Doug Cummings (2005), “Waving Susuki Fields” by Shindō Kaneto (2004), a reprint of an adaptation of the Buddhist fable that inspired Shindō, “A Mask With Flesh Scared a Wife”, and a 1972 interview with Shindō Kaneto in addition to rare archival photos film and disc credits and information on viewing the film.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4.5/5]

A beautiful vision of eroticism, sensuality, violence, vengeance, horror, and spirituality, Shindō’s Onibaba is a film that must be experienced. This wonderful edition from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series seems a perfect way to do it for any cinephile.

Additional Screen Captures

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Overall
[Rating:4.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]



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