Video of the Day: Onibaba, a must see Samurai film noir


Onibaba, 1964
Director Kaneto Shindo
Director of Photography Kiyomi Kuroda
Art Director Kaneto Shindo
Cast: Nobuko Otowa as Older woman, Jitsuko Yoshimura as Younger woman, Kei Satō as Hachi, Taiji Tonoyama as Ushi, Jūkichi Uno as the masked warrior

While it cruises closely along the borders of horror, though at times dangerously so, Onibaba (The Demon Woman) remains the sort of realistic noir we relish at Noir Nation. Nevertheless, given the Gothic horror elements, it is not surprising that the influence of the film is most easily seen in the horror film genre. For example, the mask removal scene (the second of two in the film) inspired the look of the demon in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, as well as the kinetic energy of the final exorcism scene.

Although tabled by some critics variably as a period piece and an erotic-horror, the exploration of light and shadow, a minimalist (low budget) approach to settings and props, and a highly expressionistic approach to storytelling, place it in the stylistic tradition of the earlier films produced in Hollywood by expat German filmmakers (click here to read more abut the highly influential German expressionists). The use of chiaroscuro, intense contrasts, hard shadows, and ample use of the eye light (and snoot) are among the many dead giveaways.

scene still onibaba mask and womanFor any lover of film noir, crime noir, or anyone interested in the Asian roots of Western horror films, Onibaba is a must-see master work.

Want a free ticket to see the film? Here it is:

A new DVD of the film, loaded with extras, interviews with the director and actors, behind the scenes interviews, and other treats, has been released by The Criterion Collection (click here for more info about the DVD and other related videos).

For a quick visual sense of the film’s look and feel, here are some still shots (click on image for a closer look). For more information about the film’s history and plot click here:


[Special Note: The film itself inspired this post. We have no relationship with the filmmakers or The Criterion Collection.]

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Morality Tales? Noir’s Critique of the Changing Roles of Men and Women in Post-War America

Three femme fatalesBy Eve Pierce

The early 1940s saw a sea change in American cinema, one which lasted until the late 1950s. The upbeat, hopeful themes of earlier years faded away and darker stories emerged from the shadows of the nation’s psyche—stories in which the morality of the hero might be as questionable as that of his adversaries, in which no one and nothing could be completely trusted and in which human life and its endeavors were essentially without meaning.

Origins of the Film Noir

Why did the movies which later came to be described as “noirs” emerge during this period? Was it, as is sometimes suggested, the experimentation in that era with low-budget film making techniques—techniques which produced darker images and called for commensurately darker storylines? Was it the influence of the hardboiled fiction of the 1920s and 1930s which provided the source material for many noir adaptations? If so, it may well be that the world-view of hardboiled writers such as Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain—often heavily influenced by their experiences in the First World War—struck a chord with 1940s moviegoers, themselves no strangers to the losses and disillusionments of wartime.

The disillusionment experienced by those returning from war to find society changed—as well as those whose world had been changed by the realization that their loved ones would not return—called for a rethink of many of the old certainties. The American Dream—the belief in an equality of opportunity which allows any American the freedom to attain his or her highest goals—is replaced in the typical film noir with what looks like a kind of bleak nihilism. In the film noir, characters may strive and fail—or they may attain their goals, but be left wondering whether they were really worth the cost of reaching them.

The Femme Fatale: Dangerous. Destructive. Desirable

While the noir protagonist is, more often than not, a man, the film noir classics of the mid and post-war era had an interesting—and complex—relationship with their female characters. This is epitomized in the femme fatale—that alluring, but often deadly force of nature which threatens the hearts, destinies and lives of the men with whom she comes into contact. Portraits of the feminine as both attractive and dangerous must have resonated with many male moviegoers returning home after serving their country. In Europe, servicemen were warned of the dangers of picking up “good time girls” and bringing back diseases. On their return, they discovered a different kind of threat from the women back home. As their part of the war effort, many women had taken on work and learned skills that were traditionally the domain of men. Now, worryingly for men seeking employment, these women were more aware of their abilities and earning power and, moreover, appeared to be less dependent on the support of men than they had been in the past.

three std postersNoirs were not necessarily quick to condemn these strong women. “Mildred Pierce” (1945) is a movie with a strong and sympathetic female protagonist who works hard to overcome abandonment and poverty. In the typical noir, the “traditional” woman is often conspicuously absent, or—alternatively—depicted as so anodyne as to seem laughably unrealistic. Moreover, the noir acknowledges that the femme fatale, this danerous, independent woman with her own, often inscrutable, agenda was the kind of women who had had the strength and tenacity to break free from the confines of such traditional roles. Rejecting the old rules which no longer seemed to work and trying to make sense of the new world were concepts that the moviegoers, men and women might well relate to on the big screen.

Decline of the Noir?

By the 1960s, there was a decline in the number of films noirs being produced. It was a different age, in which people were preoccupied with different challenges and ideas. The nihilism of the noir no longer resonated quite so powerfully with many moviegoers and perhaps filmmakers themselves felt that the film noir had said everything it had to say. However, although noir may have faded back into the shadows, it has never really gone away. The dark movies of the dark wartime and post-war years are still enjoyed and admired today and their influence can be seen in many of today’s movies.


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Music Video of the Day: ‘Stay with Me’ by Akilleez


‘Stay with Me’ by Akilleez (a gangsta form of the most famous gangster of all time Achilles). This music video, produced by Kyle Bailey and John Colby of BxC Studios, has a strong narrative structure, soulful music that makes you think and that you can dance to, and lots of heart.


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Noir Nation releases eBook version of Joseph Trigoboff’s award-winning ‘The Bone Orchard’

bone orchard working copy

Here it is: the final cover of The Bone Orchard (eBook version) by Joseph Trigoboff.

The hardcover version of the book sold over 90,000 copies (and who knows how many paperbacks?). This is the first time it is available in eBook form. For a free preview of the novel, click on the image above or click here. Then once on Amazon, click on the “Look Inside” thumbnail.


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