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.
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.]
Advice to motorcycle outlaws looking to steal a bike: First, don’t rob a cyclist with a video camera mounted on his helmet so the entire world knows what you and your crime partner look and sound like. Second, don’t commit this type of crime in broad daylight — feet away from a cop with a very loud gun.
The draft print cover of Noir Nation No. 3. The print version should be out in 5 to 10 days in the U.S. and Europe. And a few days after, the rest of the universe. In the meantime, the digital version can be downloaded on Amazon. Click here or on the image above to make the jump.
The much anticipated Noir Nation No. 3 — The India Issue — has hit the Amazon Marketplace. Click here or on the image above to have a look.
The issue contains over thirty entries from some of the very best literary crime fiction writers in the world, among them Suparn Verma, Samrat X, Yaeer Talker, Bianca Bellova, JJ Toner, Richard Godwin, Simon Rowe, Graham Wynd, David Siddell, and Meah Cross; as well as ace contributions from emerging noir writers Alastair Keen, Terrence P. McCauley, Frauke Schuster, Ryan Gattis, Chelsea L. Clemmons, Gila Green, Paul Alexander, Carmen Tudor, and Anthony Pioppi; and established hard-boiled wunderkinds Jonathan Sturak, Ed Lynsky, Mark Mellon, Christopher L. Irvin, and Nik Korpon, The issue also includes essays on noir-related poetry, music, and the visual arts by Atar Hadari, Vicki Gundrum, and Robert Brunet and two works of classic noir: “The Turkish Brothel” by the late Cortright McMeel and “The Perfect Courtesan” by Kshemendra.
Here is snippet from the issue, the introduction by Eddie Vega:
A Search for Beauty, Dark and Brutal
Noir Nation is a search for beauty, dark and brutal. We can hear the initial call in these lines from W.B. Yeats’ masterful poem “Easter 1916”:
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
A terrible beauty is born.
There is a turning away from the light and the banal, the casual comedy, and a turning to the murderous passions and dark depravities of human nature and transgressive political bodies. In real life, such turns result in death, disfigurement, and prison. In literature, we can live and relive the mechanics vicariously and safely through the prism of the imagination. Even Grimm’s Fairy Tales had dark elements which helped children prepare for both the magic of life and its harsh realities. Cheerful weddings are counter-balanced by the cries of funeral birds.
In any case, the very definition of noir varies depending on whom we ask. Many will relate it to U.S. crime films arising from German expressionism, D.O.A., The Big Combo, and The Maltese Falcon, among others—and books by certain writers, such as David Goodis, Georges Simenon, James M. Cain, and, among the more literary set, Celine, and among the more drunken set, Charles Bukowski. There seems to be an effort, coming really from the academy, to classify it according to these 20th Century referents. But there are powerful elements of noir in Gilgamesh, The Cambodian Book of the Dead, The Book of Ecclesiastes, The Book of Job, and the mother of them all, Dante’s Inferno. In the visual arts, it spurts like dark blood through the works of Goya, Caravaggio, and Artemisia Gentileschi—who took vengeance on male figures in her paintings after being raped by her tutor—as well as Theodore Gericault, whose Raft of the Medusa depicts a horrific scene based on an actual historical event where many shipwrecked passengers died and the rest survived by eating the dead bodies. More recently, Edward Hopper, Jack Vettriano, and Peter Illig have moved the subject matter closer to elements familiar to crime pulp: isolation, voyeurism, sex.
But for us the kernel of noir lies in Federico Garcia Lorca’ seminal essay, “Theory and Play of the Duende.”
Duende is the dark goblin spirit that animates the deep song of Flamenco, songs soaked in human misery, and that my mother loved to listen to. It is also the ragged genie that animates artistic and religious expressions about crime and punishment. It is the ax of Raskolnikov and the Necklace of Kali. Lorca wrote that it wouldn’t appear unless it could see the possibility of death and that it loved the edge of the wound.
Lorca argues that there are two angels that animate art, the bright angels and the dark angels. They are both important to art’s creation. But of the two, the dark angels are more interesting. History indicates he is right. For example, Catholic scholars have argued that Dante’s Paradiso is the most important part of his Divine Comedy, a work clearly animated by the bright angels. That may be true. But it is The Inferno, the first part—where evil acts are punished by brutal means—that excites the imagination and that has had the more lasting impact on world literature.
So the definition of noir can be very broad—anything that is dark and/or transgressive—a fact that no doubt annoys some academics who need well-defined categories for their lectures, panel discussions, and articles for scholarly journals. They need a workable definition. Crime Noir, for example, has a more limited scope than simply Noir. With crime noir, there must be a crime or the possibility of one. It can’t just have the dark mood of Ecclesiastes. There must be a violation of the civic or moral law.
On television, The Sopranos, The Wire, Law & Order, and Breaking Bad, are among the most popular TV shows in history. Aesthetically, many crime films and television shows have a noirish feel, which they create not only with deft use of shadows but also with the use of cool light that relies on the blue spectrum (the original CSI with William Peterson offers good examples of these elements). Many of these shows are available internationally.
But we don’t see this as an exclusively U.S. phenomenon. Crime noir has ancient and aboriginal roots in Japan, India, Spain, Mexico, Cambodia, indeed just about every country in the world. What we are seeing today is an exquisite confluence of all these cultural rivers forming an Amazon of Noir. Its most potent stream comes from India and her large cities, Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai.
With over 1.2 billion residents, India is not only the world’s most copious producer of crime pulp, it is also its hungriest consumer. Even in her chirpy feel-good Bollywood films, guns and gangsters vie with the singing and the dancing. Although the work of many Indian writers of crime noir are not to be found in fashionable bookstores—next to the hardcover books of Jhumpa Lahiri, Salmon Rushdie, and Vikram Seth—they are in much more popular spots: the stalls and book carts of A H Wheeler & Co found among the 8,000 railway stations that serve India’s 25 million daily commuters riding 71,000 miles of uneventful track. That is India’s open secret: crime novels stay close to their devouring readers. This needs commemorating.
Hence Noir Nation No. 3: The India Issue. Dark, brutal, and beautiful to the eye that loves the shadows—where the dark angels flock.