Japan-O-Ween: ONIBABA (1964)
This month has been challenging for me. I've been stepping out of my comfort zone and watching new to me films that I know may trigger or disturb me. I do this because I have chosen them carefully for their artistic contributions, cultural relevancy and how they will help me explore my heritage and sense of self.
There have been a couple times that I have almost shut off a film I started watching. At one point, I messaged a friend and asked advice on how to know when have you reached your boundary. We discussed the importance of the journey of the film and having faith in the director's intention. Something my friend said stuck with me. "Ultimately, you are the boss of you." It sounds so simple. There's a lot of power in it though. Yes, it's MY choice if I want to shut off this movie, and it is no one else's business to judge. There's another way to look at it. If I'm my own boss, then what do I expect and want of myself. It's a question I asked myself tonight repeatedly as I watched ONIBABA (1964). Why did I choose this film, and why is it important for me to finish watching it even though it is making me stressed and extremely uncomfortable? The answer is that this experience will help me grow as a person. I want to stretch and test my emotional strength as well as better understand and empathize with Post War Japanese culture. So, I fought my comfort zone. I decided not to turn off this film even though there were a couple scenes that made me want to vomit, and my heart felt like it was falling into a pit of despair.
ONIBABA is beautiful in the way that humans surviving the human condition is both a brutal punishment yet filled with fleeting moments of ethereal grace. Everyone is a victim. This film hurt me as a human being because it made me think about the demons that reside in all of us.
The war setting of this film filled me with devastating sadness to know that this and much worse has been a reality as long as man has existed. Director Kaneto Shindo, who also directed KURONEKO, does emotional horror unlike anyone other director I've watched. Just as with KURONEKO, there is deliberate coldness. The emotional vacuum that merely trying to survive creates amplifies the few moments of humanity that exist within the film. I know why this film in particular affected me on deeper level. It awoke in me the same survival instincts and feelings in which my CPTSD was created. I am glad I willed myself to finish the movie. I am glad I had faith that Shindo would make the film journey worth it. But, this is the last new to me film I will be watching for Japan-O-Ween. My heart is broken, and I am no longer able to maintain the emotional labor watching these films has put me through.
There are a few other notes that I would like to mention for ONIBABA. The third act is exemplary in execution and absolutely vital to understanding the message and brilliance of this film. Had I ended my viewing prematurely, I would've walked away missing a crucial piece of the story, which was the empathy of agony.
Again like KURONEKO, Shindo uses drum scoring to imitate our hearts in both the tension, angst, passion, and fear. I have no words for his mastery in scoring paired to his films. It is something you need to experience on your own.
I believe with all of my heart and soul that this is an important film. At some point, I wish everyone would see it. When they should see it in their lives is the hard part though. It's heavy. You won't feel good. But you'll be a better person for watching it.