February 5, 1965 [Onibaba, Woman in the Dunes]

I don't know enough about Japan to ask this question correctly--should I wonder what has happened or what is happening to Japan for such madness in their cinema? Not that madness knows boundaries--the American thriller bares a grin as big as Bette Davis', cackling as we ask her whatever happened to Baby Jane--while Brando angst and Frankie Avalon fun surf side by side.

But I keep seeing beautiful terrors in Japanese cinema, the open countryside a dark hole, as in Onibaba, where hapless fleeing samurai are dispatched by the woman and her would-be mother-in-law, trying to make it through the feudal war without men--as their thighs part and their heads tilt back, ready to feed all appetites. The tall grass sea in which they live ripples like King Kong's fur, invisible hands shaping it--and the Woman in the Dunes waits for the man to fall, a preying insect in another hole--this one of sand, threatening to fill, always demanding care--and the demon-mask in one matches the woman's avid frown in the other, until I can't tell which picture I'm watching, they're all so slippery and awful--with jazz music jittering in the background, and everyone shedding clothes like cicadas' shells, changing into something that wishes it could fly--but trapped in the need to live, at any cost--the human skin discarded for something better at survival.


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