Why some film industry executives were intent on translating Japanese Ghosho Heinsosuke’s film Osorezan no onna as An Innocent Witch (US distributors called it, more proper, Woman of Mount Osore, although Criterion has reissued it with the more melodramatic title), I don’t comprehend. Certainly, the young woman Ayako (Jitsuk Yoshimura) is forced into a position through the conditions of her familial inheritance that might seem to the small-minded citizens of the town in she works that could make her appear as a femme fetal, but it is never clear that anyone in this film perceives her as a true witch—except perhaps for the punishing shaman at the end of the film, who determines to beat her to death in the process of purging her evil spirits.
Yet the film does begin—after its briefly travelogue-like explanation of Mount Osore, one of the three holy mountains of Japan, about which, we quickly learn, it is believed the souls of the dead gather (critic Gwilym Jones also explained that this mountain is also perceived as “the reputed entrance to Hell”)—along with Sei Ikeno’s score of brass, drums, and cymbals—all suggest a very dark view of what is about to happen. With the appearance of Ayako’s aged mother, desperate to once again make contact with her dead daughter, we realize her guilt, and we do perceive that this is going to be a work about some unholy doings.
In punishment for now having done away with the male lineage of the Yamamura family, Ayako, incorporated into the system itself, demands that she be beaten by the shaman to rid her of her demons, a visually horrifying scene wherein the he literally beats her to death before reassuring her mother that she will soon awaken. Just as Yamamura has reassured her during his rape of the young girl, so now does this exorcist deny his own actions.