Kwaidan: A Different Type of Horror (Part II)

Hoichi the Earless is the third story in the film. The longest story out of all the four stories and the most complex to dive in, but artistically on point.  I watched the segment repeatedly, analyzing every scene from the painted red/orange sky to the watermelon.

It starts off with a gloomy song about the last battle fought between the Genji and Heike clan. Three thousands people total fought along the shore of Dan-no-ura.  In the song, it mentions how the Heike clan got defeated.  And thereafter, the sea became haunted for 700 years. To console the dead samurais, a temple was built.  And thus is the beginning of the strange haunted story between Hoichi, the blind musician and the supernatural.

Hoichi plays a musical instrument called biwa. He surpasses his master at reciting the battle’s story. One day, he is called by a spirit to perform at Akamagahara, which is actually a cemetery for the Heike spirits, located near the temple. Hoichi agreed to visit Akamagahara thinking it is an honor to play in front of a high rank.

The next day, a dead body appears on the shore—the villagers blame the sea ghosts for taking the life, and we later find out another ship has sunk on that very same night Hoichi recited the battle story. Apparently when the story is recited, a life on the sea is taken.

Hoichi’s encounter with the dead causes him to become pale. He would sleep during the day and visited Akamagahara at night. The master of the temple and everyone begin to take notice of his disappearance at night and his odd behavior and wonder if they could trust him.

One pouring night, Hoichi left again to Akamagahara. They found Hoichi reciting the last “Battle at Dan-no-ura.” This section is beautifully well pieced in the story. Throughout each disappearance at night, we don’t see Hoichi reciting the battle. It is until the last portion where he is discovered, the recite from the beginning is played.

It is then, the master of the temple confronted Hoichi that he has been lured by a menacing spirit. Soon, it will possess and kill him. In order to save Hoichi from the spirit, scriptures were written all over his body except for his ears. He has been told not to respond to the spirit when it calls for him.  And so, during the evening, just when the spirit is about to call for Hoichi to attend the cemetery, the spirit got angry because he could not find Hoichi but only his ears (the scriptures made his body invisible). The spirits then tore his Hoichi’s ears apart. The strange tale between Hoichi and the supernatural has made him rise to fame to the point that the living lord requested to hear him perform the Heike Tale. Hoichi did not decline. As long he is alive, he will play his biwa with all his soul to mourn those thousands of spirits.

How is this a haunting tale, you might wonder. It’s haunting in the sense that the spirits could never be put to rest without replaying the whole battle at Dan-no-ura over and over and over. For 700 years, the shore where the battle took place between the Genji and Heike clan, has been haunted.

In summary, it’s kind of frightening to know that one can be lured by a spirit without knowing. That alone, sends me chills. I hope when the time come for me to depart from this world, I hope it ends naturally–not sorrowfully like those from the Heike clan.

Kwaidan: A Different Type of Horror (Part I)

What does haunting mean exactly? Does haunting consists of ghosts and terror? Haunting is like a whiff of cigarette smoke lingering in the air which won’t subside, or an ancient ruin that once stood proudly in splendor only to be left abandoned and rotten as time progresses. This is the feeling I get from watching the film. It’s a film comprised of four haunting stories.

The first story is called Black Hair. It’s a tale about a man who abandons poverty by leaving his kind loving wife to gain higher social status. Like most ambitious men, the husband desires to rise the social hierarchy. Unfortunately, when he did achieve his new social status by marrying a woman belonging to a wealthy family, the man realizes that the grass is not always greener on the other side. He found his new wife cold and selfish, which makes him yearns for his former wife. What makes this story so haunting is the regret that the man felt–choosing to abandon real warmth for shallow security. His thoughts of his old wife haunted him to the point his conscience begins to eat him up and eventually break him down. In the end, his unwise decision to abandon his former wife indirectly killed her, leaving her alone to die in poverty. All of these points mentioned are done with few words. There is not a lot of talking. Each frame illustrates these points. It’s beautifully well done.

In contrast to Black Hair, The Woman of the Snow is a tale about a warm but cold wife. Woman can become so cold it can send real winter shock to the spine if we are not attentive ( I am guilty of it sometimes). The story is about a young woodcutter who was in near death from the blizzard cold while attempting to cut woods with his father. The father died from the cold, but the Snow Woman, which he encountered in the shelter, pity the young man. She kept him alive on one condition–to never tell anyone that he has faced the Snow Woman, or else she will kill him. Long story short, a year later, when he recovered, he met a beautiful fair skin woman (Snow Woman) just passing along mysteriously. The woodcutter fell in love with her, and had three children together. One evening, while he was making sandals for the children and for his wife, the woodcutter innocently smile at his wife and told her how he met Snow woman in the shelter on that snowy day. The wife got upset because he has broken the promise to never tell a soul–she got up and attempted to kill him, but couldn’t because they had children together. So she left the children and the husband. It’s a shame that a happy family can get destroyed because of one broken promise. It’s an unfortunate tale that we see quite frequently in couples. Sadly, he spoke wrongly unintentionally, as he meant to compliment her on her beauty.

Note: For this film analysis, I will break it into three posts. It’s a long film which runs about 3 hours. I have a lot to say and writing a long post is not my style.