Kwaidan (1964) Director Masaki Kobayashi tells four classic Japanese ghost stories in this widely acclaimed anthology. Most of it is slow, and as haunted twists go, nothing too hard to figure out, but the color and the art direction is fantastic. In The Black Hair, a samurai leaves his wife and their life of poverty to marry in to a prominent family. After years in his new loveless marriage, he realizes that he has done wrong to his first wife and returns to her. Things are not the same when he arrives. In The Woman of the Snow, two fishermen are caught in a horrible blizzard. In what he thought may have been a near death hallucination, the younger of the two men witnesses a beautiful woman steal the life from his colleague, and just before dealing him the same fate, decides to spare his young life, provided he never utter a word of what he saw on this night. Ten years pass and the young man has been blessed with a beautiful wife and children. Why he decided to reminisce about the details of that dreadful night that almost took his life, I do not know, but it was a mistake.
The third and by far the best story is Hoichi the Earless. The story begins with the epic telling of The Tale of the Heike, an ancient story of two samurai clans who fought to the death in a deciding battle that took place in boats in the ocean. When defeat was certain for the losing clan, the child emperor was thrown in to the ocean by his governess rather than face the sword of his enemies, and his followers willfully did the same. The battle scenes were spectacular. Hundreds of years later, a young, blind minstrel named Hoichi who is trained to perform the 100+ songs, hymns and chants of the aforementioned tale, joins a temple to work with a friendly priest. A samurai visits him late at night and insists that he accompany him to perform for his master, a nobleman who will not be turned down. He does so, and the samurai returns every night to bring Hoichi back for an encore performance. Hoichi was told not to tell where he has been going night after night, so the priest has his associates follow him, and they find that the poor, blind minstrel was not playing for the audience he thought he was. In a great visual, Hoichi’s body is painted from head to toe in religious text for his protection, and what follows is pretty eerie.
Finally, a narrator explains that many Japanese folk tales are incomplete for some reason or another and the film’s fourth entry is just that, a story with an abrupt ending. In a Cup of Tea, a nobleman sees the reflection of a man in a cup and then is visited by the man, in the form of a ghost for a sword fight. Again, lots of great visuals in this film, but see it mainly for Hoichi the Earless, the standout segment.