An elder ronin samurai arrives at a feudal lord's home and requests an honorable place to commit suicide. But when the ronin inquires about a younger samurai who arrived before him things take an unexpected turn.
The mother of a feudal lord's only heir is kidnapped away from her husband by the lord. The husband and his samurai father must decide whether to accept the unjust decision, or risk death to get her back.
This film contains four distinct, separate stories. "Black Hair": A poor samurai who divorces his true love to marry for money, but finds the marriage disastrous and returns to his old wife, only to discover something eerie about her. "The Woman in the Snow": Stranded in a snowstorm, a woodcutter meets an icy spirit in the form of a woman spares his life on the condition that he never tell anyone about her. A decade later he forgets his promise. "Hoichi the Earless": Hoichi is a blind musician, living in a monastery who sings so well that a ghostly imperial court commands him to perform the epic ballad of their death battle for them. But the ghosts are draining away his life, and the monks set out to protect him by writing a holy mantra over his body to make him invisible to the ghosts. But they've forgotten something. "In a Cup of Tea": a writer tells the story of a man who keep seeing a mysterious face reflected in his cup of tea. Written by
Kwaidan is one of the great underappreciated films: no one's heard of it, but you'll never, ever forget it once you've seen it. Parts of it may seem slow to some viewers, and most of the stories are extremely predictable, but I have to say this is one of the most beautiful, haunting movies I've ever seen.
Of all the stories I prefer "Black Hair," the first one. Though a rather pointless horseback archery scene just slows it down, it's by far the scariest and most nightmare-worthy of the stories, using sound to incredibly chilling effect. There's more terror in the last minute of this segment than in all three Scream movies put together. Trust me, if you consider yourself a serious fan of horror cinema, you have to see this.
The second story, "The Woman of the Snow," is good, though I wish it ended more like "Black Hair" (you'll see what I mean). "Hoichi the Earless," with its jaw-dropping sea battle sequence, is by far the biggest and most popular of the stories. It's also the most influential, with its main premise prominently re-used in Conan the Barbarian. The film ends with "In a Cup of Tea." This is the only story that doesn't completely telegraph its ending, and coming after three utterly predictable stories, its complexity is a bit unexpected and disorienting. Certainly it's as creepy and beautiful as the rest of the film, but I have to admit I don't really understand it.
Being a tremendous fan of elegant, understated horror movies, as well as a student of Japanese culture, I consider this film one of my all-time favorites. Granted, some viewers may be turned off by the leisurely pace and the theatrical, intentionally unrealistic sets. But this is undeniably a beautiful and chilling film, absolutely perfect to watch late at night, alone, in the dark.
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