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 a somewhat difficult work. Its four stories, with the exception of one, are not very involving and they can even become a little boring in their narrative. They are not very frightening, although they all attain a level of creepiness. Except for "Hoichi, the Earless," one of the most stunning tales I've ever experienced in a film, you can see the ending coming from a long ways away (the final episode, "In a Cup of Tea," is a little different, in that it has no ending, per se; the ending the filmmakers do come up with is a little disappointing).
The reason that this film is a masterpiece is its masterful composition. I think I have heard that Kobayashi was a painter. Even if I just made that up, it would fit. The colors are godly. Any frame of the film is a masterful painting. If you are interested in composition and cinematography in film, this is the one to see. If you only care about narrative, read books. Don't watch films. But at least see "Hoichi the Earless" for its composition and story. I suggest buying the Criterion released DVD. It is one of the cheaper DVDs of that company. And you don't have to watch the four stories in succession. If you watch them apart, and they could very easily be watched apart, the boredom factor will fade from existence.
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