Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

(vt Kaidan) Japanese movie (1964). Bungei-Ninjin/Toho. Pr Shigeru Watasuke. Dir Masaki Kobayashi. Screenplay Yoko Mizuki. Based on stories by Lafcadio Hearn. Starring: "Black Hair": Michiyo Aratama (First Wife), Rentaro Mikuni (Samurai), Misako Watanabe (Second Wife); "Snow Woman": Keiko Kishi (Oyuki/Snow Woman), Mariko Okada (Minokichi's Mother), Tatsuya Nakadai (Minokichi); "Hoichi the Earless": Katsuo Nakamura (Hoichi); "In a Cup of Tea": Kanemon Nakamura (Kannai), Noboru Nakaya (Shikibu Heinai). 164 mins (US release cut to 125 mins by the omission of "Snow Woman"). Colour.

Four Ghost Stories; in this movie, as in Hearn's tales, Ghosts have physical substance. "Black Hair" is an Allegory of the impossibility of returning to the past to correct one's errors. An impoverished samurai, to improve his lot, divorces his wife and marries a rich girl, but regrets his folly. Years later he returns home to find his first wife and the house just as he left them, and enjoys a passionate reconciliation. By dawn all has decayed, and where she was are only bones and hair. As he flees in terror, his own unnatural youthfulness deserts him. (This tale can be interpreted also as a fantasy of Perception.) In "Snow Woman" two woodcutters, the ancient Mosake and the boy Minokichi, are lost in a blizzard. Sheltering, they are visited in the night by the Vampire Snow Woman, who breathes death into Mosake but spares Minokichi on condition he tells nothing. A year later Minokichi marries the mysterious Oyuki, the Snow Woman's Double. While he ages and they have children, she remains young. One day his memories flood back, and he recounts the tale to her. But "Oyuki" is in fact the Snow Woman ... "Hoichi the Earless", by far K's longest segment, tells how, long ago, two samurai clans fought to the death. Now, blind musician Hoichi is nightly led by a samurai spirit to a ghostly gathering of one of the clans, singing to them the ballad of their defeat. To protect him, priests cover him with sacred writing so that he will appear as a ghost to the ghosts; but they miss his ears, which the samurai spirit tears off. Thereafter Hoichi's vocation is to sing to the Souls of the dead, thereby placating them. In "In a Cup of Tea" an aristocrat's guard, Kannai, sees the face of a samurai, Shikibu Heinai, reflected in the tea he is about to drink; but he drinks it anyway, and so becomes haunted by the samurai's spirit. This last, unfinished tale is framed by a narrative in which Hearn discovers the Story.

K is a stunningly beautiful movie, and its soundtrack is so brilliantly manipulated as to become virtually a part of the spfx. Its first two segments are ponderous but riveting, the latter two more ponderous than riveting; yet the whole has a haunting affect. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.