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Film / Kwaidan

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A 1964 film directed by Masaki Kobayashi, based on the Japanese ghost stories collected and translated by Lafcadio Hearn. The spelling "kwaidan" for "ghost story" is deliberately old-fashioned; the current romanization would be "kaidan."

The film is an anthology of four unrelated stories.

  • "Black Hair": A samurai divorces his poor but honest weaver wife to marry the daughter of a prominent family and thus advance his position.
  • "The Woman of the Snow": A woodcutter (Tatsuya Nakadai) encounters the Yuki-onna spirit and is spared on the condition that he tell no one of his experience.
  • "Earless Ho'ichi": A blind musician who specializes in the historical saga The Tale of the Heike has to make a command performance.
  • "In a Cup of Tea": An unfinished story about a samurai who sees someone else's reflection, and a possible reason the story was unfinished.

Kwaidan won a special jury prize at Cannes in 1965 and received a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination.

Tropes seen in this film include:

  • Adaptation Expansion: "Earless Ho'ichi" begins with a retelling of the final Genji-Heike battle, only alluded to in the literary version.
  • An Ice Person: The Yuki-onna, who is the personification of freezing to death.
  • Anthology Film: Four horror stories.
  • Bed Mate Reveal: In "Black Hair," the samurai finally returns home to his former wife, and they share a night of passion. The next morning, he awakens to find that he's lying next to a long-decayed corpse.
  • Bilingual Bonus: You might be able to guess the ending of 'The Woman of the Snow" anyway, but if you know that "Yuki"—the name of the woodcutter's wife—is the Japanese for "snow", you'll definitely guess the ending.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: The ending of “Earless Ho’ichi.” Ho’ichi has lost his outer ears and gone through a traumatic experience... but his story makes him famous, he ends up becoming a wealthy singer, and more importantly for him, he has a purpose in life, singing to honor the dead, and hopefully giving them some measure of peace. This is in marked contrast to the other three stories, each of which has a decidedly Downer Ending.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Yuki-onna seems to truly love the woodcutter and the family she made with him. However, Minokichi's promise to never reveal her existence takes priority over everything else. The fact that he's revealing her existence to herself doesn't matter.
  • Bookends: The man's expression as he looks at the reflection at the end of "In a Cup of Tea" echoes that of the samurai at the end of "Black Hair."
  • Dutch Angle: Used for most of the final few moments of "Black Hair", after the samurai realizes that his wife is actually a dessicated corpse.
  • Forbidden Fruit: The woodcutter must tell no one of his encounter with the yuki-onna, not even his wife. Eventually, he feels compelled to do it.
  • Foregone Conclusion: "Earless Ho'ichi."
  • Giant Eye of Doom: In "The Woman of the Snow", a giant eye, presumably a manifestation of the yuki-onna, appears and is watching the woodcutters as they stagger through the blizzard.
  • Gold Digger: The samurai in "Black Hair" is a male variant: he abandons his first wife to marry a woman who can give him access to more wealth and power.
  • Interspecies Romance: Or so the woodcutter discovers when his loving wife reveals herself as the yuki-onna.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The samurai in "Black Hair" eventually realizes his mistake in abandoning his first wife. However, by the time he finally returns, its far far too late.
  • No Ending: The samurai's story in "In a Cup of Tea.'
  • Our Ghosts Are Different
  • Our Souls Are Different: "In a Cup of Tea."
  • Prehensile Hair: The samurai in "Black Hair" is obsessed with his former wife's hair, so it shouldn't come as a shock that he sees the hair coming after him at the end of the episode.
  • Protective Charm: Hoichi's master writes a magic inscription all over every inch of his body, which makes him invisible to the spirit of the dead warriror. Unfortunately, the master forgets Hoichi's ears.
  • Rule of Three: "In a Cup of Tea", the samurai tosses away the water when he sees the stranger's reflection twice, but the third time he drinks.
  • Snow Means Death: It certainly does when you're meeting a yuki-onna snow demon.
  • Vengeful Ghost: All of them. Despite some having a benign appearance at first, the spirits in these stories are not friendly.
  • Yuki-onna: The title character of "The Woman of the Snow", a snow demon who takes mercy on a young woodcutter.


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