Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hoichi, the Earless

Kaidan (1964) movie
aka Kwaidan

I watched the third of four Japanese ghost stories.

Hoichi, the Earless
with a whole cast of ghosts

Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Screenplay: Yoko Mizuki
Based on book by: Lafcadio Hearn

Description from the amazon:
The blind Hoichi lives in a temple and magnificently plays his biwa and tells the sea battle of Dan-No-Ura between the clans of Genji and Heike. One night he is invited to perform his skills to a rich family and their guests in their house.

My thoughts:
In a word: restless

So far, my favorite of the 4 stories -- still have to watch the fourth.

Hoichi, the Earless is an artsy presentation. The others are too, but this one moreso. The hubby thought it dragged in the beginning and went to bed. But, I thought the pacing was just right.

There is a story within a story in this one that is told partly by song. Hoichi sings with his biwa to tell the tale of two clans at war. For me, this was the specialness of the film. Like the ghosts, I was drawn to Hoichi and his mad skills with the biwa.

I did not know what a biwa instrument was so I've included a picture below in case you don't know either.

I also included a youtube video of biwa music so you can get an idea of how it sounds. While there are a couple Hoichi, the Earless renditions on youtube that people have played, I felt the movie version was the best.

Instead, I give you a modern piece below to treat your ears.

Along with the singing, the battle-at-sea scene cuts back and forth from live action to painting renditions. Very cool. Kinda like how some Japanese movies cut to manga-anime scenes.

As mentioned above, there is a whole cast of ghosts. Grim ghosts. Their tableau scenes are pretty effective in giving off the feeling of unrest and unhappiness in the afterlife.

Why does Hoichi (pictured above) have Japanese writing on his face? Actually, the writing is all over his body except for... can you guess what was missed?

The writing was done to protect Hoichi from the ghosts - a kind of cloaking device. Again, another cool part of the movie.

Kaidan tales includes:
Black Hair - my review
Woman in the Snow - my review
Hoichi, the Earless
In A Cup Of Tea - my review

Blogosphere bit:

The biwa is a Japanese short-necked fretted lute, and a close variant of the Chinese pipa. The biwa is the chosen instrument of Benten, goddess of music, eloquence, poetry, and education in Japanese Shinto. -per Wikipedia

*source of biwa

A modern piece called, Nagare (Flow), composed and played by Obakedake on 5-string modern Satsuma biwa.

*part of my Hello Japan! October challenge which is now done, but because Kaidan has four stories I wanted to continue with the reviews of the remaining two


  1. I happen to be blogging about Kwaidan at the same time as you, which fortunately led me to your series of posts on the movie. I like the extra information you added about the biwa, especially the youtube clip. Mari Uehara recorded an excellent version of The Tale of Heike, which is just as powerful as the one in Kwaidan.

  2. Reading your posts about the movie, Kwaidan, have made me very eager to finally watch it for myself. This is one of the stories in the book that stood out for me so I'm glad to hear that you particularly enjoyed it.


Imagination Designs
Images from: Lovelytocu