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Japan 1964
Directed by
Masaki Kobayashi
175 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Masaki Kobayashi’s visually stunning film which was awarded the Jury Special Prize at Cannes in 1965, uses the stories of Lafcadio Hearn, an American writer who married into a samurai family, as source material. Justly described in the trailer as “a poem in the grand style”, it is made up of four thematically connected short stories about the supernatural.

The first story, The Black Hair, is about a down-on-his-luck samurai (Rentaro Mikuni), who abandons his devoted peasant wife (Michiyo Aratama) to marry a rich woman only to be wracked with guilt. The Woman of the Snow tells the story of young woodcutter (Tatsuya Nakadai) who encounters a wraith whilst stranded during a blizzard. The longest and most complex is, Hoichi, the Earless which tells of the samurai sea battle between the Heike and Genji clans and Hoichi (Katsuo Nakamura), a young blind monk in training, who plays the biwa (a four stringed lute) and sings the traditional songs about the battle. Visually it marvellously interweaves a painting of the famous battle and stylized reenactments with the monk's own story. The final story, In a Cup of Tea is a more conventional Poe-like tale of other-worldly possession and is more schematic narratively.

Fans of traditional Japanese visual aesthetics will be well-rewarded by this superbly-crafted film with its seductive set design and skilfull cinematography, although at nearly three hours it is perhaps a little too much for a single sitting.




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