Kaidan are the traditional ghost and horror stories of the Edo period in Japan. Kaidanshu were originally based on older Buddhist stories of a didactic, educational nature, although the moral lessons soon gave way to the demand for strange and gruesome stories. When the medium of fil became available, it was only natural that kaidanshu found a place there. Our films for October include some of these, ancestor’s of modern Japanese films such as Ju-on and Ring. To distinguish between the modern and the traditional, the modern would more likely be labeled by the katakana horā (ホラー, “horror”) or the standard Japanese kowai hanashi (怖い話, “scary story”)
Ugetsu Monogatari – Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu is based on two kaidanshu stories from Ueda Akinari’s Ugetsu monogatari (Tale of the Rain and Moon, 1776 CE). As Mizoguchi adapted Akinari, Akinari adapted his stories from earlier Buddhist sources. The themes of the film regarding greed, karmic retribution, the intangibility of memory, and the influence of the dead on the living are integral components to Buddhist mythology. Two brothers, one consumed by greed, the other by envy. In a time when the land is savaged by marauding armies, they risk their families and their lives to pursue their obsessions and reap the consequences.
Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan – Tōkaidō Yotsuya kaidan (東海道四谷怪談) (translation: Ghost Story of Yotsuya in Tōkaidō) is a 1959 film, directed by Nobuo Nakagawa and based on the 19th century Japanese kabuki play by Nanboku Tsuruya titled Yotsuya Kaidan. It is also known as The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959) in film reference sources. The English-subtitled print runs 76 minutes. The film was in Eastman Color and Shintoho-Scope, and is considered by many critics to be the best of the myriad adaptations of the Yotsuya Ghost Legend.
The film falls in the trend of Japanese horror films throughout the 1950s and 1960s in which greed commonly leads to murder and extramarital affairs, many involving samurai characters. In this case, ruthless samurai Iemon Tamiya wants to marry Oiwa and when her father refuses, Iemon kills him and disposes of the body with assistance of Naosuke. Later, tiring of his wife and wishing to marry the heiress Ume Itō, Iemon plots to murder his wife by mixing a poison into her tea and also killing her admirer Takuetsu. Her health deteriorates into a slow agonizing death. The ghosts of Oiwa and Takuetsu appear and take vengeance on Iemon and his new wife.
Kwaidan – Kwaidan (怪談 Kaidan, literally “ghost stories”) is a 1965 Japanese anthology horror film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. It is based on stories from Lafcadio Hearn’s collections of Japanese folk tales, mainly Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, for which it is named. The film consists of four separate and unrelated stories. Kwaidan is an archaic transliteration of Kaidan, meaning ‘ghost story’. It won the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. The four tales are firstly, “The Black Hair.” It’s the story of a callous samurai who leaves his wife for the daughter of an aristocrat who can give him more money and a better social position. When the samurai begins pining for his old wife and their simpler life, he should have remembered from some things there is no going back. The next is “The Woman of the Snow” in which a woodcutter has an encounter with a yuki-onna, an ice ghost, who freezes men to death and bleeds them dry. The third is “Hoichi the Earless”, about a blind biwa player who becomes renowned for his version of “The Tale of the Heike,” an epic poem that was traditionally sung. Word of his version reaches the underworld, and the principles of the original battle arrange a command performance. Finally, there is “A Cup of Tea” a story within a story about a samurai who starts seeing a ghostly reflection whenever he sees water.
Botan Dōrō (牡丹燈籠 The Peony Lantern) is a Japanese ghost story (kaidan) that is both romantic and horrific; it is one of the most famous kaidan in Japan. The plot involves sex with the dead and the consequences of loving a ghost. It is sometimes known as Kaidan Botan Dōrō (怪談牡丹灯籠 Tales of the Peony Lantern), based on the kabuki version of the story; this title is commonly used in translation.
Boton Dōrō is one of the first Japanese ghost stories to be put to film, with a silent version in 1910.The orginal, version Otoggi Boko, was for hand puppets, then later versions came along, including on for kabuki theater. Notable is Satsuo Yamamoto’s 1968 version, filmed for Daiei Studios. It is variously known as Bride from Hell, Haunted Lantern, Ghost Beauty, My Bride is a Ghost, Bride from Hades, or Peony Lanterns. Yamamoto’s film roughly follows the Otogi Boko version of the story, establishing protagonist Hagiwara Shinzaburo as a teacher who flees an unwanted marriage with his brother’s widow & lives quietly some distance from his family. The usual encounter with Otsuyu follows, although the inevitable consequence is treated as a happy ending or at worst bittersweet since they are united beyond the grave & need never again be lonesome.