Before I get into the body of today’s post, I have some news to share. I just signed the contract for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. Admittedly, if you follow both of my blogs, you’ll already have seen this, but it’s pretty exciting and it means edits should start soon.
A few weeks ago, my friend author Emily Devenport, recommended a 1964 movie of Japanese ghost stories to me called Kwaidan. I finally had a chance to watch the movie this past week and I have to say, this is both a fascinating look at Japanese folktales and a look at what makes good horror.
Kwaidan is an anthology film, composed of four tales. “The Black Hair” tells the story of a poor samurai who leaves his wife to marry another for a better position. His first wife literally haunts the samurai until he feels compelled to return home. In “The Woman of the Snow” two woodcutters are stranded in a blizzard and take shelter. A vampire-like woman appears and kills one of the men, then tells the other she’s sparing him as long as he tells no one about her. “Hoichi the Earless” was the longest entry in the film and tells about a blind minstrel who is compelled to play for a long-dead emperor and his court. Finally, “In a Cup of Tea” tells the story of both a samurai and a writer who see mysterious faces in their drinks.
The film is adapted from several folktales collected by Lafcadio Hearn. The stories appear in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things for which the film is named, Shadowings, and Kotto: Being Japanese Curios With Sundry Cobwebs. I was especially interested to learn of Hearn’s tales, as he was one of my sources of nineteenth century Japanese culture while writing my other recently finished novel, The Brazen Shark.
Clocking in at two hours and forty-four minutes, the movie is arguably a little slow-moving for the modern horror film, but it takes that time to build wonderful atmosphere. There is amazingly little blood in the film for a horror movie—though the one scene with blood is plenty horrific, even though the worst of the gore is covered up. Like a good Stephen King novel, it builds tension by getting us to care about the characters. Aside from the samurai of the first story, it’s hard to feel the characters deserve the horrible things that happen to them. The stories are metaphors for good advice, such as beware of blizzards and strangers, and perhaps don’t drink the tea if there are faces floating in it.
Do you have a favorite horror folktale? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Kwaidan Japanes Movie Poster licensed under fair use of copyrighted material in the context of the movie Kwaidan. Via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kwaidanposterjapanese.jpg#/media/File:Kwaidanposterjapanese.jpg