Lists of must-see films for any self-respecting fan almost always include Casablanca and Citizen Kane, and deservedly so. But there are so many other worthy pictures which are often overlooked. So, from film-fan to film-fan, here’s a recommendation from our must-see list.
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
The Black Hair: Rentaro Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama and Misako Watanabe
The Woman of the Snow: Tatsuya Nakadai and Keiko Kishi.
Hoichi the Earless: Katsuo Nakamura, Tetsuro Tamba, Takashi Shimura and Kunie Tanaka.
In a Cup of Tea: Kanemon Nakamura and Osamu Takizawa
Writers: Yôko Mizuki based on the novel by Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo)
Editor: Hisashi Sagara
Probably the best known of the films on our list (it did win a Special Jury Prize in Cannes, after all) Kwaidan is actually four very eerie stories in one. Throughout the film, Toru Takemitsu’s score really gets under the skin, and is a wonderfully unsettling character in and of itself.
A poor yet materialistic samurai (Mikuni) divorces his dear and humble wife (Aratama) to marry a wealthy woman (Watanabe). But this union is devoid of love, and after a few years the samurai returns to his first wife. Ever devoted, she is still waiting for him. Isn’t she?
The Woman of the Snow
Two woodcutters, Mosaku (Akira Tani) and Minokichi (Nakadai), take shelter from a blizzard in a small, abandoned hut. A strange woman (Kishi) presumably follows the woodcutters into the building and kills Mosaku with her icy cold breath. Minokichi is spared on the condition that he keeps the secret of what transpired on this night. Which he does, as one would in a situation like this. Years go by, and Minokichi marries, has a family, yet this evening continually haunts him. One night, deciding he can bear the weight of this secret no longer, Minokichi decides to tell his wife (also played by Kishi). He discovers there is a high price to pay for breaking this promise.
Hoichi the Earless
Hoichi (Katsuo Nakamura) is a blind musician who has recently taken up residence in a monastery, where is he is cared for by the priests who live there. One night the priests are called to minister to the family of a recently departed parishioner, leaving him on his own, except for the servants, Yasuka and Matsuka (who would probably succeed in making someone choke from laughter, but that’s about it). Hoichi comforts himself by playing his biwa and singing the story of a mighty war between two opposing clans.
A soldier (Tetsuro Tamba) from one of these clans invites himself into the monastery. The soldier’s commanding officer, a child emperor, has heard of Hoichi’s talents and has sent this soldier to escort Hoichi to their home to perform.
These nightly performances begin to take a toll on his health. Yasuka and Matsuka report these late night wanderings to the head priest (Shimura). The head priest, realizing that things are not as they seem, warns Hoichi that he is “in great danger.”
The priests painstakingly cover Hoichi’s body with holy words in order to protect him. (For the curious, the text is that of Hannya Shin Kyō, according to Lafcadio Hearn). Oops – missed a spot. You guessed it – his ears.
What will happen when the soldier returns for Hoichi? We know this is beginning to sound like something out of a Lon Chaney movie. Fine by us, we love Lon Chaney!
In a Cup of Tea
A samurai named Kannai (Kanemon Nakamura) is simply trying to drink of cup of tea, but is repeatedly disturbed by the reflection of another samurai, Heinai (Noboru Nakaya), in the cup. The first couple of times, Kannai rids himself of Heinai’s reflection by simply discarding the liquid and/or taking a new tea cup. Finally, realizing that he has nothing to fear from a mere reflection, he decides to just drink the beverage, image and all. Heinai’s reflection soon takes a more solid form and challenges Kannai to a duel. Kannai injures Heinai, and other fighters appear seeking revenge.
RATING: Five Whistles
HOW TO WATCH: Amazon
IMAGES: Courtesy of Criterion
OTHER MOVIES TO KNOW:
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
H.J. Saunders, MA, CET
An exercise physiologist and personal trainer, H.J. has been involved in the health, fitness, and recreational industries for over 25-years. H.J. is an internationally recognized fitness innovator and crusader, developing comprehensive exercise and well-care programs for individuals and organizations ranging from neighborhood elementary schools, to multi-million dollar corporations and institutions He has also been involved with government initiatives such as The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent & Decrease Overweight & Obesity, and The Physical Activity Guidelines and National Plan for Americans. Articles and interviews have appeared in local and national magazines, periodicals, and on radio and television. Shihan Saunders is a practicing 6th degree black belt and teaches Isshinryu Karate to people of all ages. H.J. is founder and president of The Youth Fitness Coalition (www.cofitness.net). He is also a member of SAG-AFTRA.
Ylana Kellar, MFA
Ylana is an actress‚ writer and singer whose credits include: Playing Alexina (Theatre of Necessity), In the Family Way (produced and directed by Rachel Gordon), and Everything’s Coming Up Ro’ses (web series created by and starring Roetta Collins‚ directed by Lee Eypper). On the other side of the camera, Ylana has associate-produced several travelogue shorts for The Missouri Department of Natural Resources Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park Visitors Center (Middlebrook, Missouri)‚ and the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower Visitors Center (Hartford‚ Illinois)‚ all of which were produced and directed by Geralyn Abinader | gaMedia Group. Ylana currently serves on the SAG-AFTRA New York Local Women’s Committee. She is a former member of the boards of directors of New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) and Women in the Arts and Media Coalition. She has produced numerous entertainment / arts based programs, and has served as a panelist and moderator for such programs as well. She is a member of SAG-AFTRA and AEA (www.ylana.net).
In their spare time H.J. and Ylana watch too many movies, read too many liner notes, and run the on-line vintage yard-sale Rita’s Retros www.ritasretros.com.