06 novembre 2006


Since I'm so late in posting, and it's been addressed so eloquently at notcoming, I will only discuss my favorite segment: “Hoichi the Earless.”

First I'll quote from notcoming: “"Hoichi the Earless” opens with a stunning recreation of the famous battle in the Straits of Shimonoseki which in 1185 decided the conflict between the Heike (Tara) and Genji (Minamoto) clans. Kobayashi uses traditional song and painting and his own stylised sets — brilliant reds and oranges over a patently artifical “sea” — in an aesthetic tour-de-force, whose intensity the rest of the story never quite attains again."

While I marginally agree with the "never quite attains again," there are other moments that nearly achieve the same stately beauty. The foregrounding of the biwa-played score goes a long way in this regard, punctuating the dramatic tone of the piece with its percussive energy (though the biwa is a string instrument). But musical strength (and its accompanying narrative of the battle) is only the first of four things that make "Hoichi" the most affecting segment. The second is the use of color vis a vis composition in the segment (best exemplified by the opening sequence). Visual motifs of bright, highly saturated primary colors catch the eye with a flair not found in the other segments. The opening is strongest, of course, but the continued use of these colors in the costumes of Hoichi's audience - combined with their raised, arclike patten and the background of stone and mists - add a stately grandeur to the nightly performances. Once the opening battle is realized, the use of color and composition does indeed fall off. Instead, we viewers are more narratively entwined by the discrepancy between what we know and what Hoichi knows. Hoichi's blindness makes it easy for the ghostly forces to seem human, and our battle prologue makes it clear to us from the start that they are ghosts. Hoichi doesn't know this, so our understanding of the dramatic tension separates us from Hoichi but imbues his story with real drama. All of his performances are thus suspenseful in that we know there's another shoe to drop, even if it's not clear by what mechanism this might occur. The final amplifying factor in "Hoichi" is the use of ritual to create suspense. When a spell is written on the young monk's skin to keep him safe from the ghostly realm, the minutely detailed attention paid to his body creates further anticipation of the events to come while not advancing the plot. The same strategy of delayed event-action takes place as the samurai ghost circles the nearly-invisible Hoichi, looking for a near-invisible monk. Again we know what's in play more than the characters do, but here it's the samurai ghost who lacks knowledge (and sight). The moment when all of the characters gain the same knowledge as the audience is this tension's resolution - which makes good on the segment's title. While its true that none of this has the visceral power of the segment's opening battle, it nonetheless is the strongest of the 4 component pieces of Kwaidan, precisely because it in vests its energy in suspense rather than suddenly realized horror.