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Beautiful, beautiful film. Definitely one of the best supernatural movies ever made.
Technically, it is marvelous. Stunning visuals (especially on The Woman of The Snow) and excellent sound design. And these ghost stories are pretty darn good. We have stories of regret, fear and death and they all manage to reach a nice level of eerieness. The stories are not scary, I don't think it ever was the intention, but they are elegant, chilling and full of slowly built up tension.
Now, until the third segment this was a good film. But with the addition of 'Hoichi the Earless', this is an incredible film. Hoichi has to be one of the greatest ghost stories ever told and the depicted battle along with the chant in the beginning and towards the end of the segment really makes you think about the very nature of war. Completely absorbing and breathtaking. Hoichi is not as nightmarish as the first segment, 'Black Hair', but it is my absolute favorite out of the four.
I found the last story, 'In a Cup of Tea' to be a bit different from the previous three. It wasn't as creepy (albeit disturbing) or predictable as the other stories but fairly complex and... fishy. I didn't really understand all of it, but that's not really a bad thing.
But yeah, amazing film overall. Even though it is often classified as horror it is more like supernatural fantasy, and it really is an easy recommendation for anyone interested in Japanese folklore. If you do watch it, get the uncut 183min version. It was really good.
Visually brilliant! Especially the light and color in "The Woman in the Snow." This one was not my favorite of the stories but it was visually the best. A feast for the eyes for the entire movie.
Masaki Kobayashi - "As a sort of shorthand description, one could say it was a horror film. My main intention in the film was to explore the juxtaposition between man's material nature and his spiritual nature, the realm of dream and aspiration. I wanted to create a drama that dealt directly with the spiritual importance of our lives. I also enjoyed conveying the sheer beauty of traditional Japan. Anyway, I am not really satisfied with the designation of "horror film." It's spiritual concerns are the center of the drama."
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In 13 official lists
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This movie ranks #12 in IMDb's Horror Top 50
This movie ranks #19 in Galloway's Samurai Film Handbook & Companion
This movie ranks #29 in Eureka!'s The Masters of Cinema Series
This movie ranks #50 in IMDb's Fantasy Top 50
This movie ranks #57 in Academy Award - Best International Feature Film Nominees
This movie ranks #61 in 366 Weird Movies
This movie ranks #77 in TSZDT's The 1,000 Greatest Horror Films
This movie ranks #84 in Butler's Fantasy Cinema: Impossible Worlds on Screen
This movie ranks #94 in The Criterion Collection
This movie ranks #121 in Tom Vick's Asian Cinema: A Field Guide
This movie ranks #222 in Halliwell's Top 1000: The Ultimate Movie Countdown
This movie ranks #472 in The Guardian's 1000 Films to See Before You Die
This movie ranks #846 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films