Note: Before reading, please refer to the meaning of Japanese Kaidan in context. Apparently there are many kaidan films out there. So if you’re not a fan of Hideo Nakata’s films, you’re most probably not aware of this movie.
Synopsis: 250 years ago. Soetsu, a humble moneylender, is murdered by Shinzaemon, a cruel samurai, and his body is disposed of in Kasane-ga-fuchi – the pool of a snaking river where, legend has it, those who sink into the water will never float to the surface again. 20 years later, in a chance encounter, Shinkichi, the handsome son of Shinzaemon, meets Toyoshiga, the daughter of Soetsu, and they fall in love. When Toyoshiga dies from a strange disease, Shinkichi finds that not only is he unable to avoid the mysterious fatality of the past and Toyoshiga’s tenacious love for him, but he is also forced to confront the ghostly truths held by Kasane-ga-fuchi. (source here)
Last weekend, after much procrastination to watch Hideo Nakata’s latest film, I decided to drag myself and sleepyhead LD along to the cinema. And when everyone else is queuing up for Iron Man and some Tamil film I can’t remember the title (their tickets sold out unbelievably fast!), we (just me actually) happily went for Kaidan instead.
It was my first experience watching a kaidan film, and one that is directed by horror film master Hideo Nakata. Based on the Kaidan-Banashi “Shinkei Kasane-ga-fuchi” by Encho Sanyutei and screenplay by Satoko Okodera, this movie showcased the old times of Japan during the Edo period.
I find myself in sheer delight to discover what it’s like to be living in the past tense of Japan. The men, where most of them consist of merchants, artisan or farmers, can be seen with a pretty interesting shave on the head and rolled-up work pants (especially those working at the shipping docks) that reveal their fair, fleshy thighs. But the women during that period was what fascinates me more.
With their reserved nature reflected through elaborate fitting of (what I believe to be) Kimono costumes (of which they have an outer coat to wear when the weather gets cold and chilly), these women seem to keep it delicately minimal; be it adornments on the hair or the paper-made umbrella or pretty paper fans held in hand during a casual stroll at a market.
They carry themselves through living by refined standards of gracefulness; such conservative care transpired on their every movement, appearance and speech. It simply held me there for a moment as the scene is something which can only be sighted at traditional stage plays in the modern days. Cinematography-wise, it worked. I am much intrigued by the Japanese culture during those times.
Having said that about Japanese women, such display of submissiveness should never be taken for granted. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. There is no excuse to get away with fooling their hearts for a mere word of love, the essence of what I believe this kaidan movie to be.
In Kaidan, the audience witnessed how Shinkichi (Kikunosuke Onoe V) had to learn a life time lesson for planting the seeds of vengeance of his past lover Toyoshiga (Hitomi Kuroki) who happened to be the daughter of Soetsu, killed by Shinkichi’s father and thrown into the snaking river known as Kasane-ga-fuchi plunge. I can’t be sure if Toyoshiga was aware of Shinkichi’s identity, vice versa on Shinkichi, but it seemed Toyoshiga was never informed of the cause of her father’s death then. There was no mention of Shinkichi’s acknowledgment on his father Shinzaemon even when his character showed up.
The story begin when Shinkichi meets Toyoshiga for the first time. Love at first sight blossomed in their hearts, and despite the age difference, both of them got together and led an unofficial married life of a couple. Trouble ensued after Toyoshiga revealed her rage of jealousy for Shinkichi and his irresistible charm to other younger girls.
One night in the middle of an argument, Shinkichi accidentally hurt Toyoshiga in the eye (which eerily resembled the way her late father got injured by Shinzaemon’s swipe of scythe then), followed by an infection which resulted her bed-ridden. Shinkichi stayed on to take care of her, but at the same time desperate to find a way to leave the relationship. Toyoshiga’s love for him proved too deep to let him go, though she knew Shinkichi better.
After Toyoshiga’s heart-stricken death, Shinkichi went on a brief relationship with one of Toyoshiga’s student, sweet-looking Ohisa (Mao Inoue) who wants to run away from her troubled family. They packed their belongings and leave the town, only to have their hopes to seek a better life elsewhere short-lived in Shinkichi’s own hands, literally, and ironically ended at the river of Kasane-ga-fuchi.
Shinkichi’s conscience has been plagued with guilt of causing the death of two women he once believe to have loved, and find himself hanging onto his own sanity to rid the vengeful ghost of Toyoshiga haunting on his back. Kaidan wraps up with Shinkichi finally relenting to Toyoshiga in his defeat, where they reunited at the heart of Kasane-ga-fuchi plunge in a classic fashion; Toyoshiga cuddling Shinkichi’s beheaded head in her loving arms and kissing him.
I thought that was tragically sweet. Nothing beats the love vow of ’til death do us part any better than this and I cried for Toyoshiga’s undying devotion for Shinkichi. Weird because I thought I was happy at the prospect that Toyoshiga would finally have her hands gathered around Shinkichi’s neck. But I felt bad for Shinkichi at the same time because as pathetic as he was as a man, he hadn’t had an easy life either after Toyoshiga died. It wasn’t like he’s anything but a brutal, ruthless character. It was a mistake that he had known Toyoshiga in the first place, a curse.
Few things you might find yourself in wonder after watching the movie. Was it a curse of the much talk about legend of Kasane-ga-fuchi or Soetsu swearing an eternal misfortune to befall on Shinzaemon’s descendants before his last breath that has taken its effect on both Shinkichi and Toyoshiga? Or perhaps, the act of Toyoshiga’s vow on her last written love note to Shinkichi that should he married another woman, she would ‘ensure’ that his marriage won’t last?
As a period movie, the plot is rather slow-paced, but it never missed the mark to surprise us at times where appropriate. Just don’t expect to get yourself prepared to brace the usual horror elements in this movie where Nakata would usually do in most of his acclaimed works of J-horror. KAIDAN is no J-horror in the first place, as it has existed way before we heard the term of latter.
I believe Nakata’s attempt on this movie is to get both the Kaidan story and the rumored legend about Kasane-ga-fuchi to intertwined themselves in a single plot and become an impressive piece of a classic tale told via ancient style of an aging storyteller (as seen in the opening of the movie).
To tell a story is easy, but to make the story to unfold itself nicely like a gift, without any crease and tear at the edges, almost effortlessly even, is quite a challenge. Regardless, Nakata still manage to unwrap it open with just a trickling of sweat. Not bad. Not bad at all.