Hoichi the Earless is the third story in the film. The longest story out of all the four stories and the most complex to dive in, but artistically on point. I watched the segment repeatedly, analyzing every scene from the painted red/orange sky to the watermelon.
It starts off with a gloomy song about the last battle fought between the Genji and Heike clan. Three thousands people total fought along the shore of Dan-no-ura. In the song, it mentions how the Heike clan got defeated. And thereafter, the sea became haunted for 700 years. To console the dead samurais, a temple was built. And thus is the beginning of the strange haunted story between Hoichi, the blind musician and the supernatural.
Hoichi plays a musical instrument called biwa. He surpasses his master at reciting the battle’s story. One day, he is called by a spirit to perform at Akamagahara, which is actually a cemetery for the Heike spirits, located near the temple. Hoichi agreed to visit Akamagahara thinking it is an honor to play in front of a high rank.
The next day, a dead body appears on the shore—the villagers blame the sea ghosts for taking the life, and we later find out another ship has sunk on that very same night Hoichi recited the battle story. Apparently when the story is recited, a life on the sea is taken.
Hoichi’s encounter with the dead causes him to become pale. He would sleep during the day and visited Akamagahara at night. The master of the temple and everyone begin to take notice of his disappearance at night and his odd behavior and wonder if they could trust him.
One pouring night, Hoichi left again to Akamagahara. They found Hoichi reciting the last “Battle at Dan-no-ura.” This section is beautifully well pieced in the story. Throughout each disappearance at night, we don’t see Hoichi reciting the battle. It is until the last portion where he is discovered, the recite from the beginning is played.
It is then, the master of the temple confronted Hoichi that he has been lured by a menacing spirit. Soon, it will possess and kill him. In order to save Hoichi from the spirit, scriptures were written all over his body except for his ears. He has been told not to respond to the spirit when it calls for him. And so, during the evening, just when the spirit is about to call for Hoichi to attend the cemetery, the spirit got angry because he could not find Hoichi but only his ears (the scriptures made his body invisible). The spirits then tore his Hoichi’s ears apart. The strange tale between Hoichi and the supernatural has made him rise to fame to the point that the living lord requested to hear him perform the Heike Tale. Hoichi did not decline. As long he is alive, he will play his biwa with all his soul to mourn those thousands of spirits.
How is this a haunting tale, you might wonder. It’s haunting in the sense that the spirits could never be put to rest without replaying the whole battle at Dan-no-ura over and over and over. For 700 years, the shore where the battle took place between the Genji and Heike clan, has been haunted.
In summary, it’s kind of frightening to know that one can be lured by a spirit without knowing. That alone, sends me chills. I hope when the time come for me to depart from this world, I hope it ends naturally–not sorrowfully like those from the Heike clan.