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 started off with a gloomy song about the last battle fought between the Genji and Heike clan. Three thousand people total fought along the shore of Dan-no-ura. In the song, it mentioned 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, the strange haunted tale between Hoichi, the blind musician and the supernatural began.
Hoichi played the musical instrument called biwa and became a master at reciting the battle’s story. He even surpassed his teacher. One day, he was called by a spirit to perform at Akamagahara, which was actually a cemetery for the Heike spirits, located near the temple. Hoichi agreed to visit Akamagahara thinking it was an honor to play in front of a high rank.
The next day, a dead body appeared on the shore—the villagers blamed the sea ghosts for the cause of death. Then we later find out another ship had sunk on that very same night Hoichi recited the battle story. Apparently when the story had been recited, someone will die.
Hoichi’s encounter with the dead caused him to become pale. He would sleep during the day and visited Akamagahara at night. The master of the temple and everyone began 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 was beautifully well pieced in the story. Throughout each disappearance at night, we don’t see Hoichi reciting the battle. It was until the last portion of the battle song when he was finally discovered that we see him reciting to the dead. Little small choices like this from the director made all the difference to imply the scope of this horror tale. It’s haunting.
It was then, the master of the temple confronted Hoichi that he had 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 was told not to respond to the spirit when it called for him. And so, during the evening, just when the spirit was 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 Hoichi’s ears apart out of menace. As a result of the supernatural’s vicious attack on Hoichi, the incident led him rise to fame to the point that even the living lord requested to hear him perform the Heike Tale. Hoichi did not declined. As long as he’s 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 had been haunted. Hoichi’s willingness to mourn for the dead also made it haunting. It’s bittersweet, but also frightening of Hoichi to play for the dead, but the dead should be left in the past.
By far, this is my favorite horror tale from the film. It’s eerie and was well done cinematically. Stay tuned for my final analysis of this film.
Note: Originally posted on Nov. 9, 2019; Revised April 5, 2022