Updated: Dec 21, 2021
You know who does horror best?
Because, in my viewing experience, they don’t use excessive gore as a plot vehicle/ filler.
Most Japanese horror relies on what we don’t see, but can guess at, and the twists, turns and fears contained in the human mind to scare the snot out of us.
The films don’t necessarily draw on full disclosure of ghosts, ghouls and the supernatural to create thrills but have a more cerebral feel.
The Japanese get their inspiration for their frightening flicks from a powerful link with the paranormal.
That link was created through their folklore and beliefs and has existed for centuries.
Many Japanese, to this day, believe that ghosts are everywhere and a part of normal, everyday life.
They even celebrate their deceased ancestors throughout the year; offering them mochi, ohagi, incense, rice, and prayers in return for good luck and a ghost-free existence.
Ayakashi; Samurai Horror Tales
This is an 11 episode long anime series that revisits three of Japan’s most famous stories of hauntings, betrayals, and murder.
Tamiya Iemon is a poor ronin with no purpose in life except to avenge his shamed master.
The one light in his life is his marriage to the beautiful Lady Oiwa.
However, Iemon has has been forced to separate from Oiwa by his father-in-law, Yotsuya Samon, who believes Iemon to be little better than a bandit and therefore not suitable for his daughter.
One day, Iemon, in a fit of rage, murders Samon, and is consequently reunited with his lovely wife.
Oiwa, ignorant of the identity of her father’s killer, makes Iemon promise to help her avenge Samon’s death. Iemon agrees and the two renew life as a married couple.
Shortly after the birth of their son, however, Iemon grows tired of Oiwa, the woman he killed to be with.
A neighboring noble’s granddaughter, Ito Oude, has become infatuated with Iemon and he returns her favor.
Soon after falling for the toothsome Oude, Iemon unwittingly, but not unwillingly, becomes an accomplice in crippling his wife.
Oiwa, horribly maimed by the Ito’s “medicine” kills herself and curses the unfaithful and brutish Iemon. Thus begins a curse that Oiwa’s spirit wreaks over both House Ito and House Tamiya.
After watching this latest rendition of the 182 year play, it’s easy to see where anime gets its inspiration: murders, scheming, emotional roller coasters, action, intrigue, passion, and a whole lotta supernatural happenings are the precursors to: passionate scheming 15 year pilots of supernaturally derived mechs who are involved in intrigue and action which results in murder and emotional roller coasters.
This story was like a guide book into the How and Why of anime.
So many aspects of the medium are there, blatant and unvarnished.
You can see how these stories were setting up the building blocks for anime wayyyy before moe and fanservice was even a twinkling in fanboys’ eyes.
How fitting for the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan to be portrayed in the medium it and other stories helped create!
My one gripe for this volume was the ending.
I don’t mean the ending to the story (which followed the ending portrayed in the play), but the ending that wrapped up the volume.
It should have just stopped at one point, and walked away.
But noooo, the asides and lead-ins to the modern day adaptations and “curse”, narrated by Tsuruya Namboku IV, kept coming.
Then, after we get a load of, much appreciated but overly done, background on how Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan is like a Japanese version of the unlucky Macbeth, we’re led back into the actual play!
End, damn you, while you still have all your awesome points!
If they had wanted to work in the all the info and details about the play, they should have put them on the extras.
Don’t get me wrong, all the little trivia they crammed into the final episode was good stuff and well received on my end, but I felt that the delivery detracted from the story.
Yoshitaka Amano, the renowned Final Fantasy character designer, created the look and feel of Ayakashi.
The narrow, overly slanted eyes and thin limbs of his characters are a hallmark of the famous illustrator.
His designs were well suited to tell this supernatural tale.
Amano, in fact, is no stranger to illustrating folklore as evidenced by his collaboration with Neil Gaiman on their book, The Dream Hunters; an illustrated story set in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe but influenced by classic Japanese fairy tales.
The beautiful clothing, scenery, housing and elaborate hair dos affected by the women, in Ayakashi were given all the attention and detailing they deserved.
Everything had the feel of the time and nothing stood out as inappropriate or outlandish.
Toei Animation brought Amano’s designs to life.
The animation was well done and had some fantastic scenes, especially background shots.
The scenes and characters flowed smoothly from frame to frame. I can’t say anything negative about the work done for the anime by Toei.
Ayakashi’s intro was one of the best I’ve seen, and heard, besides Azumanga Daioh’s.
As the intro rolls, the strains of a biwa fill the speakers and classic kimono prints overlayed with fluttering sakura petals cover the screen.
Then the strains break into the biwa inspired hip hop melody, “Heat Island” as the kimono prints are replaced by graphic highlights from the series along with Amano’s penciled character designs.
Doesn’t sound like a winning combo, but it works and works damn well.
The score adhered to the music popular at the time of the original play.
Flutes, biwa, and haunting vocals served as a backdrop to the tale.
The ED, “Haru no Katami (Memento of Spring)” by Chitose Hajime was a well done piece that gently ended each episode.
Ayakashi, Samurai Horror Tales, Yotsya Ghost Story was a superb retelling of a classic Japanese legend.
The animation, music and designs were a perfect blend to showcase this important piece of Japanese lore.