Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Ayakashi - Samurai Horror Tales (2006)

Ayakashi - Samurai Horror Tales (2006) is a Japanese historical horror show. It is a collection of three classic Japanese horror stories. It contains 11 episodes.

Tenshu Monogatari ~The Goddess of Dark Tower~

Tomihime, a Forgotten God princess who lives in the White Castle, meets a young handsome human in the woods. Zushonosuke is searching for a lost falcon for his lord and asks her has she seen the bird. Although humans are forbidden to enter the White Castle, the lord orders Zushonosuke to continue the search and seize the falcon from the tower. Although Tomihime tells him to never return, Zushonosuke falls in love with her. Their forbidden love leads to tragedy as the barrier ruptures between the supernatural and human worlds.

Yotsuya Kaidan ~The Ghost of Yotsuya~

This is a tale of betrayal, murder and ghostly revenge. Oiwa, a beautiful young woman, marries Tamiya Iemon, a masterless samuri. He has a bitter argument with her father, Samon, who urges Iemon to end the marriage even though she is pregnant with his child. Soon afterwards, he kills Samon. Naosuke, who lusts for Oiwa’s sister, Osode, kills her husband, Yomoshichi. The women find their father and husband murdered in cold blood. Iemon and Naosuke then deceive the women and vow to avenge their deaths. Iemon reunites with Oiwa, and Naosuke enters into a common-law marriage with Osode as part of their agreement. In Yotsuya, Iemon is miserable in his marriage to Oiwa. After having given birth, she suffers some signs of post-partum depression. The Ito family disfigures Oiwa with poison, in the guise of medicine, in order to sway Iemon to abandon her. Horrified by the deception, Oiwa cuts her throat on the sword and curses Iemon to her grave, turning into a vengeful spirit. Anyone who mistreated her is haunted by her curse.

Bakeneko ~The Goblin Cat~

In the Edo period, the young daughter of a samurai family is planning to marry, but not for love. The family has financial debts they need to pay off. To save themselves from disgrace and the poor-house, her parents and the head of family decide to sell her marriage to clear these debts. Meanwhile, a strange, nameless medicine peddler arrives and enters the house, its entrance left unguarded in the rush to prepare for the wedding. The moment the bride crosses the threshold of the house to leave, she is struck dead. The medicine peddler, being a stranger and looking rather suspicious, is seized as the culprit and bound. He breaks his bounds, reveals himself to also be a demon-hunter, and claims the true villain is a bakeneko. The medicine peddler sets up a barrier to keep the demon at bay and begins questioning the family and their retainers to learn the shape (katachi), truth (makoto) and reasoning (kotowari) of the demon so that it can be exorcised. As the story continues, he discovers the truth behind the family’s dark past.

A friend recommended this show when I was searching for new anime to watch in 2012. Although I am not well-versed in ancient Japanese folklore, the tales were gratifying to watch and increased my interest in the show. With 11 episodes, it is easy to finish in a few days. The ending theme song, "Haru no Katami" by Chitose Hajime, rich captures the historical time period of the stories. (She also covered the ending songs for popular vampire anime, Blood+). Since this collection comes in three DVDs, I highly recommend the last two tales.

The first tale had the weakest plot because while it had a promising start it ended abruptly without any closure. The script wasn't even close to the original story, so that disappointed me. The second tale, "Yotsuya Kaidan," gave me goosebumps because I wonder if the ghost actually exists in real life. It also brought back flashbacks of the film, The Ring. "Bakeneko" was the best (scariest and story-telling) tale. Due to popular demand, the producers created another anime series exclusively about the medicine peddler. Stay tune for my next review, Mononoke.



Ending Theme: "Haru no Katami" by Chitose Hajime

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