Sometimes, no matter how much we wish for it, there just isn’t enough free time in our day to watch an entire movie. And having only enough time to watch just one episode of a show can be its own problem – slapping you with a cliffhanger that will bother to oblivion until you see what happens next.
This is why I love anthologies. Encapsulated shorts are convenient and satisfying because they contribute to a larger narrative without relying on it. I’m especially fond of kaidan, a type of Japanese story similar to an urban legend or campfire tale.
Kaidan were originally recited as moralistic fables in the 1600s, but have grown into a larger category over time to include present day horrors and curiosities. They can describe yūrei (human spirits), yōkai (inhuman spirits), or similar categories of supernatural ghosts. Some kaidan focus on karmic retribution for misdeeds, while others frighten with the simple wrong-place-wrong-time chaos of a harsh world. Stories tend to grant strength to those who are more likely to be wronged by society; the majority of kaidan I have seen/read/heard focus on giving power back to women, young children, and nature. “Banchō Sarayashiki” is a famous example, and a personal favorite of mine, described here.
There are many kaidan anthologies out in the world of film. While some try to scare and others aim to explain, they all share a warning to viewers that, “You don’t know as much about this world as you think you do.”
So where to start? If you want to dip your toes into the film version of kaidan, I have 3 recommendations (based on attention span and genre preference):
1) Kidan: Piece of Darkness (2016). This anthology of 10 stories is based in present day and actively tries to scare you with the writings of Fuyumi Ono. Horror buffs may find the plot twists predictable, but I am and loved it anyways. My two favorites are “The Woman in Red” and “Let’s Carry On.” With each segment resting under the 20-minute mark, this is a good choice for those who enjoy modern suspense but are short on time or patience.
2) Dark Tales of Japan (2004). Do you like campy? Intentional or not, this anthology of seven stories grows campier each year as the special effects become more outdated. This made-for-TV release may have lost much of its ability to scare, but is a lot of fun to watch with others. Because each short segment was written and directed by a different person, there is a distinct range of aesthetic and quality. My favorite is “The Spiderwoman,” and yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.
3) Kwaidan (1965). This anthology of 4 stories was nominated for an academy award and deservedly won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Each traditional tale, by famed screenwriter Yoko Mizuki, is under an hour and uniquely gorgeous to look at – my favorite being “In a Cup of Tea.” This anthology leans much more into the supernatural than straight up horror, and has the kind of atmospheric quality that relishes in repeated viewing.
Even though each of these three films fall into the category of kaidan, they are vastly different viewing experiences. If you hate one, you may love the other. You may be like myself and enjoy all three. Whatever your taste, the great thing about anthologies is that you have time to try it out!