Kwaidan (1964)

Synopsis:

Four supernatural tales that take place in feudal Japan.

Reaction & Thoughts:

One of the most poetic horror films I’ve ever seen. The stunningly beautiful images, the deliberately artificial sets and eerie music score blend together splendidly —  it’s nearly impossible not to be bewitched by the incredible cinematic artistry displayed here. Kwaidan was (brilliantly) directed by celebrated Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi, who directed two of my favorite samurai movies, Harakiri (1962) and Samurai Rebellion (1967). This was Kobayashi’s first color production.

The Black Hair

This anthology film consists of five separate and unrelated ghost stories, based on Lafcadio Hearn’s book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, a collection of old myths and legends. The first story is titled “The Black Hair” (approx. 36 min.) and it’s about an impoverished samurai who abandons his wife to marry a wealthy woman. Years later, the guilt-ridden samurai returns to his old village to look for his first wife. Although it doesn’t offer any big surprises, this is a stylish and spine-tingling segment.

The Woman of the Snow

Next is my favorite episode, the aptly titled “The Woman of the Snow” (approx. 43 min.). This tale is about two peasants, a young man and an elderly man, who are forced to take shelter in an empty cabin during a snowstorm. The old man is killed by an evil spirit but the creature decides to spare the young man’s life. I thought this story could have easily been expanded into a feature-length movie. The narrative arc is interesting, the performances are excellent and the cinematography is breathtaking.

Hoichi the Earless

“Hoichi the Earless” (approx. 74 min.) is about a blind musician whose area of expertise is singing the story of a legendary sea battle between two feuding clans. One night a ghostly samurai demands that the young musician play the song to his master. The request comes with daring consequences. This is the longest, most elaborate tale. It’s also the best-looking segment. It didn’t need to show the battle — after all, this is a ghost story not a war story — but it is, nevertheless, a pretty impressive mini-movie.

In a Cup of Tea

“In a Cup of Tea” (approx. 26 min.) begins in Japan in the early 1900s. A writer relates a bizarre tale of a feudal guard who sees the face of a strange man in a cup of tea. Later, the man in the cup appears in person and confronts the bewildered guard. This is by far the weakest tale and I wish it had been shown earlier. It’s good on its own, but a bit disappointing when compared to the other stories — anthology films always work better when they save the best story for last. I did like the ending, though.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Kwaidan (aka Kaidan or Ghost Stories) is over three hours long, but the film’s extreme length shouldn’t discourage viewers from watching the film. Because the movie is divided into four chapters, you don’t have to watch the whole thing in one sitting — you can watch one story per day. While I would have changed the order of the tales, Kwaidan is a first-rate and spooky horror anthology film. Color, 184 min, Not Rated.

3 responses to “Kwaidan (1964)

  1. I have a huge interest in Asian cinema, owning a pretty big number of Asian movies on dvd. I have never seen this film, but I definitely want to track this one down as it sounds amazing. Especially the second story! I don’t mind films being that long, not if they are good, and this one certainly sounds like it is! Great write up, thanks for sharing this one!😀

    Liked by 1 person

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