Masaki Kobayashi's extraordinary masterpiece Kwaidan, consists of four haunting ghost tales, well known in Japanese mythology, adapted from Lafcadio Hearn's classic interpretations from his book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.
The first tale "Black Hair", sends a moral message about appreciating what you have and not to seek fortune for reasons such as vanity and greed. The opening sequence is hypnotic, as the camera pans slowly over the gate of an old and dilapidated house. It goes through the garden into the house, with the sound of wood slapping together. This is a brilliant start to an eerie story and sets the mood perfectly. It cleverly uses dark colours, which does not prepare you for the astoundingly vivid colours of the next tale.
"The Woman of the Snow" features the popular folkloric creature Yuki-Onna, who controls the snow. This segment starts of with a stormy, snow covered forest with a green and blue background. On the background is swirling eyes beautifully painted, like glass marbles. As the storm calms down, a small red flag is fluttering in the vast amounts of pearly white snow. When the cold weather has ended, there are warm, rich reds, yellows and oranges all blending in together. Throughout the story, there are eyes across the sky, either shut or open, which creates a beautiful mixture of Expressionism and Japanese imagery.
The most interesting and brilliant story is "Hoachi the Earless". It opens with a breathtaking scene depicting the true story of The Battle of Dan-no-ura, with a haunting voice performing the most famous part of the epic war poem "The Tale of the Heike", which is accompanied by an instrument called the Biwa. All of the stories in Kwaidan have exquisite imagery and a poetic elegance to them. However, this one is exceptionally fascinating, because it is a myth, based on a myth which links back to something that actually happened.
"In a Cup of Tea" is very different from the others, not as long and set in a different time zone. It starts off in 1899 which is quite near when it was written by Hearn. The narrater of the story is an author who is writing the myth. We then go back 250 years, into the story ,1649 . A sumari looks into a cup of tea and sees the smirking head of a man staring back at him. Convinced he is imaging it, he drinks the tea, and is eventually driven to madness. We then go back to 1899 where the film ends with a shocking and nightmarish conclusion.
The film does not use violence and gore to create fear, rather it uses suspense and psychological disturbance to chill the audience, along with its Expressionistic style which creates a wonderfully dreamlike mood. With it's stunning cinematography and it's incredibly beautiful, hand painted backdrops of outstanding colours, Kwaidan is a sophisticated work of art and a must have for any one interested in Japanese legends and Art house films.
Special Features: 72 page illustrated book about the film, Hearn, the stories and how it was made. Original Trailers.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Running time: 183 mins