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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 19 December 2011
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 to when it was written by Hearn. The narrator 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.
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Certificate: 15
Colour
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Running time: 183 mins
Region: 2
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2001
This is quite simply one of the most exquisite films ever made, a marvel of aesthetic refinement in every way, and a unique work of art. There are not enough superlatives to describe the manifold wonders of Kwaidan: the fine acting, gorgeous sets, subtle direction, and especially the extraordinary musique concrete score by Takemitsu, all combined by the obsessive artistry of Kobayashi to realize a rare and beautiful cinematic vision. This film is beyond praise.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2000
The film tells the story of four tales drawn from Lafcadio Hearn's turn-of the century book of the same name (Kwaidan means "weird tales" and is a collection of Japanese and Chinese "fairy" tales). The result is a magnificient vision of death and the strange, often cruel but devoid of what could be called Gothic morbidity. One is taken into the fantastic world of the Japanese mediaeval period, or rather how an American of Irish-Greek descent, fleeing late XIXth Century modernism, saw it. The film itself has respected Hearn's delicate and sensual approach to ghosts and ghouls - which probably wasn't difficult since Hearn became more Japanese than the Japanese themselves. It shows that in some ways, ghosts and evil spirits are also human. To illustrate that last statement, I will refer the reader / viewer to the wonderful tale of the blind bhuddist novice told to play his biwa to an extraordinary audience. The build up is wilfully slow, the intention being always to suck in the audience, to amaze it rather than shock it. The sound tract, like the visuals is haunting and when this film came out on the big screen in the late sixties it received huge interest from people who at that time, already, thought that the world (as it was) was not enough...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
If a picture paints a thousand words, I'd need a million words to describe Kwaidan.

Totally unlike anything I'd ever seen and so different from many Japanese films, I absorbed all four stories, 3 hours worth in one sitting. Mesmerised, intoxicated.

Like a series of the most lavish theatrical sets and the most imaginative theatrical direction and using theatrical lighting, paintings as huge as skies are backdrops. Vivid, muted. Both.

The stories themselves have been described by other reviewers - suffice to say, I preferred the 2nd to the generally more popular 3rd. They were all so different, in approach, style and culmination, yet were consistent in their stillness; a stillness that crept up on you and just when you least expected it, the unexpected and those scared me stiff.

The music was sparse but chillingly suited, using traditional, acoustic instruments, superbly. They conveyed a huge range of moods and sound effects. I knew nothing of Japanese folklore, aside of Kurosawa's samurai films - I believe now that I still probably don't but that there's a feast more out there, waiting for me.

I'm still trembling with slight excitement and numbness after seeing something that I'll never forget and now wish to lend this excellent DVD to every single friend I know!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Amongst all the great films from the Golden Age of Japanese cinema (roughly between "Rashomon" in 1950 and "Samurai banners" in 1969), this one is amongst the longest and the most peculiar - but it is nevertheless a masterpiece. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.

After being very busy in the 50s and once the monumental trilogy "The Human Condition" (his Opus Magnum) wrapped up in 1961, Masaki Kobayashi had to slow down a little, mostly because of sheer exhaustion... Between 1962 and 1968 he made only five films (and then had to take again a two years sabbatical) - but three of those films immediately entered to the pantheon of world cinema. The first one of this trio was "Harakiri" in 1962 and the third was "Samurai rebellion" in 1967. Between them, there was "Kwaidan".

"Kwaidan" is very different from other Kobayashi's films and also very different from virtually any other Japanese film I ever saw. Come to think of it, it is actually completely different from ANYTHING I EVER SAW on the screen... It is an anthology of carefully selected Japanese folkloric ghost stories - but even if many ghosts and also one vampire appear in it, this is NOT REALLY a horror film!

There are four stories and Kobayashi decided to NOT link them together - they are completely separate tales.

1. The Black Hair

It is the saddest and the most shocking of them. A dirt poor samurai brutally divorces and abandons his loving, hard working, devoted wife to marry again, this time into a rich, influent family. Can anything good come out of such a dark deed? Is it even possible to atone for such a deadly sin? This story answers those questions without any ambiguity. Beautiful Michiyo Aratama, who already starred in "Human condition" as Michiko, plays here the wronged first wife - and she is a splendor to contemplate!

2. The woman of the snow.

One winter, in the high mountains, two poor woodcutters surprised by blizzard have the misfortune to meet a deadly vampire - the Snow Woman. One will quickly die, the other one... well, the rest is for you to discover. An excellent story which follows a pattern found in many regions of the world, including the places greatly distant from Japan... Tatsuya Nakadai, one of Japan's greatest actors ever, plays the main hero of the story. This segment includes also as background decorations some surrealistic paintings, à la Salvador Dali.

3. Hoichi the Earless.

The longest and the most spectacular segment. Hoichi is a young blind boy, working as servant in a buddhist temple. He is also gifted with excellent memory and already earned great renown for his recitations of the great epic saga "Heike Monogatari", describing the Gempei War, in which in XII century clans Taira and Minamoto clashed for domination. One evening Hoichi is invited to recitate at a nobleman mansion by a proud samurai claiming to work for "the most distinguished person in the land", but who asks for great discretion. What follows is for you to discover... Takashi Shimura, who much earlier, in 1954, became worldwide famous as the leader of the "Seven samurai", plays here the important character of the head priest of the temple.

4. In a cup of tea.

One day a thirsty samurai goes for a drink of water - and then discovers in the cup something completely unexpected! This is the shortest segment and also the only one left - deliberately - without ending, as it is adapted from a fragmentary old script, which its anonymous author never finished. It is also the only one to contain a little bit of humor in it - albeit ultimately the story is NOT funny AT ALL! Nothing more will be said.

At 183 minutes "Kwaidan" is a long film, but I didn't really feel it! In fact, at the end I was pretty much game for more - but sadly, there will be no more... because Masaki Kobayashi never considered making a suite and since 1996 he is no more with us... This movie was very deservedly nominated for the Oscar of best foreign film in 1965, but didn't get the award.

IMPORTANT! If you consider purchasing this film, make certain that you buy the "Masters of cinema" edition, which offers the restored FULL length (183 minutes) version.

Bottom line, this is a very original and very good, powerful and beautiful film. I am very happy that I bought and watched it and I will keep my DVD for a future re-viewing. Enjoy!
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 2 July 2006
This film is incredibly impressive. It has some of the finest, most colourful cinematography ever filmed. It is a movie in four parts, each one telling a new ghost story. Each story has varying levels of intensity and involvement, but my favourite of them is Yuki Onna, which tells of a peasant who falls under the spell of a sorceress, marries a gorgeous woman, and after living with her for many years, discovers an onimous secret about her. It is one of the greatest twists in cinema history - certainly more shocking than the twist of The Sixth Sense movie. It is direction of the highest order, just using fantastic lighting and massive set designs. The director, Masaki Kobayahi, has created a brilliant cinematic masterpiece here. It is essential viewing for any would-be director or lover of superb asian cinema. It is right up there with the best of Kurasawa, without any doubt whatsoever. It is quite hard to believe this was made in the 60s. It has the best use of widescreen and colour ever seen! Buy it if you like movies!
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on 18 May 2014
This classic pulls one into a world where reality and spirituality conjoin. The various aspects of this juncture are explored in four segments: 'Black Hair'. 'Woman of the Snow','Hoichi the Earless' and 'The Cup of Tea'. In each one,the characters have to deal with the spiritual world, Fate if you will, which controls their destinies.

A reviewer has given some excellent background concerning Japanese myths but I had none of that insight. With Tohoscope,the director, Kobyashi, was able to open up wide vistas populated by people seemingly dwarfed by their environment. In 'Black Hair' when the samurai leaves his wife to go onto better things in order to get rich and preen his ego, the camera dwelt on her beautiful black hair ; she is poor, but industrious with her weaving. Of course,things do not work out in this newer,more opulent environment when he is drawn into a dead-end second marriage with his new Lord's daughter. She is no match for his ever-faithful first wife to whom,full of regret and self-hatred, he returns imagining that she is still the same. The ending is inevitable - Time is unforgiving.

The imagery of 'Woman of the Snow' is beautiful but menacing with two woodcutters getting snowbound in a forest whose waving branches seem to want to embrace them. The older one dies but the younger one is rescued by a mysterious
woman who looks after him and ensures that he can return to his mother but makes the condition that he is not to tell anyone of his adventure in the snowy forest. Whilst travelling back home, he met Yuki who accompanied him. a beautiful woman who becomes first his lover then his wife. They marry and have two children and time passed and his mother died. At this point, a scene of domestic bliss - mum,dad and children - is made more chilling when he tells his wife of his adventure in the snow. The ending to this story has a touch of irony about it - what will be the result of breaking his promise to the woman of the snow?

'Hoichi the Earless' has an epic quality which began with a naval battle fought between two clans - the Heike clan lost. This is significant in the eventual battle of wills between Hoichi, a temple musician whose disappearances at night were a concern to the Priest and the temple servants. They follow him one night and find he has had communications with the ghosts of the Heike, dressed as warriors. They want him to join them but he doesn't know whether of not their motives are good or ill. Hoichi sings to the warriors about the battle in which they died. It was up to thePriest and the temple servants to protect Hoichi from joining the warrior ghosts and the significance of the title became apparent.

'In a cup of tea' the shortest of the stories there is an element of comedy with the theme of mocking vanity. One cannot escape the truth of one's own identity, the reality of the reflection of a face in a cup of tea.

This then is the world of spirituality where the fates can be benign or malevolent and through the agency of the ghosts, the characters are faced with some painful truths. We can enjoy the journeys the various characters make to learn lessons of life .
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Revisited it a second time and then it weaved its magical aura. Bleak nihilistic tales about the netherworld - ghost stories - makes it sounds trite and banal - these are more than just "ghost." The first one is about a man who makes a choice and is then haunted by its effect. The camera work is weaved with the masterful precision of a renaissance painter - whilst saying much more.

The colours are muted and then splashed to capture something more than just film - they aim to penetrate the soul. Much slower and without the "slash" of modern horror, these aim at a psychological slowness and are much more effective in their pursuit to instill a vision within the viewer.

The second film depicts the power of women to make or break a man whilst the third is about the power of Samurai and the lords to wreak a mystical vengeance. There is no real equivalent I can find within the western world. The stories are slower, more ponderous but more effective, if you drop the quick splice conditioning which is based upon stimulus and response. These are not constructed according to a Behaviorist dictum of horror, sex and violence. Do not get me wrong, it contains plenty of horror and violence but undertaken within the mind rather than in throwing around a bucket of blood.

The Criterion version has been restored but still has small runs within the film stock, which shows how Japan moved on and forgot this golden era. For the precision involved is that a highly skilled craftsmen who melds film, music and psychology within a magical synthesis. Be prepared for some filmic mindfulness.
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on 19 January 2015
It took a bit longer than the estimated time but it did arrive within the timeframe the seller mentioned after contacting . The country code is #2 not #1 for the US. But many dvd players have universal playback. There is a great little paperback book included hidden within the dvd case that is 71 pages long and recounts the history of Lafcadeo Hearn's book of ghost stories that were collected I believe from the people during his travels throughout Japan during the 1900 year and earlier. Also a synopsis of the stories shown in the film as well as illustrations are within the pages. An interview in July of 1993 with the director Masaki Kobayashi is also included in this book concerning many of his films and personal recollections of these films. The book is a hidden treasure, a bonus in addition to the extra 21 mins of film that was not included in the US theatre showings or the US video releases. This is a refreshing change from the current horror shock shlock that contains little substance. The younger generation may not have the attention span to let a film like this soak in after a lifetime of videogame shock and awe, but it is not their fault. This is also a visual art work and you will see this as an unusual unique look into the ghost story as told from a Japanese prospective. Highly recommended.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2007
When I received the DVD from amazon.co.uk , I cherished hopes to experience the touch with the Japanese culture (music, lifestyle) and mystic things.

I did hope to remember the comments of the American professor, a good specialist of religion and anthropology who told about this movie for a large audience from Siauliai University after the private view with professors and students.

My expectations did not change...

I was surprised to find the small booklet with the text of the stories told in this film and additional comments on the film.

The film is interesting to watch and think about because it tells 4 interesting mystic stories covering Japanese life of the Middle ages and later periods.

The plots of the stories have the intrigue aspects and the moral teaching good things.

The soundtrack is interesting to listen, because the Japanese national instruments were used.

A good film, a must to have in your collection of DVD films...
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