AKA Kaidan; Ghost Stories
“A hundred thoughts suggested by the book might be written down, but most of them would begin and end with this fact of strangeness… many of the stories are about women and children,–the lovely materials from which the best fairy tales of the world have been woven. They too are strange, these Japanese maidens and wives and keen-eyed, dark-haired girls and boys; they are like us and yet not like us; and the sky and the hills and the flowers are all different from ours… in these delicate, transparent, ghostly sketches of a world unreal to us, there is a haunting sense of spiritual reality.”–from the original introduction to the folk tale collection “Kwaidan”
DIRECTED BY: Masaki Kobayashi
FEATURING: Rentarô Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama, Keiko Kishi, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tetsurô Tanba, Kan’emon Nakamura
PLOT: An anthology film telling four Japanese folk tales centered around ghosts or nature spirits. An ambitious samurai leaves his faithful but poor wife for a rich new one, and finds himself haunted by regret over his desertion. A winter spirit spares the life of a young woodcutter, on one condition. A clan of ghosts demand a blind minstrel play the tale of their tragedy for them night after night. The final story tells of a guard who sees an apparition in a bowl of water.
- The four episodes were adapted from Lafciado Hearn’s collections of Japanese folk tales (the two middle pieces are from his 1903 volume entitled “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things”). Hearn was born Greek, educated in Ireland, and spent time as a journalist in the United States (causing a scandal by marrying a black woman in Cincinnati, which was a crime at the time). He later became a foreign correspondent in Japan and was naturalized as a Japanese citizen, taking the name Koizumi Yakumo.
- Hearn offered “Weird Tales” as one possible translation of the Japanese word Kwaidan.
- Kwaidan won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes (at that time, the second most prestigious prize after the Palme D’Or). It was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, but lost to the Czech war drama The Shop on Main Street [Obchod na korze].
- The episode “The Woman of the Snow” was (unwisely) trimmed from the original American theatrical release in order to cut the runtime from three hours to just over two hours.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Although it’s hard to top the image of the minstrel Hoichi covered (almost) from head to toe in holy Buddhist characters or the ghostly court of samurai, it’s the expressionistic set of “The Woman in the Snow”—with its constellations of warped watching eyeballs set in a deep blue sky—that makes the eeriest impression.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Kwaidan illustrates the rule that, the better the movie, the less weird it has to be to make the List. Although on the surface it’s just a collection of bare-bones ghost stories, in telling these tales director Kobayashi wisely jettisons reality in favor of a stylized, expressionistic, visually poetic aesthetic that gently detaches the viewer from everyday life and floats him into an ancient spirit world that seems simultaneously to have never and always existed.
Original Trailer for Kwaidan
COMMENTS: In Kwaidan‘s opening credits black, blue, red and purple inks swirl around in Continue reading 61. KWAIDAN (1964)