Kwaidan Screen 10 articles

Kwaidan

1964

Kwaidan Poster
  • Artsy, muted horror anthology from Japan, based on four ghost stories by Lafcadio Hearn. The first episode builds an effective mood through its elliptical action and long, slow tracks through empty rooms, but this 1965 film soon levels off into academic stylization.

  • It is a compendium of four ghost stories adapted from Lafcadio Hearn, so determinedly aesthetic in their design and style that horror frissons hardly get a look in. Very beautiful, though.

  • What makes Kwaidan singular is the combination of Kobayashi’s almost maddeningly patient, methodical approach to drama (as exemplified by 1962’s Harakiri, also available via Criterion) and his expressionistic experiments with color, sound, and theatrical artifice.

  • In going to such dramatically ambitious lengths as adapting aspects of Kabuki and Bunaraku puppet theatre to filmmaking techniques, Kobayashi achieves a subtle synthesis of realism and stylization. He makes palpable a vision in which beauty and horror not only coexist but complement one another.

  • A film that has been plundered over and over (witness: Mishima, Conan The Barbarian, Tales From The Darkside, all those Ring/Grudge things), this is both gorgeous and scary... It can still hold its own against the new generation of horror films still sourcing it.

  • [Kwaidan]—not quite comparable to any other film, regardless of genre or country of origin, and unique in Kobayashi’s oeuvre—defies easy categorization. That is perhaps why it has remained for countless viewers such a singular experience, clinging to memory like an unshakable dream, a glimpse into some alternate zone where light falls differently on faces, time moves by a different measure, and terror blends disturbingly with beauty.

  • For what ultimately amounts to slim (in incident, if not necessarily in length) and predictable tales of ghostly infringement on quotidian life whereby the arcs and the outcomes are more or less the same, it's the complete harmoniousness of the mise-en-scène that keeps them engrossing on a moment-to-moment level, unfolding less like crescendos to narrative surprises than wades through persistent and inexorable hauntedness.

  • Although the American version of “Kwaidan” included only these three stories, the Criterion release reinstates a fourth, “The Woman of Snow,” about a female demon who takes pity on a young woodcutter, up to a point. Here, too, Kobayashi plays with stage conventions (dramatic changes in lighting, painted backdrops, artificial snow). The sequence is exquisitely designed, but even more impressive is the avant-garde composer Toru Takemitsu’s spare, percussive score.

  • Most of Kobayashi’s work is in black and white, but in Kwaidan he evokes a world of heavily stylized colour, and creates one of the most sensual and strangely evocative supernatural films ever made. It remains one-of-a-kind not only for Kobayashi, but also for what has been loosely called ‘the horror film’: Kwaidan doesn’t deal in shock imagery, but rather in an ever-mounting sense of psychological dread.

  • It was one of the most expensive films ever made in Japan (not to mention an Oscar nominee), yet it’s not just interested in cinema as a modern, state-of-the-art medium, but in how cinema could best evoke much older (and quintessentially Japanese) forms of expression. The cinematic techniques are a model of precision and virtuosity. But this also may be the best cinema did at capturing the feeling of folklore, painting, or epic poetry.

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