Most societies have part of their foundations based at least partly on the existence of otherworldly beings, and Japan is no different. Kwaidan is the kind of film that washes over you without much worry for whether or not you’re following its story. And considering the movie is based on four simplistic short stories/fairy tales, you probably won’t care about the meat of the story. However, to experience this movie is to place yourself in the hands of a master craftsman. Director Masaki Kobayashi creates his atmosphere from his images, which are a marvel. You’ll see colors, lines and curves used in masterful ways to heighten or relax the intensity of each shot.
Visually beautiful and with some cool special effects, this is a quartet of Japenese horror ghost stories that have very few scares, although there is the odd frisson of eeriness in a couple of them. The first story, The Black Hair, concerns a man who, through “the thoughtlessness of youth and the experience of desire,” leaves his wife and his life of poverty with her in order to marry someone with money. But as he lives with his new wife, thoughts of the woman he left haunt him, and he begins to realize that he loved her.
Truth be told, the other stories are pretty cookie cutter to where I don’t really have to get into them, such as two woodcutters, a man and his uncle, are trying to get home through a blizzard. Regardless of originality, these stories are all intriguing and unnerving, and the tales combined with Kobayashi’s great technical style heighten the overall experience of watching the movie.
Kobayashi even handled the recording of the post-audio, and did the synching himself. Truly, his vision was undeniable, as the film garnered many awards and recognitions, including the 1965 Cannes Film Festival Special Jury Prize. Kwaidan looks surprisingly good viewed 36 years later on the new Criterion Collection DVD. would go so far as to suggest that Kwaidan is a good document for film students to study to learn how to make films outside the MTV school. I don’t review horror films that often on Japan Cinema, but when I do, you shuld take notice, because there is usually very good reason for doing so.