One of the most meticulously crafted supernatural fantasy films ever made, Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1964) is also one of the most unusual. While such classic black and white chillers as The Uninvited, The Innocents and The Haunting teasingly speculate on the existence of ghosts, this lavish widescreen and color production deals with the spirit world head-on, as something completely and frighteningly real.
Consisting of four episodes, Kwaidan is based on the writings of Lafcadio Hearn, a folklorist of Greek-Irish ancestry who came to the United States in 1869 and later moved to Japan. Hearn became a naturalized Japanese citizen in 1895, and changed his name to Yakumo Koizumi. If total assimilation of his adopted culture was Hearn’s goal, then he clearly achieved it, for it’s impossible to tell that Kwaidan’s source material is in any way Western. As directed by Kobayashi, Hearn’s four tales unfurl across the screen like versions of the classic Japanese paintings of the historical periods in which the film is set.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, Kwaidan represents a considerable departure from the works of its director, who made his initial fame with such socially conscious dramas as Black River (a study of corruption brought about by U.S. military bases in Japan) and The Human Condition (an exposé of Japanese mistreatment of Chinese in POW camps). Shot almost entirely in enormous studio sets, with a completely post-synched and carefully controlled soundtrack, Kwaidan is about as far from moviemaking “realism” as it’s possible to go. Yet 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. (Text Courtesy of the Criterion Collection)
- NTSC Region 1
- Anamorphic Widescreen
- Japanese Audio
- English Subtitles