Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)


Leading up to Halloween I’ll be hashing out some of my favorite horror films ranging from shlocko B-horror to luminous, elegant & eerie Gothic masterpieces, mainly focusing on those that may not have such prominence in pop culture consciousness as, say, Halloween does. Hope you enjoy! Feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments.

Kwaidan is at once one of the most meticulously crafted and staged films of classic Japanese cinema, but also one of the most odd, untraditional, unsettling.  The opening credits sequence immediately signals its peculiar, mesmerizing quality…glorious swirls of ink pulsing, undulating in a heightened pale silence punctuated by an occasional tinny trill that travels up your spine and sets off screeching violins under your dermis.

The film unfurls in 4 different segments, each adapted from the Occidental collector of Japanese ghostlore Lafcadio Hearn’s turn-of-the-1900s anthology of the same name.  Each segment has its virtues: The Black Hair soaks in shadows, unconventional angles and imminent dread, Woman of the Snow constricts your capillaries with its oppressive iciness and perfected-to-affect lighting; Hoichi the Earless overwhelms with its grandiose architectural and artistic construction, and In a Cup of Tea intrigues rather than frightens, a very modern curio of an ending.  Together they create a toweringly eminent epic of traditional Japanese horror that stands as proud, bold, and unique today as it did in 1964.

After the hours of watching Kwaidan are over (yeah, it’s long), certain dazzlingly expressionist images, the austere biwa music and a quiet, masterful sense of suspense will linger with you ’til the end of days.


6 Responses to “Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)”

  1. Christopher Says:

    I have sincere affection for Kwaidan. Its a film that I often try to turn people on to, and its usually met with a warm reception.

    I watched something last night that might appeal to you–Guy Maddin’s Dracula. Part ballet, part silent film, it completely entranced me from the opening credit sequence. Highly recommended.

  2. Miss Q Says:

    Ah, I LOVE Maddin’s Dracula, so exuberant and erotic. I am thrilled to death that someone besides me does, too!! Are you a fan of Maddin’s other films? ‘Brand Upon the Brain!’ is my favorite. Deliriously demented storyline, and that same unique neo-silent film texture and style.

    I must ask-what is your favorite segment in Kwaidan? Seems like everyone has a different preference.

  3. Christopher Says:

    Hoichi, for sure.

    I haven’t seen any other Maddin films. I watched the first 20 minutes or so of The Saddest Music In The World but wasn’t in the right mental space for it at the time. John & Marissa were recommending Brand Upon The Brain! to me the other night, actually. I will need to check them out.

  4. dumbricht Says:

    Nice post. I just watched “Kwaidan” this weekend. “Hoichi” is by far my favorite. I just posted about the movie as well (as part of the 31 horror movies I’m watching for Halloween).

  5. Miss Q Says:

    Thanks! The Hoichi segment ranks among the most magnificent things ever seen on-screen, in my opinion. I’ll have to check out your horror series… I appreciate you stopping by mine!

  6. dumbricht Says:

    Just posted about another Japanese horor movie from the 60’s “Jigoku”. I had never heard of it until the other day. I’d love to hear your opinion:

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