The greatest Japanese horror film ever made
Ed N | Kensington, Maryland USA | 10/12/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Wow! What a gorgeous film this is! Kwaidan is quite possibly the most beautiful scary movie you will ever see. The cinematography in Kwaidan is superb, and the film has an epic feel to it, rather unusual for a horror film. In fact, I would even call this film the "2001" of horror movies, and I imagine that if Stanley Kubrick had gotten around to directing a Japanese-style horror movie, it would look a lot like this film.Kwaidan was made in the mid-1960s, and at the time, it was the most expensive Japanese film ever made. It was a big success at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Prize. The film is a collection of four ghost stories, told with a decidedly Japanese flair. The first story is about a man who abandons his wife only to return years later. The second story is about a man's encounter with a snow vampiress. The third story, my favorite, is about a monk who gives nocturnal recitals for mysterious and ghostly hosts. The last story is about a man who drinks down a ghost. That's all you really need to know, as the stories are quite straight-forward. It is the manner in which they are told and photographed that makes them so powerful.The pacing is very deliberate and slow but gives you plenty of time to appreciate the numerous beautiful images that appear on-screen. The director, Kobayashi, filmed Kwaidan in a very surrealistic fashion, and the entire soundtrack was post-dubbed. As such, the sound effects come and go in very unexpected ways, like nervous twitches. This lends a further eerie atmosphere to the film.The DVD is by Criterion, so you can expect a great transfer. And the transfer is absolutely stunning! Just look at the trailer (included on the DVD) and compare with the quality of the film itself, and you will be amazed. The picture is crystal clear with bright colors and deep black (the many night scenes look great, not muddy at all). There are no pixelations or artifacts and barely a trace here or there of scratch marks that belie the film's age. Sound is monophonic. Too bad Criterion didn't include a commentary track, but I suppose with an almost 3-hour film, there wasn't much room left on the DVD for anything else.Still, if you like eerie ghost movies like The Innocents or The Haunting (original B/W version) or The Changeling, you will really appreciate this film. Kwaidan is not horrifying or scary in a "Halloween" or "Scream" manner; rather it creates an uneasy sensation of dread and despair. Highly highly recommended!"
Fantastic piece of artwork
Atheen M. Wilson | Mpls, MN United States | 07/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I became a fan of the more artistic genre of Japanese film with Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Hidden Fortress, both black and white classics of the style. After I happened to see this collection of stories on TV, I ordered the video. Still impressed after several viewings, I've decided to purchase the DVD version when it comes out this fall so I can see the film in it's most perfect form for home viewing. The collection is based on a series of short stories by a Louisiannan writer, Lafacado Hearn. Kwaidan is Japanese for ghost stories, a type of fiction I've enjoyed since childhood introduction to MacBeth and The Christmas Carole, and these are some very well written examples. My favorites of this collection were the Woman in the Snow and Earless, the former for director Kobayashi's incredible sense of color, sound and setting, and the latter for his sense of historical pagentry and drama and its surprise ending. An incredible piece of artwork. I will probably give my video version to a friend who is also fond of the genra and an afficionado of all things Japanese."
One of a kind film.
Iconophoric | 06/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Spoilers --yes, it is important always to announce coming spoilers because there are still people who haven't seen this film. (After hearing about it for a decade, I hadn't seen it till this past week.)There is surely little I can add to what's already been said here about this film. So maybe what I have to say boils down to a YES vote for the pacing, atmosphere and story content of Kwaidan. But I will venture a few comments.Unlike some other reviewers, I don't consider the first two tales, Woman of the Snow and The Black Hair-- nor the last tale, In a Cup of Tea-- negligible. Your pulse and breathing slows, the pitch of your senses drops an octave and even time seems to step off its treadmill to oblivion as you enter into the warp and weft of Kwaidan through The Black Hair. Over all, the director showed great ingenuity in the way he 'shot around' moments that could have been sunk by the formative level of special effects at that time. (How many films of this vintage are ruined for modern viewers by the universal presence of the veritable zipper in the back of the monster suit? Nearly all. This film avoids that pitfall, and yet still manages to give you something awesome to look at. --In other words, the director didn't just lazily avert his camera's gaze, as low budget horror films of the time often do, and fall back on what became an abused old saw that "the audience can always supply stronger horrors in their mind than I could for them." The director gives us plenty to look at and remember visually later.) Woman of the Snow develops a poignant relationship between a wife-- who is not what she appears-- and her husband. Their story is sweet. You hope they prosper as a family, while you fear otherwise. A tone that is basically domestic and anti-horrific is set. When the serenity of their lives is climactically shattered, it is doubly hard to watch. You feel pity and sorrow for the man, and even for the monster, more than horror. There is no gore. A beautiful way of life is dissolved forever by a careless word, a moment of candor with a loved one that prompts unforeseeable consequences. That is real horror.Hoichi is probably the standout story, if only because it is given the full space in time for which storytelling at this sort of pace begs. The visual effects in those scenes involving Hoichi's visits to the dead are handled with incredible deftness. They are the best this pre-cgi, pre-morph technology era could have hoped to achieve and they still stand up amazingly. I fairly gasped when I saw these scenes.(The most beautiful use of what are essentially dissolves I have seen.) This segment makes some of the best use of silence and near silence also. As the ghost assaults Hoichi, there are sparse, muted musique concrete plocks and bings on the soundtrack. The effect is suffocating. No flurry of Wagnerian sturm und drang could have worked as well for this rending scene. After the breadth and luxury of the Hoichi segment, In a Cup of Tea may seem a little abrupt. This is not a bad thing. Hoichi was allowed enough latitude that they even managed some rare comic relief there. A Cup of Tea is a tart, terse afterword of a segment. It's like an episode of the half hour Alfred Hitchcock Presents in that it explodes the surprise at the very end, then exits with no comment at all. This is perfectly in keeping with Hearn's source stories or a John Collier or W.W. Jacobs short story. --Anything written in the form after Poe, really. Everything builds toward the final effect. If you haven't seen Kwaidan, I recommend it. You need a grey day, first of all, or a night to view it. You need to banish all your irreverant, overly-ironic friends who might surprise you and 'get it', but as likely won't. And you have to want to like it. If all these conditions are in place, I can almost guarantee you'll be very glad you invested the time in the film."
The Greatest "Art House" Horror Film
Paul Kesler | Bridgeport, PA United States | 07/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Kwaidan" is a cinematic masterpiece of the horror genre which, unfortunately, is not nearly as well known to genre fans as it should be. In my view it ranks with Werner Herzog's 1979 re-make of "Nosferatu" as the finest horror film ever made in color. Part of the reason for "Kwaidan"'s obscurity is its national origin (though, strangely enough, the Japanese folktales which form its basis were written by an American expatriate, Lafcadio Hearn). Yet even in Japan, the film was a commercial flop, despite superlatives from critics. More likely, the obscurity of "Kwaidan" derives from its artistry; viewers who come to it for the first time will probably be only marginally aware that they're seeing horror at all. Search in vain for gore and special effects; the film almost recalls Val Lewton's old classics in its reliance on suggestion. As an anthology, moreover, "Kwaidan" is in the same league as the 1946 British film, "Dead of Night," except that it has no over-arching "frame" device to tie the stories together. All four films which make it up are essentially revenge plots: simple and straightforward, like most folktales, though I would like to mention a personal favorite: "Yuki-Onna," whose surrealist account of a female vampire awed me with its weird snow-scapes and eerie soundtrack. By all means, see "Kwaidan" if you have any curiosity at all about horror as viewed through the lens of an artistic master; I only wish American directors had a comparable interest in quality."