Thursday 17 January 2013

Kwaidan (Kaidan) [1964]

Though Masaki Kobayashi wasn’t really a member of the Japanese New Wave, the renowned portmanteau film Kwaidan, arguably his most famous work alongside his previous film Harakari, is considered by many to belong to the breakthrough movement. It comprised of four separate supernatural (ghost) stories set in feudal Japan and was adapted from the folktales written by Greek-born Japanese writer Lafcadio Hearn. The first short, ‘The Black Hair’, was about a man who deserts his wife in search of greater fortunes, leading to a shocking climax; the second, ‘The Woman of the Snow’, was about a young woodcutter who marries an enigmatic woman who may have links to a sinister event from his past; the third, ‘Hoichi the Earless’, was about a blind temple boy with exquisite musical talents who ends up singing songs about a devastating battle from long back to those who died in it; and the final short, ‘In A Cup of Tea’, was about a samurai guard who inadvertently ends up consuming a man’s soul. The quality of the stories, as can be expected, swung considerably from one to the other. The third story wasn’t just the longest of the lot, it was also quite easily the best of the four. It begun with a highly stylized and an almost surreal depiction of a bloody war, with the minimally used but decidedly melancholic folksong being played in the background. The story’s spiritual content was beautifully counterbalanced by its audio-visual splendour. The first short, too, was quite good, especially in its commentary on man’s lust for fame, and the tragic consequences of delayed attempts at redemption.

Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Genre: Fantasy/Horror/Surreal Drama
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan


Sam Juliano said...

Beautifully shot, haunting and atmospheric, it's certainly one of the director's great films, a landmark of Japanese cinema, and one of the cinema's most renowned ghost stories. As always, Shubhajit, a fabulous capsule assessment!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. The impressionistic touches that Kobayashi filled the movie with, added surrealistic feel to it. A very unique & memorable ghost film anthology indeed. And a landmark Japanese film too.