Kwaidan (1964)

KWAIDAN (1964)
(a.k.a. KAIDAN)
Article #1201 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-28-2004
Posting Date: 11-25-2004
Directed by Masaki Kobayashi
Featuring Rentaro Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama, Misako Watanabe

Four eerie tales of ghosts, spirits and demons are presented.

This movie is beautifully photographed, makes splendid use of sound, and is simply lyrically breathtaking. It is also two hours and forty minutes long, and unfortunately (largely due to the leisurely pacing), it feels it. If I had to sacrifice any story here for the sake of length, it would be the first one (“Black Hair”); though it has a nice ending, it’s the one whose slow build-up makes the passage of time the most noticeable. Much better are the second and fourth stories; the second (“The Woman in the Snow”) is filled with evocative images of the blowing snow and a winter sky with staring eyes, and it has an ending that is powerful and sad. The fourth (“In a Cup of Tea”) was incomplete, but tells an engaging story of a warrior who sees a strange face in his cup of tea and unwisely swallows it; the movie puts together an ending which points the way to what would be the most probable final twist had the story been completed.

Whatever you do, though, you won’t want to skip the third story; it’s the longest of the lot, but it’s also unforgettable. “Hoichi the Earless” deals with a blind musician who is called upon to play the Biwa for what turns out to be a gathering of the dead, and the steps taken by the priests to save the musician’s life makes for a shockingly powerful ending. This sequence also features Takashi Shimura, who should prove to be a familiar face for fans of kaiju and Kurasawa; he played Dr. Yamane in the original GODZILLA as well as the head samurai in THE SEVEN SAMURAI. This segment alone makes the movie essential viewing for any horror / fantasy fan.

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