Film Review: Kwaidan (1965)

The elaborate sets and eerie folklore of this Japanese classic craft a horror that’s insidious, peculiar, and captivating.

The Low Down:

This anthology of classic Japanese folklore contains four segments. Black Hair; after leaving his second wife, a rich samurai returns to his old house hoping to rekindle a relationship with his first love. The Woman of the Snow; trapped in a forest by a blizzard, a woodcutter is saved by a mysterious woman. Hoichi the Earless; a blind biwa musician is asked to sing for a royal family. In a Cup of Tea; a writer finds a mysterious story about a man who sees a face in his cup of tea.

Running Time: 3:03 Minutes
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Writer: Yôko Mizuki

The Scooby:

This film is a slow burner. Parts are equally meditative and harrowing, in their own right. But one of the most impressive aspects are their unique sets. In ‘Black Hair’ the decrepit house provides a perfect stage for the returning samurai and his aged love. ‘The Woman of the Snow’ uses a magical set, like something out of Narnia, to contextualise and create an ethereal stage for a Yuki-onna. ‘Hoichi the Earless’ starts with a fantastic summary of a naval battle, using boats and samurais galore, and ‘In a Cup of Tea’ is set in a grand mansion.

The history of the tales, ‘Hoichi the Earless’ and ‘The Woman of the Snow’, are supremely interesting. Like most mythology or folklore, they give an insight into archaic fears and beliefs. The inherent fear found in these stories speaks of a universal dread, of the unknown, of spirits, of the afterlife, and supernatural forces that may have control over us.

The strongest segments are the last two, ‘Hoichi the Earless’ and ‘In a Cup of Tea’. While ‘Black Hair’ and ‘The Woman of the Snow’ are interesting, they lack the enduring philosophical type of horror the others create. But the morals of these tales are seemingly gray. While ‘In a Cup of Tea’ is a frantic loss of reality, ‘Hoichi’ provides us with a warning against communicating with the dead. While ‘Hoichi’ inspires a peculiar kind of hope, ‘In a Cup of Tea’ pulls at the seams of life around us.

A classic film. I’d recommend to anyone willing to spare the time.

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