Monday, October 29, 2012
Directed by Masaki Kobayashi and written by Yoko Mizuki from an original story by Yakumo Koizumi, Kwaidan is a collection of four chilling stories based on the folk stories of Lafcadio Hearn. The stories revel in the world of ghosts and their encounters with humans in the course of different periods in Japan. Starring Rentaro Mikuni, Keiko Kishi, Michiyo Aratama, Misako Watanabe, Tatsuya Nakadai, and Takashi Shimura. Kwaidan is a mesmerizing yet exotic film from Masaki Kobayashi.
In the first story entitled The Black Hair, a samurai warrior (Rentaro Mikuni) leaves his wife (Michiyo Aratama) in order to gain some sort of social status after being left in poverty by a lord. After marrying a governor’s daughter (Misako Watanabe), the warrior finds himself longing for simpler times as well as his first wife. In The Woman of the Snow, a woodcutter and his young apprentice (Tatsuya Nakadai) deal with a harsh winter where they stay at a hut only to get a visit from a mysterious ghost (Keiko Kishi) who takes the life of the woodcutter as his apprentice watches in horror. After making a vow to the ghost, the apprentice becomes a family man after marrying a beautiful young woman as his peace is shattered by recollections of the mysterious ghost.
In Hoichi the Earless, a young blind monk (Katsuo Nakamura) hears the voice of a mysterious ghost (Tetsuro Tanaba) who takes him to an old tomb so that his masters can hear him sing about a great war between two clans. The monk’s frequent disappearances gets the attention of the head priest (Takashi Shimura) who learns what is happening as he tries to do something to stop the ghosts from retrieving the young monk. The final segment entitled In a Cup of Tea has the film’s narrator (Osamu Takizawa) writing where he tries to finish a story about an encounter between a samurai warrior (Kan’emon Nakamura) and a mysterious ghost (Noburo Nakaya) where paranoia starts to ensue.
The film is essentially a collection of four ghosts stories that reveals man’s encounter with ghosts and the impact that it causes. Through these very intricate tales, the film explores the world of the supernatural as well as the way man deals with these encounters. In The Black Hair, the film explores the world of selfishness and regret where this samurai warrior copes with the decision he’s made. In The Woman of the Snow, a young woodcutter apprentice meets a mysterious ghost of the winter where he makes a vow to not reveal what he saw as he would eventually undo the newfound peace and family life that he had just gained. In Hoichi the Earless, a blind musician is unaware of the visitors he’s singing for which brings the attention of his monastery who do whatever they can to get rid of the ghosts. The fourth and final story In a Cup of Tea is essentially a fragment of an unfinished story the film’s narrator tries to write about a samurai warrior fighting with a ghost.
Each story reveals in a lot of themes that is based on folk lore as they all reveal a lot about man’s fallacy about themselves where they each make strange encounters with not just ghosts but themselves. Notably for some of the protagonists in the story where they would make decisions that would change the course of their life. Some with regret while others would face the unknown like Hoichi who is unaware of the role he’s playing as it raises a lot of fear in his masters. It’s part of the script’s intentions to reveal a world where the supernatural is all around everyone yet they don’t know what these individuals would face.
Masaki Kobayashi’s direction is a real highlight of the film for unique visual presentation that he creates for each segment. Notably in the backdrops that he brings to the film’s scenes where it plays up a world that is expressionistic and surreal as if it’s a world that may not be real yet the situations could be. While segments like The Black Hair and In a Cup of Tea employ a more straightforward presentation. Kobayashi does bring in a lot of interesting images to those segments where it plays up that unique world of the supernatural. Though The Black Hair is more of a drama that explores the world of regret, it’s climax is where the film’s horror is revealed as it shows exactly what the samurai warrior has to cope with.
For segments like The Woman of the Snow and Hoichi the Earless, Kobayashi’s presentation is grand and elaborate in terms of the scenes he creates and the surroundings that the characters inhabit. Notably in the use of the surreal backdrops that adds a sense of fantasy to these segments. In the Hoichi the Earless segment, it’s for this amazing and sprawling recreation of the famous Battle of Dan-no-ura between Emperor Antoku and Minamoto no Yoritomo in the Genpai War. It’s a moment in the film that is unlike anything where Kobayashi uses lots of a strange framing devices and movements to capture this battle as if it was made in a theater with all of these production staging and such. It’s truly a grand moment that is followed by the more low-key In a Cup of Tea segment that ends the film but with a truly unsettling climax. Overall, Kobayashi creates a marvel of a film that emphasizes strong visuals and universal themes to tell a very dazzling horror story.
Cinematographer Yoshio Miyajima does fantastic work with the film‘s very colorful and stylish photography from the usage of blue and orange lights for The Woman of the Snow segment to the lush coloring schemes of the battle re-creation of the Hoichi the Earless segment. Editor Hisashi Sagara does brilliant work with the editing by employing lots of stylish cuts to play out the suspense as well as slow, methodical rhythms to play out those moments including some of its dramatic scenes. Art director Shigemasa Toda does spectacular work with the set pieces to recreate old Japan with its homes and such along with the expressionistic backdrops and set pieces that really plays to the film‘s majestic beauty.
The sound work of Hideo Nishizaki is incredible for the atmosphere it creates in many of the film‘s segments from the intimacy in the conversations to the chilling moments that involves the ghosts and the surroundings. The film’s music by Toru Takemitsu is amazing for the its very intricate yet unsettling arrangements with string instruments and percussions to create a brooding mood that plays to the horror for all of the segments in the film.
The film’s ensemble cast is excellent for the performances they provide in the different segments of the film. From The Black Hair segment, there’s terrific performances from Rentaro Mikuni as the samurai who deals with his choices, Michiyo Aratama as the kind and loving first wife, and Misako Watanabe as the more spoiled and cruel second wife. From The Woman of the Snow segment, there’s wonderful performances from Tatsuya Nakadai as the woodcutter’s apprentice, Yuko Mochizuki as the apprentice’s mother, and Keiko Kishi in a terrifying performance as the Woman of the Snow.
From the Hoichi the Earless, there’s superb performances from Tetsuro Tanaba as the ghost warrior, Katsuo Nakamura as the blind musician Hoichi, and Takashi Shimura in warm performance as the head priest. In the In a Cup of Tea segment, there’s excellent performances from Kan’emon Nakamura as the disturbed samurai warrior, Noboru Nakaya as the ghost samurai, and Osamu Takizawa in a remarkable performance as the film’s narrator.
Kwaidan is an outstanding film from Masaki Kobayashi. While it’s not a conventional horror film, it is still a visually-entrancing one in terms of its presentation and the stories it tells. Particularly as it features some fascinating stories about the supernatural and the powers it have over humanity. In the end, Kwaidan is a sensational film from Masaki Kobayashi.
Masaki Kobayashi Films: (Black River) - The Human Condition - Harakiri - Samurai Rebellion - (Hymn to a Tired Man) - (The Fossil) - (Tokyo Trial)
© thevoid99 2012