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Monday, July 15, 2013

Kwaidan (1965) d. Masaki Kobayashi

Still from Kwaidan, this shows the Woman in White and the woodcutter

Kwaidan (1965)
d. Masaki Kobayashi
Criterion Collection #90

  This film is a compilation of four traditional Japanese ghost stories adapted for the big screen.  The source material are the writings of Lafcadio Hearn, a folklorist of Greek-Irish ancestry who emigrated to the United States and then moved to Japan n 1869.  There he adopted a Japanese name and became a citizen.  Each of the four tales centers around ghostly visitations.

  The first story "The Black Hair" is about a Samurai who leaves his wife in Kyoto because he can't make ends meet.  His second wife is a wealthy noblewoman, but he tires of her and returns to Kyoto where he experiences a full reconciliation with wife number one only to find upon waking up the next morning that she is a corpse.
This is another still from the film Kwaidan and it's quite easy to see here how the director makes his stills look like paintings.

  The second episode, "The Woman In White" concerns a hunter who sees a ghostly woman take the spirit of his friend when they are marrooned in the wilderness during a snow storm.  The spirit spares his life but makes him promise never to tell anyone about his experience.   Ten years later, he is happily married with three kids, when he tells his wife the story after thinking that she resembles the Woman in White.  As it turns out, he's married to the Woman in White and she is pissed off that he broke his promise.

 Hoichi the earless is about a talented blind musician who lives in a monastery.  One night he is visited by a spirit who summons him to serenade the spirits of a deceased royal lineage, in a grave yard.  When the temple priest finds out they explain that he needs to resist their calls the next time the spirit shows up, and they inscribe him with sacred text to make him invisible to the spirit...only they forgot the ears.  You can guess the rest.

  Although the narrative is not particularly moving, the director uses color like a painter, and it is hard not to stop the film just to appreciate the cinematography as one would a painting in a museum.  Unfortunately, Kwaidan is almost three hours long and it is a slow, slow, slow three hours.  I'm not saying I didn't appreciate it the film, but it took me three days to finish it up- watching one hour a day.

  The Criterion Collection has already been a brief education in Japanese cinema with literally dozens of films left to go.  I can't say that I've ever been interested in the subject of Japanese cinema but it appears that the Criterion Collection has decided that yes, I am interested in Japanese cinema.

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