Kwaidan (1964)

kwaidan poster 1964 movie Japanese
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great looking, good stories, good cast


Movie Info

Movie Name:   Kwaidan

Studio:  Ninjin Club

Genre(s):   Horror

Release Date(s):  December 29, 1964 (Premiere)/January 6, 1965 (Japan)/November 22, 1965 (US)

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

kwaidan the long black hair ghost story

Long one night stand…

A man (Rentaro Mikuni) decides to leave his lowly status behind along with his wife (Michiyo Aratama) for riches and stature only to learn you can never return home again.  An encounter on a deadly winter’s night leaves a woodsman (Tatsuya Nakadai) forced to keep a secret that he cannot even tell his new bride (Keiko Kishi).  A blind musician (Katsuo Nakamura) tells the tale of the Battle of Dan-no-ura in The Tale of the Heike, but who is listening?  A writer (Osamu Takizawa) recounts the unfinished story of a samurai (Noboru Nakaya) who sees a spirit (Kei Satō) in a tea cup.

kwaidan the woman of the snow yuki onna keiko kishi tatsuya nakadai

Hey, want to hook up?

Directed by Masaki Kobayashi, Kwaidan (怪談 or Kaidan aka Strange Stories) is a Japanese horror anthology film. The movie is based on the 1903 Lafcadio Hearn story collection Kwaidan:  Stories and Studies of Strange Things among other Japanese folk tales and is divided into “The Black Hair” (黒髪 or Kurokami), “The Woman of the Snow” (雪女 or Yukionna), “Hoichi the Earless” (耳無し芳一の話 or Miminashi Hōichi no Hanashi), and “In a Cup of Tea” (茶碗の中 and Chawan no Naka).  The film was released to critical acclaim winning the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.  A remastered version of the film was released as part of the Criterion Collection (Criterion #90).

kwaidan hoichi the earless battle of dan no ura

Dead people make the best audience

I love anthologies, and I love horror anthologies.  Kwaidan fits both categories and brings the interesting aspect of “what other cultures think is scary”…and it is a good reminder that as different as we are as humans, a lot remains the same.

The movie is almost an example of The Hero with a Thousand Faces in its structure.  The four “Eastern” stories almost all have similar “Western” counterparts that stretch from the Bible to classic myth and feel very familiar even if you aren’t aware of the stories.  The poet so good that even ghosts listen in “Hoichi the Earless” has been repeated over and over again (I even wrote a story with this theme and hadn’t seen this movie).  “The Woman of the Snow” both resembles the classic story of the Garden of Eden, Pandora’s Box, or Orpheus who couldn’t help but turn around to see his wife despite the orders not to…the stories in the movie feel familiar.

kwaidan in a cup of tea spirit osamu takizawa

Help! I’m trapped in a pot of water!

The film benefits from strong performances.  Each story has a great lead that pushes the horror home and in the case of the first two stories a strong female “horror” character.  The third story benefits from Katsuo Nakamura whose blind performer has an iconic appearance in this film with the Heart Sutra written all of his bodies (of course minus the ears).

Kwaidan really hits home with the visuals.  The hyper-reality created in most of the story allows for bright colors and scenery.  The horror is often very emotion driven with the visuals and the tone adding to the story.  Kwaidan has some great looking moments and excels in this aspect of its production.

Kwaidan is a movie that grows on you.  I think it is not only a good horror film in the classic sense of horror, but it shows the universal nature of horror and ghost stories while showing how it is perceived in other cultures.  It isn’t the most accessible film and it is quite long, but fortunately since it is an anthology (with no connecting story), it can be watched in sessions…and it is worth it in the end.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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