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Kwaidan (Widescreen) (The Criterion Collection)

Rentarô Mikuni , Michiyo Aratama , Masaki Kobayashi    Unrated   DVD
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
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Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Kwaidan features four nightmarish tales in which terror thrives and demons lurk. Adapted from traditional Japanese ghost stories, this lavish, widescreen production drew extensively on Kobayashi's own training as a student of painting and fine arts. Criterion is proud to present Kwaidan in a new ravishing color transfer.


A masterpiece of filmmaking artifice and mood-setting atmosphere, Kwaidan consists of four ghost stories adapted from the fiction of Greek-born Lafcadio Hearn (a.k.a. Yakumo Koizumi, 1850-1904), who assimilated into Japanese culture so thoroughly that his writings reveal no evidence of Western influence. So it is that these four cinematic interpretations--perhaps more accurately described as tales of spectral visitation--are sublimely Japanese in tone and texture, created entirely in a studio with frequently stunning results. There are painterly images here that remain the most beautiful and haunting in all of Japanese cinema, presented with the purity of silent film, sparsely accompanied by post-synchronized sounds and music (by Toru Takemitsu) that enhance the otherworldly effect of director Masaki Kobayashi's meticulous imagery. When viewed in a receptive frame of mind, Kwaidan can be intensely hypnotic.

Each of the four stories find their protagonists confronted by spirits that compel them to (respectively) make amends for past mistakes, maintain vows of silence, satisfy the yearnings of the undead, or capture phantoms that remain frightfully elusive. As each tale progresses, their supernatural elements grow increasingly intense and distant from the confines of reality. With careful use of glorious color and wide-screen composition, Kwaidan exists in a netherworld that is both real and imagined, its characters never quite sure they can trust what they've seen and heard. Vastly different from the more overt shocks of Western horror, the film casts a supernatural spell that remains timelessly effective. --Jeff Shannon

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating! Aug. 18 2003
I just loved this movie after I finished watching it. That old-japanese-movie-style was perfect, showing and reiterating over and over again the great devotion that the Japaneses have to their culture.
This movie was mainly based by two things:
1- The typical Asain superstition

2- The more than enthyusiastic and amazing stories of the samurais.
From this movie, my favorite story was the last one, which was about a blind man who was offering his services to the temple, since he knew how to play excellently the japanese instrument, which I completely forgot its name. A ghost, an antique warrior from one of the first battles between two important clans, came to visit Oichi (who was the blind man) by being so that he could tell the history of that battle to warrior's queen, who was ghost as well... For many nights, Oichi went to sing the battle to the queen. Until one night, that the priest, that Oishi was working for, discovers that Oichi was singing for the ghosts... Finally, a helper from the priest writes the sacred text all over Oichi's body. Alas, the helper forgets to write it on Oichi's ears, so when the warrior came to visit Oishi one last time, he was able to see his ears, so he decided to cut them off...and Oichi finally becomes, Oichi the Earless.
The great screenplay for each of the stories was just sublime! Very well-done, full of details... A must-see even if you aren't a lover of Asian movies!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of a kind film. June 28 2003
Spoilers --yes, it is important always to announce coming spoilers because there are still people who haven't seen this film. (After hearing about it for a decade, I hadn't seen it till this past week.)
There is surely little I can add to what's already been said here about this film. So maybe what I have to say boils down to a YES vote for the pacing, atmosphere and story content of Kwaidan. But I will venture a few comments.
Unlike some other reviewers, I don't consider the first two tales, Woman of the Snow and The Black Hair-- nor the last tale, In a Cup of Tea-- negligible. Your pulse and breathing slows, the pitch of your senses drops an octave and even time seems to step off its treadmill to oblivion as you enter into the warp and weft of Kwaidan through The Black Hair. Over all, the director showed great ingenuity in the way he 'shot around' moments that could have been sunk by the formative level of special effects at that time. (How many films of this vintage are ruined for modern viewers by the universal presence of the veritable zipper in the back of the monster suit? Nearly all. This film avoids that pitfall, and yet still manages to give you something awesome to look at. --In other words, the director didn't just lazily avert his camera's gaze, as low budget horror films of the time often do, and fall back on what became an abused old saw that "the audience can always supply stronger horrors in their mind than I could for them." The director gives us plenty to look at and remember visually later.)
Woman of the Snow develops a poignant relationship between a wife-- who is not what she appears-- and her husband. Their story is sweet. You hope they prosper as a family, while you fear otherwise. A tone that is basically domestic and anti-horrific is set.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful work! July 6 2004
Anthology of ghost stories adapted from Lafcadio Hearn , American writer who lived in Japan .
Visually stunning.
The third chapter is the best. It turns around a poet who must create a epic poem about an ancient battle dictated for the leader of this dead regiment, killed in action, who emerges from the ashes to find out someone who reminds always the echoes of that bloody combat.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best Japansese film written by a westerner! June 5 2004
By Ted
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD of the film.
When seeing this film, one will be shocked that is based on the book written by an Irish/Greek man who lived in Japan for only the last 15 years of his life.
The film has 4 seperate stories.
Black Hair is about a man who divorces his wife for a richer woman.
Woman of the Snow is about 2 woodcutters who get stranded during a blizzard. A snow vampire later finds them and kills the older man and spares the life of the other on a condition that he tells no one about what happened.
Hoichi the Earless is about a blind young man who has a talent for reciting songs about a real life 12th century battle between the Heike and Genji clans. The ghosts of those killed in the battle summon him to their place of rest to perform for them.
In a Cup of Tea is about a man who sees another man's reflection in his tea.
The DVD only has the theatrical trailer for a special feature.
The second episode is my favorite.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Organic Color!!! March 1 2004
The photography in this film is alive! The sets and costumes are vibrant and brilliantly hued and the cinematography captures it in all its painted glory! But besides that...the stories in this film are all interesting, with some very original ideas. They are four Japanese ghost stories, each one with either a surprise ending or a surreal plot twist that made me want to watch the next one. Some of the stories are genuinely creepy, while others are not so much creepy, but more along the lines of folklore, like tales form The Brothers Grim with an Eastern flavor. While I've read critical reviews hailing this as a masterpiece of traditional Japanese story-telling, I don't completely agree. There is plenty here to marvel at, and much of it does seem perfect for the time it was made(1965), but in the end it is a collection of ghost stories, well-made and thoughtfully produced, with memorable scenes that linger long after the film ends. This is a solid edition to my DVD collection, and it is easy to recommend.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful movie
Do you like ghost stories or old legends? Do you like movies with a dream-like quality, where all the scenes look like paintings? If you do, then this is the movie for you. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Alexandra
2.0 out of 5 stars Ok, I always get sucked into these ghost stories
Lesson 1, always look at the date of the movie and then read the premise. I always read the premise, get the movie and then once it's in, realize that it's more of a Sinbad... Read more
Published on June 18 2004 by pablo
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Japanese Ghost Stories
Kwaidan, though it has some flaws in regard to pacing (it moves just too slowly sometimes) is a visually striking, very colorful film that is a pleasure to look at. Read more
Published on June 13 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Tepid filmaking / drawn-out stories / not scary
This is one of those tried and true Criterion titles of yore, and let me tell you, it's a shaggy dog of a movie -- each one of these stories has the same frickin punchline --... Read more
Published on Jan. 16 2004 by C.J. Hustwick
5.0 out of 5 stars The most beautiful film i ever saw
I remember seeing this movie on halloween night of 2002 on IFC when they were playing the most beautiful and bizarre films ever made, after watching a lot of classic american... Read more
Published on Aug. 30 2003 by The man under your bed . . .
5.0 out of 5 stars color, action, scary ... not to be missed!
Some useful thoughts for the prospective viewer:
1.At last! The beautiful KWAIDAN on DVD! We can expect even better color and visuals than even the VHS transfers.
2. Read more
Published on June 15 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars color, action, scary ... not to be missed!
Some useful thoughts for the prospective viewer:
1.At last! The beautiful KWAIDAN on DVD! We can expect even better color and visuals than even the VHS transfers.
2. Read more
Published on June 15 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars color, action, scary ... not to be missed!
Some useful thoughts for the prospective viewer:
1.At last! The beautiful KWAIDAN on DVD! We can expect even better color and visuals than even the VHS transfers.
2. Read more
Published on June 15 2003
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