Plot: What’s it about?
Within Kwaidan are four stories, each dealing with some aspect of the supernatural. Each of the sequences tells a different tale of course, but they have that common thread in the realm of the supernatural. The first tale is Black Hair, which involves a samurai who has little money, but a loving wife. He loves her and is as somewhat happy, though he longs to have money and lead a more fruitful lifestyle. So he leaves his current wife and marries a new woman, this time one that has substantial wealth. But again, he finds himself only partially pleased and longs for his previous lover. But will it be simple enough for him to just return to her? Next is The Woman In The Snow, which deals with a young man, his father, and a female vampire, all of whom converge once in the snow. The vampire kills the father, but agrees to spare the son if he swears to never tell anyone about the incident. Time will tell though, whether not his promise is good. Hoichi, The Earless is next and it centers on a blind man living with monks, who has the most beautiful singing voice you can imagine. Even ghosts seem to like it, as they demand that he sings the hymn of their final battle. But the monks quickly move in and paint him with symbols so the ghosts can’t see him. Will this measure work to keep the ghosts away? The final tale is In A Cup Of Tea, which tells the story of a man who can see strange reflections inside his cup of tea. The man sees the face of a man that won’t go away, but what does it mean?
I am so pleased that Kwaidan has been released on our beloved format and there’s no one I’d rather see it released by than the fine folks at Criterion. The studio is known for their commitment to excellence and this disc proves that, with a nice new anamorphic widescreen transfer. I was impressed by this transfer and though extras are slim on this one, the video more than makes up for that loss. Read down a ways to learn about the transfer if you’d like, but for now I am switching gears to discuss this fine piece of cinema. As if just one fantastic and eerie supernatural tale wasn’t enough, Kwaidan boasts four of them and each seems to be just as potent as the next. The stories have tremendous writing and effective acting of course, but also contain superb visuals and atmosphere. This all combines to forge a cinematic bond of spookiness and who doesn’t love a good ghost story, right? I love this movie and as such, I give it a high recommendation and leave the choice with you whether or rent or purchase the disc. As for me though, this one’s gained a place in my personal archives.
In movies like this one, where several stories are told usually seem disjointed, no matter how good they are. Some even use prologues and epilogues to try and sew the tales together, but unless a close team works on them all, the cohesive nature will never be present. Kwaidan doesn’t attempt to patchwork the pieces together so much, more along the lines of presenting four stories which follow a common path. This is due to the same director and writers working on all four episodes, which ensures they will have the same feel and texture. The stories do present many differences from each other of course, but the bond is more than evident once you’ve seen all four of the tales. Yakumo Koizumi penned the book, while Yoko Mizuki adapted the book into the screenplay used here. The writing is excellent, both in basic premise and execution of detail. The stories seem so eerie, even after multiple viewings, I can assure you this disc will be played at my house on Halloween. Director Masaki Kobayashi gives Kwaidan a rich and powerful visual style, which adds so much tension and atmosphere to these stories. Other films helmed by Kobayashi include Glowing Autumn, Black River, Beautiful Days, Three Loves, and The Inheritance.
Video: How does it look?
Kwaidan is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This film shows some age signs and such, but I think this is an outstanding overall visual presentation. Some grain is evident at times, but this never detracts from the image much and debris & marks are at a minimum. The sharpness of this transfer is good, which means detail is high and shadows seem refined. I found the black levels to be well balanced at all times also, which enhanced the image that much more. The film leans toward the darker side of the spectrum though, so don’t expect a bright movie. Colors appear bold and distinct, with no bleeds at all and natural flesh tones. As I expected them to, Criterion has once again delivered for us film fans, this time with Kwaidan.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original Japanese mono track is included, which offers a solid overall experience. As you would expect from any mono track, range is limited, but I was pleased with the clarity and sharpness found within this track. The elements never overstep their boundaries, which means each remains distinct and bold, never overshadowed or buried under the others. The dialogue is excellent, no volume errors or harshness can be found in the least. This one won’t rile up the speakers, but it sounds terrific. This disc also includes optional English subtitles, which have been changed to improve upon previous editions.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer and the usual color bars, so you can adjust your video levels for maximum performance.