Thursday, January 03, 2008

Overlooked Movies: Kwaidan

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." ~H.P. Lovecraft

Kwaidan contains four distinct, separate stories. "Black Hair": A poor samurai who divorces his true love to marry for money, but finds the marriage disastrous and returns to his old wife, only to discover something eerie about her. "The Woman in the Snow": Stranded in a snowstorm, a woodcutter meets an icy spirit in the form of a woman spares his life on the condition that he never tell anyone about her. A decade later he forgets his promise. "Hoichi the Earless": Hoichi is a blind musician, living in a monastery who sings so well that a ghostly imperial court commands him to perform the epic ballad of their death battle for them. But the ghosts are draining away his life, and the monks set out to protect him by writing a holy mantra over his body to make him invisible to the ghosts. But they've forgotten something. "In a Cup of Tea": a writer tells the story of a man who keep seeing a mysterious face reflected in his cup of tea. This movie is clearly a big inspiration for J-horror films like The Ring and the more recent wave of Asian historical epics like Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower.

Click here to watch the trailer:

Fun Trivia:
The movie's title Kwaidan translate into English as Ghost Story.

At it's time of release in 1964 Kwaidan was the most expensive production in the history of Japanese cinema with a 350,000,000-yen budget.

The stories in this film were based on a collection of Japanese folk tales by Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn was a folklorist of Greek-Irish ancestry who spent some time living in the US in 1869 and later moved to Japan. In 1895 Hearn became a naturalized Japanese citizen, and changed his name to Yakumo Koizumi.

Kwaidan was shot almost entirely in an enormous converted aircraft hanger because conventional sound stages were too small. Shooting indoors on the biggest Japanese sets ever constructed allowed Kobayashi considerable freedom to add things like blustery snow storms, impressionistic use of immense lighting effects and surrealistic sky backdrops, for instance; in The Woman of the Snow, when the men first become lost in the forest, the vague image of a giant eye looking down on them can be seen in the sky. Or in Hoichi-The-Earless, the sky is a serene blue until the battle between the clans begins. Then it turns an inflamed orange for the remainder of the fight.

The battle scene that opens Hoichi the Earless is a stunning recreation of the famous historical battle in the Straits of Shimonoseki which in 1185 decided the conflict between the Heike (Taira) and Genji (Minamoto) clans.

Kwaidan was nominated for the Best Foriegn Language Oscar in 1965 and won the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival.

When it was originally released in the US the Woman of the Snow story was removed to shorten it's 2 hour and 42 minute running time.

Click here to watch a scene from Hoichi-The-Earless:


Swinebread said...

I saw this a couple of years ago. Great film very theatrical in its presentation.

Becca said...

Really amazing film!

smallerdemon said...

Thanks for posting this. It look amazing. I've added it to my Amazon wish list and I've gotten a whole crew of people excited about seeing it.

What really amazing to me is the year it was made. You need only venture into MST3K to see something like Prince Of Space on the low budget 50s serials side of things in Japan, and even later in the 70s with the low budget stuff looking so rough to see this thing as a work of surreal beauty.

Becca said...

Glad to turn you on to this really great flick! And yes it's amazining to think this was came out after some of the best known Godzilla movies yet it was still the most expensive Japanese movie made to date.

You'll have to let me know what you think when you see it!

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