Sunday, March 13, 2016

Classic Japanese Films: Kwaidan


Thanks to my new Roku 3 and my Hulu subscription, I've been able to view a number of classic Japanese films preserved by Criterion that I'd seen a long, long time ago.

One of my favorites has always been Kwaidan ("Ghost Story," pronounced KWAI-dawn), which I first viewed soon after its release in 1964. An impressionable young man in college, I pretty much experienced a chill and the shivers at the end of the four obake ("ghost," pronounced o-BAH-keh) stories:

"The Black Hair"
A poor samurai leaves his loyal wife to work far away for a rich family. He gains a new wife (unfortunately a shallow woman), and a new position as a district governor. He eventually tires of his new wife and returns home to attempt reconciliation. His former wife appears happy with the renewed arrangement. But … just wait and see what happens when he wakes up the next morning by her side.

"The Woman of the Snow"
Two woodcutters find refuge during a snowstorm, but the elder of the two is killed by a Yuki-onna (“woman snow spirit,” pronounced you-key ohn-nah); the younger is spared, but only on condition he never tells anyone—ANYONE—the reason why. Unfortunately, he later marries and has children, but just can’t hold back and tells his wife about the woman of the snow.

"Hoichi the Earless"
A blind musician specializes in singing about The Tale of the Heike (Hey-ee-keh) and the sea battle between the Taira (Ty-rah) and Minamoto (Mee-nah-moh-toh) clans. He is called upon to perform before a royal family, which turns out to be the ghosts of the battle. His friends write a sutra (“prayer text,” pronounced soo-trah) on his body, but forget his ears, which are subsequently ripped off by the ghosts who come to get him.

"In a Cup of Tea"
A writer keeps seeing faces in a cup of tea while waiting for a visit from his publisher. It’s driving him mad, and when the publisher arrives, the writer is nowhere to be found … except … in … you know where.

Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Released: 1964
Length: 183 minutes


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