Kaidan (1964)

Japan,
125m (USA), 164m (Japan), 10,800 feet (UK)
35mm film, Tohoscope, Eastmancolor, 2.35:1
mono, Japanese

A Japanese horror film directed by Masaki Kobayashi.

Plot Summary

Four ghostly tales: 1: Kurokami: a leaves his wife and marries the daughter of a wealthy lord. Year's later, still haunted by his first wife's devotion, he returns to their home and finds that she's still there in their old house, now a squalid near-ruin. But she has a terrible surprise for her unfaithful husband. 2: Yuki-onna: An ageing woodcutter is saved from a blizzard by an ice spirit who makes him swear never to tell anyone about her. But as time passes, he marries, raises a family and forgets his promise… 3: Miminashi Houichi no hanashi: a blind biwa player is called on to perform for a ghostly army of samurai warriors. 4: Chawan no naka: a samurai is haunted by a ghost whose face he saw in a cup of tea.

Credits

Crew
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Bungei, Ninjin Club, Toho Company Ltd, Tokyo; Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha
Producer: Shigeru Wakatsuki
Script: Yoko Mizuki
Book: Lafcadio Hearn
Director of Photography: Yoshio Miyajima
Editor: Hisashi Sagara
Music: Toru Takemitsu
Sound: Hideo Nishizaki
Art Director: Shigemasa Toda [real name: Jusho Toda]

Cast
Kurokami
Rentaro Mikuni (husband)
Michiyo Aratama (1st wife)
Misako Watanabe (2nd wife)
Ranko Akagi (mother)
Kenjiro Ishiyama (father)

Yuki-onna
Tatsuya Nakadai (Mi nokichi)
Keiko Kishi (Yuki the Maiden)
Yûko Mochizuki (Minokichi's mother)
Noriko Sengoku, Kin Sugai (village women)

Miminashi hoichi no hanashi
Katsuo Nakamura (Hoichi)
Tetsuro Tamba (warrior)
Yoichi Hayashi (attendant)
Takashi Shimura (head priest)
Kunie Tanaka (Yasaku)

Chawan no naka
Kanemon Nakamura (Kannai)
Osamu Takizawa (author/narrator)
Seiji Miyaguchi (old man)
Ganjiro Nakamura (publisher)
Noboru Nakaya (Shikibu Heinai)
Kei Sato (ghost samurai)
Haruko Sugimura (madame)
Jun Tazaki

Alternative Titles

Ghost Stories – USA
Kwaidan – kauhun kasvot – Finland
Kwaidan – Argentina, UK, USA
El más allá – Spain
Verisen kuun tarinoita myrskyn jälkeen – Finland
Weird Tales

Press

1965
Variety 26 May 1965 p.7
Film is visually and physically stunning and its looks alone might make for a specialized arty house entry abroad. But its three tales of are more Intellectual than visceral. If there are a few jolts and awesome insights, it unfolds at leisure and this is more for selective audiences than for general distribution. […] Colors are subtle and used for dramatic effect with effectiveness. Production dress is another plus factor as is the brilliant but sometimes coldly analytical direction of Masaki Kobayashi. Playing has the right stylized flair and the general Kubuki classic traits are employed though absorbed filmically. […] [T]his is a visually impressive tour-de-force that may still find hard going with ordinary western audiences because of its refusal to play for suspense and fright tactics. – from a review by Mosk

1966
Films in Review vol.17 no.1 (January 1966) pp.48-49
Supernaturalism is so out of fashion among Western intellectuals that Kwaidan, I fear, will get short shrift, save for a few myth-philiacs and color-prone cinemaddicts, and the weirdos that wallow in anything irrational. A motley crew, for Kwaidan has moments of poetical imagination that are all too infrequent in life – and on the screen […] The visual esthetics of Kwaidan are themselves worth the price of an admission. – from a review by Diana Willing Cope

Cinema vol.3 no.2 (March 1966) p.50
Kobayashi's images all have great visual beauty – always an important element of the best supernatural films, from the darkling landscapes and awesome scientific laboratory of James Whale's Frankenstein to the mouldering castle of Tod Browning's Dracula. The director uses color to stunning effect throughout, starting with the opening titles […] Kwaidan is Japan's candidate for this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar. It would be nice to see it win. – from an illustrated review (by Roy Guy)

1967
Daily Cinema no.9401 (28 July 1967) p.8
Literally haunting three-part saga of spook stories staged in period splendour: treatment very slow, very studied, often beautiful and climactically bloody. Fascinating Japanese weirdie […] The treatment is Orientally vivid and quite uncompromising in its use of weird Japanese music, verse, mode of expression, to intensify the sense of doomed drama. The photography, costumes, sets, are superbly in keeping with the film's tome and the formal staging doesn't detract from the very real horror of the climaxes. But it must be said, to Western audiences in general, the pace may seem painfully slow and the responses of most of the actors insensitive and unrevealing […] Art house regulars, however, should find it an intriguing and eerie glimpse into a truly other world from a director with a poetic feel for film-making. – from a review by M.H. [Margaret Hinxman]

Kine Weekly no.3122 (12 August 1967) pp.12, 23
[Kobayashi] has used colour and the very wide screen with considerable imagination and his special effects assistants have achieved the frequent ghostly apparitions and magical transformations with great skill and atmosphere. The rich way in which the film has been staged is, indeed, one of its chief merits, stark poverty being well contrasted with the magnificence of the well-dressed ancient Japanese. […] The acting by a uniformly competent cast has the typical Japanese intensity in normal matters, that so often seems to leave too little in reserve for moments of high drama, but all the cast serve their director well.

Sight & Sound vol.36 no.4 (Autumn 1967) pp.202-203
Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan, an expensive, widescreen, three-episode film based on ghost stories by Lafcadio Hearn, has been described as academic; but it is academic in the good as well as the bad sense of the word. It is slow, perhaps over-elaborate in relation to its material, and sometimes too concerned about explaining things to its audience (the middle story, for example: the use of superimposition to convey recognition). On the other hand, the better parts of the film are a striking demonstration of what academic direction is about: a careful script, a rehearsed and controlled rather than a spontaneous and erratic style of performance, a meticulous massing of effects towards a foreordained conclusion, a respect for the audience and also for the separate creative contributions to be made by the different members of the film unit. – from an illustrated review by James Price

Monthly Film Bulletin vol.34 no.404 (September 1967) pp.135-136
[I]t is not so much that the colour in Kwaidan is ravishing (one has come to expect that of the Japanese cinema) as the way Kobayashi uses it to give these stories something of the quality of legend. […] [A] visual tour de force, […] a film whose details stay on in the mind long after one has seen it. – from a review by D.W.

1968
Monthly Film Bulletin vol.35 no.418 (November 1968) p.186
Like Kwaidan, this story from Lafcadio Hearn has its own strangeness and beauty. Images like the sky of eyes, the transformation of the ghostly woman into a sudden whirl of snowflakes, the snow that drifts to swallow up the pathetic little sandals – the mortal husband's last gift to his supernatural wife – are irresistible. Yet the formality of the stylised sets and colour and of the lighting effects (you are never unconscious of the switches and the gelatine filters) seems too deliberate an artifice to convince Western audiences of the supernatural atmospheres. Japanese conventions of the ghostly are clearly very different from our own. – from an uncredited review of the Yuki-Onna sequence, released in the UK as a separate short

Production Notes

Release
For the UK release, distributors Nat Muller organised a lavish launch at the Cameo-Poly cinema in Regent Street, London. The foyer of the cinema was dressed to depict scenes from the film and kimono-clad women greeted the guests as they arrived.

References

Periodicals

  • Cinema vol.3 no.2 (March 1966) p.50 – illustrated review (by Roy Guy)
  • Cinéma no.101 (December 1965) p.109 – review
  • Cinématographie Française no.2135 (6 November 1965) p.20 – review
  • Classic Images no.127 (January 1986) p.57 – illustrated review (by Albert Manski)
  • The Daily Cinema no.9399 (26 July 1967) – illustrated article (Japanese night in Regent Street)
  • The Daily Cinema no.9401 (28 July 1967) p.8 – review (by M.H. [Margaret Hinxman])
  • Empire no.205 (July 2006) p.141 – DVD review (At Home/Reissues on DVD: Kwaidan by Kim Newman)
  • Film Daily vol.127 no.91 (12 November 1965) p.22 – review
  • Films in Review vol.17 no.1 (January 1966) pp.48-49 – review (by Diana Willing Cope)
  • Kine Weekly no.3122 (12 August 1967) pp.12, 23 – review
  • Kine Weekly no.3184 (19 October 1968) p.29 – credits, review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.34 no.404 (September 1967) pp.135-136 – credits, synopsis, review (by D.W.)
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.35 no.418 (November 1968) p.186 – credits, synopsis, review (for Yuki-Onna sequence, released as a separate short)
  • Motion Picture Herald vol.234 no.10 (24 November 1965) p.410 – review
  • Sight & Sound vol.4 no.5 (May 1994) p.70 – note (by Peter Dean)
  • Sight & Sound vol.36 no.4 (Autumn 1967) pp.202-203 – illustrated review (by James Price)
  • Sight & Sound vol.16 no.7 (July 2006) p.88 – illustrated DVD review (Close-up: Fathership of ‘The Ring by Kim Newman)
  • Time Out no.468 (6-12 April 1979) p.42 – note (by Tony Rayns)
  • UniJapan Bulletin no.28 (1965) p.8 (Japan) – credits
  • Variety 26 May 1965 p.7 – credits, review (by Mosk)

Books

  • The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror by Phil Hardy (ed.) p.163
  • Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again by John Stanley p.219 – credits, review
  • The Encyclopedia of Japanese Horror Films by Salvador Murguia (ed.) pp.185-186 – credits, review (by James A. Wren)
  • Feature Films, 1960-1969: A Filmography of English-language and Major Foreign-language United States Releases by Harris M. Lentz III p.243
  • Hoffman's Guide to Horror, SF and Fantasy Movies 1991-1992 p.201 – credits, review
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films IV by Donald C. Willis p.277
  • Kine Yearbook 1969 p.115
  • Sixties Shockers by Mark Clark and Bryan Senn pp.257-259
  • Terror Tracks: Music, Sound and Horror Cinema by Philip Hayward (ed) pp.9, 10, 75, 86, 266
  • Top 100 Horror Movies by Gary Gerani p.144 – illustrated credits, synopsis, review
  • The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy by David Pringle (general ed.) p.65 – illustrated credits, review

Other Sources

  • BFI Southbank Guide December 2022 p.23 – illustrated listing
  • British National Film Catalogue vol.6 (1968) – credits, review