Kwaidan is an impressively mounted anthology horror film based on four stories by Lafcadio Hearn, a Greek-born writer who began his career in the United States at the age of 19 and moved permanently to Japan in 1890 at the age of 40, where he eventually became a subject of the empire and took on the name Koizumi Yakuno. Hearn became a conduit of Japanese culture to western audiences, publishing journalism and then fiction incorporating traditional Japanese themes and characters. "Black Hair," the first tale, concerns a samurai who cannot support his wife; he leaves her for a life of wealth and ease with a princess. Returning years later, he spends the night with his wife in their now-dilapidated house, only to awake to a horrifying discovery which drives him insane. In "The Woman of the Snow" (deleted from U.S. theatrical prints after the film's Los Angeles opening; it is on the DVD version), two woodcutters seek refuge during a snowstorm in what appears to be an abandoned hut. A snow witch appears and kills one of them but lets his partner free. Years later, the survivor meets and married a lovely young woman, only to learn her true identity. The most visually impressive tale is "Hoichi the Earless," in which a blind musician is asked by the ghost of a samurai to play for his late infant lord at a tomb. The monks who house the musician cover him with tattoos to prevent any harm coming to him, but they forget his ears. He returns from the engagement with his ears cut off; however, his misadventure propels him to fame. "In a Cup of Tea" concerns a samurai who is haunted by the vision of a man he sees reflected in his tea. Even after he drinks from the cup, he still sees the man while on guard duty.~Tom Wiener
New audio commentary by film historian Stephen Prince
Interview with Kobayashi from 1993, conducted by filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda
New interview with assistant director Kiyoshi Ogasawara
New piece about author Lafcadio Hearn, on whose versions of Japanese folktales Kwaidan is based
This is truly one of the finest motion pictures ever made. Kwaidan is based on a Japanese novel of the same name. The movie adaptation tells four stories of the supernatural all set in feudal Japan. Imagine a Japanese 'Twilight Zone' and you have the general idea. It's almost three hours long, but does not feel like a long movie. It moves at a nice pace and draws you into its scary world.
Each tale is chilling without being gory or overly violent, focusing more on story and atmosphere than blood and gore. The set design is truly astounding, each set piece creates the impression of looking into another world without the need for extensive visual effects. In one segment, clouds and the Moon look like the eyes of angry gods glaring at the people below. In another, it looks like the sky itself is on fire.
The acting is as fantastic as the visuals. Each actor is perfectly matched to his or her role and does a superb job as thier respective characters. From frightening spirits to ordinary folk, Kwaidan boasts a diverse and talented cast.
I would recommend Kwaidan to any fan of Japanese movies. This is sure to add prestige to any collection.
I would have had a second extras DVD in this set. Some nice extra features would have been a documentary on the making of Kwaidan, a biography on the author, Yakamo Koizumi and some info of Japanese hisory to put the stories into context. There are some isolated problems with the image quality. You can see grain and lines on the film stock in a limited number of scenes, but this is not persistent.
I would strongly recommend this DVD. Kwaidan is a marvel.