Smaller sets of flaws that were very luckily shadowed by the braver efforts in execution.
Don’t be fooled by the age, Kwaidan is one of the finest reasons to include Masaki Kobayashi in the contenders list for one of the greatest Japanese directors of all time. The movie, born in 1964 was awarded and remembered by several filmmakers of the era. The film covers traditional Japanese folk tales of the early 1900s and is adapted and presented with detailed art work and great attempts uncovering ‘horror’ elements to its audience. I’ll be completely honest with my feedback, so I should start off by telling you that I found the film quite heavy, especially towards the end of chapter two. It needed multiple sittings in order for me to complete this entire film.
The film breaks into several stories, covering difficult relationships (The Black Hair), family warmth (The Women of the Snow), spirits of the war (Hoichi the Earless) and a short folk tale that left an untold story [In a Cup of Tea]. I was unclear whether or not I was supposed to spot a connection between the 4 stories at 1st, later realizing that there was nothing really to search for. It was quite foolish of me but nevertheless, the stories revolved around one basic theme – Spirits.
Spirits, in my opinion, are best left untouched and quiet. One must never hamper with the soul of the dead. Yes, I was taken aback on quite a few occasions. The fear lies closely within the characters and the way in which they were presented on screen. Is it just me or are Japanese girls and women with long, straight and dark hair, often scary? If it was me in Mi nokichi’s place, I’d probably beg for mercy, staring into those pale and wide eyes.
Some might find the film a drag or slower than usual attempts. To be honest, yes, that could be one of the few drawbacks to this film. It was an attempt to gauge upon the audience, the thought of fearing the unknown, which stood strong in every story of the film. To judge it in that sense, yes, there were several times during the prolong build-ups where I sat back wondering what would hit my screen next. But as a story telling perspective, it failed to keep up the rhythm to convey the straight message. It could be a major drawback, as modern day audiences would find it difficult to stay focused for 3 long hours of prolonged storytelling.
If one attempts to present four folktales in only one film, he/she would have a simple problem of bringing about complete light to their characters. Masaki Kobayashi tried his best to deliver all that he could in the 180 minutes that he bought for himself. You would probably wake up the next day and remember only 2-3 significant characters of the film. It’s not a major drawback to this film, simply because that wasn’t the filmmaker’s priority to begin with. He needed to bring about a certain mood and a mysterious sentiment to his audience, for which he managed quite well.
What completes a horror or a mystery film? It’s the correct delivery of sound effects. At first Toru Takemitsu failed to impress me. I wasn’t impressed with his work in ‘Black Hair’. If the movie had been designed to run silently, one must make sure to time every additional sound carefully. It shouldn’t sound ‘placed’ or ‘forged’. I didn’t think Takemitsu did a good job in chapter one. Al though, there was fair improvement in the second story. Since the third was covered mostly by the Biwa and the hymn, it didn’t matter enough while the final chapter was just too short to critique anyway. So, it luckily paid off at the end of the film. The flaw was eaten away by some great filmmaking and acting.
There is so much more that needs an applaud – the beautiful role played by Michiyo Aratma, followed by the narration taken over by legendary actor, Tatsuya Nakadai or the very fact that I’ve never enjoyed a war scene portrayed in such manner (silently with the help of only a simple chant). Like I mentioned earlier, the film had several moments and it manages to fulfill most of them nearly perfectly but it also had its smaller sets of flaws that were very luckily shadowed by the braver efforts in execution.