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Year: 1964
Director: Misaki Kobayashi
Producer: Shigeru Wakatsuki
Cast: Rentaro Mikuni, Misako Watanabe, Michiyo Aratama, Tatsuya Nakadai, Keiko Kishi, Katsuo Nakamura, Takashi Shimura, Kanemon Nakamura, Noboru Nakaya
The Skinny: Comprised of four supernatural stories, Kwaidan ranks as one of the best horror anthologies of all time.

     Kwaidan is comprised of four stories introduced by an unseen narrator. The first story, "The Black Hair", and the last one, "In a Cup of Tea", are good but it's the two middle tales that make Kwaidan a great film.
     The first of the two middle tales is called "The Woman of the Snow." It concerns an apprentice woodcutter named Minokichi (Tatsuya Nakadai), who has a frightening experience during a blizzard involving a spectral woman and a broken promise. It is the best of the four stories, combining expressionistic sets with moody lighting and gorgeous cinematography. The soundtrack for this segment contains little to no music and relies heavily on sound effects for emotional exposition. Of the four stories, it possesses the best acting, and is a truly poetic and tragic piece.
     However, the centerpiece of Kwaidan is "Hoichi the Earless." It is longer and slower than the other stories, but it more than compensates with a lot of inventive visuals. Hoichi (Katsuo Nakamura) is a blind biwa player who is summoned nightly by the spirits of the dead Genji and Heike clans to sing and tell the stories of their battles. Soon the Priest (Takashi Shimura) he resides with becomes wise to the situation and an attempt is made to protect Hoichi by painting him from head to toe with religious scripture.
     Kwaidan should be taught in American film schools. It's that good. Every frame of the film is composed to perfection with rich color practically dripping from the detailed sets and costumes. The soundtrack is mixed with a powerful combination of classical Japanese music, otherworldly sound effects and ear shattering silence. The stories are well written, and all four tie together thematically with the moral that all actions have consequences and we reap what we sow. The fact Kwaidan was relatively unknown in the U.S. until Criterion released their special edition uncut laserdisc and subsequent DVD is a travesty. Kwaidan stands alongside Akira Kurosawa's Dreams and Mario Bava's Black Sabbath as one of the best supernatural anthology films ever produced, and is deserving of far more attention than it has received. (Magicvoice 2002)

Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Removable English Subtitles
image courtesy of The Criterion Collection Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen