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Kwaidan (The Criterion Collection)

4.6 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Japanese ghost stories from tales by Lafcadio Hearn include a samurai who wakes up with a corpse.

A masterpiece of filmmaking artifice and mood-setting atmosphere, Kwaidan consists of four ghost stories adapted from the fiction of Greek-born Lafcadio Hearn (a.k.a. Yakumo Koizumi, 1850-1904), who assimilated into Japanese culture so thoroughly that his writings reveal no evidence of Western influence. So it is that these four cinematic interpretations--perhaps more accurately described as tales of spectral visitation--are sublimely Japanese in tone and texture, created entirely in a studio with frequently stunning results. There are painterly images here that remain the most beautiful and haunting in all of Japanese cinema, presented with the purity of silent film, sparsely accompanied by post-synchronized sounds and music (by Toru Takemitsu) that enhance the otherworldly effect of director Masaki Kobayashi's meticulous imagery. When viewed in a receptive frame of mind, Kwaidan can be intensely hypnotic.

Each of the four stories find their protagonists confronted by spirits that compel them to (respectively) make amends for past mistakes, maintain vows of silence, satisfy the yearnings of the undead, or capture phantoms that remain frightfully elusive. As each tale progresses, their supernatural elements grow increasingly intense and distant from the confines of reality. With careful use of glorious color and wide-screen composition, Kwaidan exists in a netherworld that is both real and imagined, its characters never quite sure they can trust what they've seen and heard. Vastly different from the more overt shocks of Western horror, the film casts a supernatural spell that remains timelessly effective. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Rentarô Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama, Misako Watanabe, Kenjirô Ishiyama, Ranko Akagi
  • Directors: Masaki Kobayashi
  • Writers: Lafcadio Hearn, Yôko Mizuki
  • Producers: Minoru Tabata, Satoshi Kohinata, Shigeru Wakatsuki, Takeshi Aikawa, Yoshishige Uchiyama
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: June 1, 2010
  • Run Time: 161 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004W3HF
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,148 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Kwaidan (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
Wow! What a gorgeous film this is! Kwaidan is quite possibly the most beautiful scary movie you will ever see. The cinematography in Kwaidan is superb, and the film has an epic feel to it, rather unusual for a horror film. In fact, I would even call this film the "2001" of horror movies, and I imagine that if Stanley Kubrick had gotten around to directing a Japanese-style horror movie, it would look a lot like this film.
Kwaidan was made in the mid-1960s, and at the time, it was the most expensive Japanese film ever made. It was a big success at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Prize. The film is a collection of four ghost stories, told with a decidedly Japanese flair. The first story is about a man who abandons his wife only to return years later. The second story is about a man's encounter with a snow vampiress. The third story, my favorite, is about a monk who gives nocturnal recitals for mysterious and ghostly hosts. The last story is about a man who drinks down a ghost. That's all you really need to know, as the stories are quite straight-forward. It is the manner in which they are told and photographed that makes them so powerful.
The pacing is very deliberate and slow but gives you plenty of time to appreciate the numerous beautiful images that appear on-screen. The director, Kobayashi, filmed Kwaidan in a very surrealistic fashion, and the entire soundtrack was post-dubbed. As such, the sound effects come and go in very unexpected ways, like nervous twitches. This lends a further eerie atmosphere to the film.
The DVD is by Criterion, so you can expect a great transfer. And the transfer is absolutely stunning! Just look at the trailer (included on the DVD) and compare with the quality of the film itself, and you will be amazed.
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Format: DVD
"Kwaidan" is a cinematic masterpiece of the horror genre which, unfortunately, is not nearly as well known to genre fans as it should be. In my view it ranks with Werner Herzog's 1979 re-make of "Nosferatu" as the finest horror film ever made in color. Part of the reason for "Kwaidan"'s obscurity is its national origin (though, strangely enough, the Japanese folktales which form its basis were written by an American expatriate, Lafcadio Hearn). Yet even in Japan, the film was a commercial flop, despite superlatives from critics. More likely, the obscurity of "Kwaidan" derives from its artistry; viewers who come to it for the first time will probably be only marginally aware that they're seeing horror at all. Search in vain for gore and special effects; the film almost recalls Val Lewton's old classics in its reliance on suggestion. As an anthology, moreover, "Kwaidan" is in the same league as the 1946 British film, "Dead of Night," except that it has no over-arching "frame" device to tie the stories together. All four films which make it up are essentially revenge plots: simple and straightforward, like most folktales, though I would like to mention a personal favorite: "Yuki-Onna," whose surrealist account of a female vampire awed me with its weird snow-scapes and eerie soundtrack. By all means, see "Kwaidan" if you have any curiosity at all about horror as viewed through the lens of an artistic master; I only wish American directors had a comparable interest in quality.
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Format: DVD
Spoilers --yes, it is important always to announce coming spoilers because there are still people who haven't seen this film. (After hearing about it for a decade, I hadn't seen it till this past week.)
There is surely little I can add to what's already been said here about this film. So maybe what I have to say boils down to a YES vote for the pacing, atmosphere and story content of Kwaidan. But I will venture a few comments.
Unlike some other reviewers, I don't consider the first two tales, Woman of the Snow and The Black Hair-- nor the last tale, In a Cup of Tea-- negligible. Your pulse and breathing slows, the pitch of your senses drops an octave and even time seems to step off its treadmill to oblivion as you enter into the warp and weft of Kwaidan through The Black Hair. Over all, the director showed great ingenuity in the way he 'shot around' moments that could have been sunk by the formative level of special effects at that time. (How many films of this vintage are ruined for modern viewers by the universal presence of the veritable zipper in the back of the monster suit? Nearly all. This film avoids that pitfall, and yet still manages to give you something awesome to look at. --In other words, the director didn't just lazily avert his camera's gaze, as low budget horror films of the time often do, and fall back on what became an abused old saw that "the audience can always supply stronger horrors in their mind than I could for them." The director gives us plenty to look at and remember visually later.)
Woman of the Snow develops a poignant relationship between a wife-- who is not what she appears-- and her husband. Their story is sweet. You hope they prosper as a family, while you fear otherwise. A tone that is basically domestic and anti-horrific is set.
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