Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Kwaidan – review

Director: Masaki Kobayashi

Release date: 1964

Contains spoilers

Kwaidan was an anthology film based on Japanese ghost stories, specifically those collections of Japanese folk tales compiled by Lafcadio Hearn. The film would go on to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1965 Academy Awards and win the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival. The DVD edition I used for this review was the Masters of Cinema release, which incorporates 21 minutes of footage not previously released to Western audiences and brings the running length to 183 minutes.

I saw this listed as a vampire film and wondered if that might be due to the segment Hoichi the Earless as it concerns a blind temple singer performing the death verses for a ghostly court. It is suggested that the Court is draining his life away but I didn’t get too much of a sense of that. The other two segments that are not our vampiric part are In a Cup of Tea, which is a strangely rewarding tale, and The Black Hair, which has a strongly moral centre but, despite some accelerated aging, is not particularly vampiric.

caught in the snows
The segment that concerns us is The Woman of the Snow. Two woodcutters, the old Mosaku and the young Minokichi (Tatsuya Nakadai), are caught in a snowstorm as they travel back to their village. The storm is particularly harsh and when they get to the river that they have to cross to get home they find that the boat has been left on the other bank by the boatman. They take shelter in a fisherman’s hut with Minokichi propping a branch against the door to keep the elements at bay.

stood over Mosaku
He wakes in the night to see a woman (Keiko Kishi) standing over Mosaku. There seems to be a glow and she breathes her icy breath onto the old man, freezing him. She turns her attention to Minokichi and moves to him. There is the same glow and he turns his head but she stops. Because he is young and handsome she decides to spare him but she warns him that if he ever tells anyone what happened that night she would know and she would kill him.

the Yuki-Onna
The woman is a Yuki-Onna and that is the name of the segment in the original Japanese. A Yukki-Onna is a Snow Woman and they are a yōkai – we have come across them before in such shows as Rosario +Vampire. The vampiric aspect may not be immediately obvious, but Bane lists the Yuki-Onna in her Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology and suggests they are a form of energy vampire.

In this we don’t necessarily see that but what we are told is that Mosaku’s body was not only frozen but also drained of blood. Later Minokichi suggests she was “hungry for warm blood”. Before that, however, he does not speak of the events – not even to his mother (Yûko Mochizuki). Eventually he meets a woman called Yuki and they have three children together. It is during a snow storm that he looks at his wife, who the villagers have noted never seems to age, and is reminded of the Woman of the Snow. He is not sure that the events were anything more than a dream and so tells his wife his story…

Tatsuya Nakadai as Minokichi
This was a beautifully shot segment, the painted backdrops during the snow storm segment was nothing short of gorgeous and added an eerie, overworldly aspect to the scene. In fact I would say this was my favourite segment in the film, though it was shorter than some (most notably Hoichi the Earless). This is most definitely one for cinephiles, lovers of ghost stories, lovers of Japanese movies and vampire fans alike. 7.5 out of 10 for the segment The Woman of the Snow.

The imdb page is here.

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