Saturday, January 14, 2017

Don’t Ever Break A Japanese Ghost Promise, or Thoughts on Kwaidan

Kwaidan (1964), based on the 1903 collection Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn, is an anthology of four traditional ghost stories by Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi.   Eerie, atmospheric, theatrical and dreamlike, the movie is an immersive, 3-hour long experience.
Monochromatic, but not black and white, the movie frames painterly scenes ukiyo-eprint come to life, while relating Shakespearian tales of vengeance and betrayal, all with a supernatural twist.  It’s a quiet movie, with no background conversations or ambient noise, and the traditional Japanese instruments lend an almost meditative aspect that helps build relentless tension.  The four tales related are:
The Black Hair, where a samurai leaves his wife for a richer one, and immediately regrets his decision.  But you’re stuck with your choices and can never go home again, that way leads to madness.
The Woman of the Snow, a personal favorite, visually stunning, in which a young woodcutter lost in a snowstorm meets a beautiful woman, and makes a fateful promise.
Hoichi the Earless, a blind musician who performs the same concert every night to a ghostly audience of fallen samurai, in (naturally), a graveyard.
In a Cup of Tea, in which a samurai sees an unfamiliar face staring back at him every time he drinks.
Kwaidan is also a portrait of how people lived in feudal Japan, with authentic costumes and architecture while still retaining an essentially theatrical performance.  It’s easy to see the roots of modern J-horror and how it inspired movies like Ju-on (2002) and Ringu (1998).  The movie creates tension with subtle gestures and a much slower pacing than Western movies, but patient viewers are rewarded with scenes of unrelenting tension.  It’s a literally haunting movie, and one that will stay in your mind for days afterward.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).