he Greek-American author and journalist, Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) settled in Japan and became a Japanese citizen. Among his writings was a collection of stories sourced from old Japanese tales, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. Four of these were used for the 1964 film Kwaidan, directed by Masaki Kobayashi. (Kwaidan translates as Ghosts.)
The film was shown in the UK and America in 1967 at 125 minutes, with the second story removed. I saw it at the time: my memory tells me that I saw the four-story version (running at 164 minutes) - of course I can't be completely sure as it was after all forty years ago, but I did find the second story familiar when I saw the complete version recently. Oddly, the four-story version doesn't appear to have received a British Board of Film Classification certificate at the time, so there is a bit of a mystery here.
However the complete original Japanese version has now been issued on DVD, running at 183 minutes (this would be 190 minutes in the cinema since UK DVDs run at 25 fps). The four ghost stories are gently paced, colourful and atmospheric, and distinctly eerie. The best is the third, Hoichi, the Earless, about a blind singer who unwittingly chants the song of an ancient battle to the ghosts of the losers. The stylized flashbacks to the battle and the scenes of the assembled ghostly court in what is actually their cemetery make unforgettable images.
The originally excised second story, The Woman of the Snow, uses huge 'outdoor' sets actually filmed in an aircraft hanger converted into a studio: the sky backdrop has eyes painted in it and the whole story has a distinctive and unsettling look (it was this I found familiar and leads me to think I saw it in 1967).
The other two stories are more slight, but still told with a memorable touch. Altogether it's a haunting film, and only a pity that it has taken more than forty years to appear in its full version.
Posted: Fri - August 24, 2007 at 08:43 AM by Roger Wilmut
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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM