Saturday, 22 November 2008


I loaned my copy of Kwaidan to a friend some time ago and had completely forgotten about it. But she brought it back this week, along with the latest DVD of Battlestar Galactica. I'm glad to say that my intelligent young friend and her partner enjoyed Kwaidan, which has been described as one of the most beautiful films ever made. This is ironic, given its origins. Kwaidan is based on four Japanese ghost stories that were written, in English, by the Irish author Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn, a great Japanophile, was almost blind. His life was unusual, to say the least. He was clearly a man out of sympathy with his own culture, and you can see why. Because his parents were married in the Orthodox faith, those sons of fun in the Irish Protestant Church considered young Lafcadio illegitimate. When he grew up he became a journalist in America, but made the cardinal error of marrying a black woman - which was a crime. Unbelievable. Japan must have seemed a haven of sanity after his experiences in Western 'civilization'.

The subject matter is exotic, but the form of Kwaidan is familiar. It's a portmanteau film, telling four ghost stories that are thematically linked, to some small extent. Thus the first story, 'The Black Hair', is about love and betrayal among the samurai class in feudal Japan. The second tale, 'The Woman of the Snow', also deals with love and betrayal, but this time among the rural peasantry, where a woodcutter encounters a strange, icy vampire who warns him never to tell anyone he has seen her. Needless to say, our man blabs. 'Hoichi the Earless' is also about a burden imposed on a mortal man by spectral beings. It contains some wonderful scenes and a nasty plot twist. The final story, 'In a Cup of Tea', is a short vignette, but still quite effective.

In all, Kwaidan is three hours long, very lavish, and strangely compelling. Some might find its odd mixture of fantasy and formalism unappealing at first, but try and stay with it. This extract gives you some idea of how stunning it looks.

1 comment:

Aaron Polson said...

Kwaidan is magnificent; I love Hearns books, too. Great clip.