An absolutely brilliant piece of classic Japanese horror, Kwaidan is an unbelievable technical achievement as well as a deeply engrossing picture. As an anthology film, it is surprising just how consistent in quality Kwaidan is among its four stories. Not one lets the film down and it’s hard to pick a favourite (although, at a push, the third segment – Hoichi the Earless – is probably the best). There’s no sense of artistic concessions made due to being an anthology. Each story plays out for as long as it needs (Hoichi the Earless is long enough to be its own full length film) and none force in connections to the others. It’s just four ghost stories told exquisitely. Each has its own strengths and plays to them beautifully, allowing each to shine as its own unique piece.
Yet Kwaidan has one feature that remains the same in all segments: a stunning technical proficiency. Every single moment is absolutely beautiful, almost worthy of being framed. The intricate sets are stunning. The camerawork moves so elegantly around the huge locations, staying static in jaw-dropping symmetrical compositions. The visual effects are also outstanding for a film made in the 1960s. All of this, despite so much of the film being slow and silent, makes it incredibly gripping. When Kwaidan finished, I couldn’t believe it’d been over three hours since it started.
The only substantial criticism I can say of Kwaidan is an odd choice of segment order. In particular, the fourth segment following the third doesn’t really work because the third segment is the longest and grandest whilst the fourth is the shortest and on a small scale, making it feel like an awkward epilogue rather than a strong finale.
Overall though, Kwaidan is a masterful piece of creepy horror. It’s a staggering work of art, matched with engrossing stories.
Most scary segment – The Black Hair
Most heartbreaking segment – The Woman of the Snow
Most epic segment – Hoichi the Earless
Most thought-provoking segment – In a Cup of Tea
This upgrade from DVD to Blu-Ray from Masters of Cinema includes 2K restoration of the film, a interview with Kim Newman, a new video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson, trailers and a large 100-page book including reprints of the stories adapted for the film.