Sunday, May 29, 2011

KWAIDAN (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964, Japan)

An addendum of apparitions, a tetralogy of terror separating the physical world from the spiritual realm where frozen promises and dark desires create a nebulous boundary of self-destruction. Masaki Kobayashi’s ghost stories evoke an eerie sense of expressionist reality, utilizing unsettling colors and surreal imagery that sets the stage for four disparate morality plays.

The Black Hair: A tale of love divorced from social standing, when a samurai leaves his poor wife to pursue a better life only to become servant to a pampered Princess. He discovers that wealth is more than the sum of gold. Haunted by dreams of her simple beauty and purity, he returns to their dilapidated home to reconcile and discovers a dark reality clinging like spider webs…and strands of long black hair.

The Woman of the Snow: Two men trapped in a raging snowstorm meet a frigid queen whose breath brings cold silence of eternity. Spared because of his innocent charm, one man must promise never to speak of his mystical savior. But some men eventually share all secrets with their wives, and doom descends like a blizzard upon sleeping children.

Hoichi, the Earless: A blind musician plays his song of an ancient battle for a ghostly court, slowly fading into an incorporeal existence. He is spared by the Holy Text painted upon his body, concealing Hoichi from the desperate spirits…but two parts remain unprotected.

In a Cup of Tea: An incomplete story of a samurai who drinks the spirit of another warrior and suffers the consequences of madness, like an artist finally subsumed by his work. 

Kobayashi stages each story like a play, focusing upon static sets painted with vibrancy or concealed in deranged shadows, faces painted with the thick Noh makeup. He creates an atmosphere of etherealness, where logic falls prey to myth and legend, a spooky transition like faces peering through the thin veil of the afterlife…or the depths of a watery tomb. Kobayashi tells the epic battle of Dan-no-ura with a creative flourish, his camera panning over traditional paintings spliced with savage violence; a tale told with respect and dignity, but nonetheless tragic in its finality. He elevates the horror genre into the realm of high Art.

Final Grade: (A)

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