Kwaidan (怪談 Kaidan?, literally "ghost stories") is a 1964 Japanese anthology horror film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. It is based on stories from Lafcadio Hearn's collections of Japanese folk tales, mainly Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, for which it is named. The film consists of four separate and unrelated stories.Kwaidan is an archaic transliteration of Kaidan, meaning "ghost story". It won the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, and received an Academy Awardnomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
"The Black Hair" was adapted from "The Reconciliation", which appeared in Hearn's collection Shadowings (1900). An impoverished man living in Kyoto divorces his wife, a weaver, for another woman, in order to attain greater social status. He soon regrets marrying his 2nd wife when he learns how shallow, callous and impatient she is in comparison to his first wife's impeccable patience, devotion and kindness. When the man returns home to reconcile with his devoted 1st wife, he is in for a shocking and eerie surprise.
"The Woman of the Snow" is adapted from Hearn's Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903). It depicts the folkloric character of Yuki-onna, a ghostly female figure who inhabits snowy regions. When Minokichi and Mosaku take refuge inside a fisherman's hut during a snow storm, Yuki-onna appears and takes the life of Mosaku. Although she spares Minokichi because of his youth, Yuki-onna warns him never to mention what happened that day or she will finish the job and kill him. Though he keeps his word, Minokichi is surprised when he meets a young woman resembling somewhat of the ghost he encountered, which after decades he breaks his promise.
"Hoichi the Earless" is also adapted from Hearn's Kwaidan (though it incorporates aspects of The Tale of the Heike that are mentioned, but never translated, in Hearn's book). It depicts the folkloric tale of Hoichi the Earless, a blind musician, or biwa hoshi, whose specialty is singing The Tale of the Heike, about the Battle of Dan-no-ura, fought between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the last phase of the Genpei War. He is subsequently called in to sing for a royal family. His friends and priests grows concerned that he may be singing for ghosts as soon as he answered the call. To protect Hoichi, they write all over his body a protective manuscript known as Heart Soul and he must go outside in meditation.
"In a Cup of Tea" is adapted from Hearn's Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs (1902). A writer who is anticipating a visit from the publisher, keeps seeing faces in a cup of tea.
- Michiyo Aratama as First wife (segment "Kurokami")
- Misako Watanabe as Second Wife (segment "Kurokami")
- Rentaro Mikuni as Husband (segment "Kurokami")
- Kenjiro Ishiyama as Father (segment "Kurokami") (as Kenjirô Ishiyama)
- Ranko Akagi as Mother (segment "Kurokami")
- Fumie Kitahara as (segment "Kurokami")
- Kappei Matsumoto as (segment "Kurokami")
- Yoshiko Ieda as (segment "Kurokami")
- Otome Tsukimiya as (segment "Kurokami")
- Kenzo Tanaka as (segment "Kurokami")
- Tatsuya Nakadai as Minokichi (segment "Yuki-Onna")
- Keiko Kishi as the Yuki-Onna (segment "Yuki-Onna")
- Yuko Mochizuki as Minokichi's mother (segment "Yuki-Onna")
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While Kwaidan is often described as a horror film, it is not gory or sensational, relying instead on slow buildups of tension and on quiet suspense. Kobayashi's visual style is expressionist, using obviously artificial sets and colorful backdrops lit from behind for many of his outdoor scenes, lending them an almost fairy tale-like quality (the graveyard scenes in "Hōichi the Earless" and the background depicting the giant eye of "The Woman of the Snow" are examples).