“I saw very clearly the weird woman who killed old Mosaku; I’ve never seen in my life a woman as beautiful and white as her — except you.”
Like most omnibus collections, certain stories in Kwaidan (the title translates roughly into “ghost story”) emerge as more successful than others. The first two episodes — “Black Hair” and “The Woman in the Snow” — are the shortest and most unassuming of the quartet, telling simple yet profound tales of husbands who in one way or another fail to live up to their marital duties; it’s especially gratifying to see the familiar face of Japanese cinema icon Tatsuya Nakadai in the latter. “Hoichi the Earless” is the most flamboyant and central tale of the film, spanning literally centuries: it opens with a stunningly stylized recreation of a samurai battle, then shifts to the impact the battle’s forlorn ghosts have upon a well-meaning priest (Katsuo Nakamura) whose life is put in danger — despite his best intentions — simply by “knowing” them; Nakamura’s likable, authentic performance buoys this rather depressing fable. The final episode in the film — “In a Cup of Tea” — remains just as visually evocative as the others, but ultimately fails to engage on any deeper level. Taken together, however, Kwaidan provides a most unusual viewing experience, one which any film fanatic truly interested in witnessing the diversity of expression international cinema has to offer can’t really afford to miss.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: