Quick-Thoughts: Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1964)

Masaki Kobayashi Marathon Part IV of V

There’s no doubt that, on the surface, Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan is just a collection of your average, ancient wives’-tales and urban legends which have their many trademark far-fetched, unintelligent characters to support their simple, ultimatum-type messages that they were born to feature such as “greed annihilates romance,” “breaking promises with a loved one can suffer in detachment,” or “the journey of life will pay off no matter the obstacles it throws at you,” jazz like that — except for the unfinished final tale which is so meta that it’s only there to tell you that “stories are often a reflection of the writer’s guilt.”

Howbeit — if any of what I just said previously are really flaws — what truly sold me on Kwaidan was how Kobayashi brings its short stories to life. The four narratives here are LIGHTYEARS more imposing than what they easily could’ve been, offering some of cinema’s finest surrealist scares and set-design pieces ever. The film is beneficially very brash in using unusually bright colors too, rarely afraid to make itself look like a series of intensely detailed theater stages; the entire experience was hypnotic to the point where I was genuinely frightened s**tless yet enlightened at the same time throughout its 3-hour runtime.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out if Paul Schrader’s acclaimed masterpiece Mishima (1985) was heavily inspired by this gorgeous motion picture, as well. Yeah, if you fancy that movie, definitely check out Kwaidan.

Verdict: A-

Deconstructing Traditions (Masaki Kobayashi Ranked), The Best Horror Movies

“Kwaidan” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

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