Cast & Crew
BLACK HAIR: An impoverished samurai of Kyoto divorces his loving wife to marry the daughter of a wealthy governor. After years of tolerating the hard and selfish woman, he returns to his long neglected first wife; the next morning, he discovers that he has slept with a corpse and goes mad. THE WOMAN OF THE SNOW: Caught in a blizzard, two woodcutters seek refuge in a deserted hut. A strange woman enters the shed and kills Mosaku with her cold breath; she allows the young apprentice, Minokichi to live, as long as he tells no one what has occurred. Several years later, after marrying the beautiful O-Yuki, he relates the experience to his wife, who reveals herself to be the snow-woman. She leaves him but spares his life so that he may care for their children. HOICHI, THE EARLESS: Hoichi, a blind biwa player who works at a temple in Akamageseki, is famed for his knowledge of the ballad of the Heike clan, which was defeated in a sea battle by the Genji in 1185. One night a samurai spirit beckons Hoichi to sing before his slain infant lord at the Heike tombs. Assuming Hoichi is bewitched, Buddhist priests protect him by painting his body with scenes of the holy text, but they forget to cover his ears. Returning to find the spell on Hoichi broken, the samurai ghost cuts off the musician's ears; after recovering from his injuries, Hoichi becomes rich reciting the story of his strange adventure. IN A CUP OF TEA: Kannai, a fearless samurai, sees another warrior's face reflected in his teacup. The vision reappears in a second cup, but Kannai destroys it by drinking the tea. On guard duty that night, he meets the identical figure from the cup and thrusts his sword at him, but the intruder vanishes. The following night three samurai arrive to avenge their wounded master, Heinai, but they also vanish when attacked by Kannai.
Best Foreign Language Film
The title of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan (1965)--pronounced kaidan in contemporary Japanese--means a ghost story or tale of the supernatural, usually with a period setting. In Japan the genre dates back to the Edo period; one of the most famous examples is Ueda Akinari's Ugetsu Monogatari, stories published in 1776 which the director Kenji Mizoguchi adapted in his 1953 masterpiece. Beyond its basic appeal of an adaptation of Lafcadio Hearn's ghost stories, Kobayashi's film is remarkable for its stylized production design, its stunning color cinematography, and its spare, expressive musical score by Toru Takemitsu.
Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) is one of the more interesting writers of the turn of the century, not least because of his eventful life. Born of Greek-Irish ancestry on the Greek island of Leucas as Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, he was abandoned by his parents as a child and raised by relatives in Ireland. (His father left his mother for another woman, and his mother gave him to relatives at the urging of her second husband.) As an adolescent Hearn studied a year in France; while he despised the atmosphere of the Catholic school in which he studied, he nonetheless admired French culture and later translated authors such as Theophile Gautier. All his life he remained sensitive about his appearance: he was short, of olive complexion, blinded in one eye due to an accident, while his one functioning eye protruded abnormally.
In 1869 Hearn left for America and first settled in Cincinnati, where he soon established himself as a reporter whose sensationalistic tales achieved a kind of gruesome poetry. (Jonathan Cott's 1991 biography Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn incorporates generous excerpts from his early writings.) After spending some time in the West Indies, in 1889 Hearn traveled to Japan and settled there permanently, where he taught and continued work as a journalist. During that time he married and became a naturalized citizen, adopting the name Koizumi Yakumo. His Japanese-inspired essays and books of fiction--including the 1903 collection of stories entitled Kwaidan--played an important role in disseminating early knowledge of Japan to the West. Incidentally, George Chakiris starred in a 1984 Japanese miniseries about Hearn's life in Japan.
Director Masaki Kobayashi (1916-1996) first achieved notoriety with the ten-hour Human Condition trilogy (1958-1961) about a pacifist soldier in World War II and the abuses he suffers within the Japanese military system. While Kobayashi remained a politically engaged filmmaker throughout his career, in the Sixties he directed three period dramas that really enabled him to showcase his stylistic mastery: Harakiri / Seppuku (1962), Kwaidan and Samurai Rebellion (1967). Kwaidan was shot almost entirely on studio sets, enabling Kobayashi to maintain precise control over the color and overall visual design. For example, one character walks over a blood-red stream in "Woman in the Snow" episode. Similarly, the battle sequence in "Hoichi the Earless" uses a restricted color scheme and a semi-abstract set that evokes traditional Japanese painting. The startlingly artificial painted backgrounds visible in many sequences at once emphasize the studio-bound nature of the film and recall traditional Japanese theater. Kwaidan's extraordinary use of color and overall visual design very likely influenced Akira Kurosawa's later use of stylized color schemes in film such as Dodes'ka-den (1970), Kagemusha (1980), Ran (1985) and Dreams (1990). In particular, one can see clear connections between Ran and the battle sequence in the "Hoichi the Earless" episode.
In a 1972 interview with scholar Joan Mellen, Kobayashi pointedly took issue with the characterization of Kwaidan as a horror film: "My main intention was to explore the juxtaposition between man's material nature and his spiritual nature, the realm of dream and aspiration. I wanted to create a drama which dealt directly with the spiritual importance of our lives. I also enjoyed conveying the sheer beauty of traditional Japan."
Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996), the film's composer, was certainly the leading Japanese composer of the twentieth century and a major figure in postwar music in general. He was largely self-taught, though he did associate with and study under other experimental Japanese composers of his generation. His work is especially revered for its ingenuity and sensitivity in orchestration. Although influenced by Western composers such as Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen, he also drew upon traditional Japanese music as a source of inspiration. His major compositions include orchestral works such as Requiem (1957) and A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden (1977), chamber music such as Toward the Sea (1981), and solo piano music such as the Rain Tree Sketch and Les Yeux Clos series for solo piano.
For Takemitsu, composing film scores held a special appeal because of what he regarded as the film medium's inherent "eroticism" and "violence," which he felt gave cinema a stronger grounding in physical reality and thus the essential elements of existence. He tended to work closely with directors not only in terms of placing musical cues, but also the use of silence and sound effects. In that respect, for him the entire soundtrack becomes a new kind of musical score. In an interview for the 1994 documentary Music for Movies: Toru Takemitsu, the director Masahiro Shinoda comments: "He always shows up on location during the filming, and takes every opportunity to look at what we have filmed. His involvement parallels the director's. It's very reassuring, working with him."
In the same documentary Takemitsu described his approach to Kwaidan as follows: "[...] I wanted to create an atmosphere of terror. But if the music is constantly saying, "Watch out! Be scared!" then all the tension is lost. It's like sneaking up behind someone to scare them. First, you have to be silent. Even a single sound can be film music. Here [in the episode "The Long Black Hair"], I wanted all sounds to have the quality of wood. We used real wood for effects. I'd ask for a "cra-a-a-ck" sound, and they'd split a plank of wood, or rip it apart, or rend it with a knife. Using all these wood sounds, I assembled the track."
Over the course of his career before his untimely death in 1996, Takemitsu worked on nearly 90 films. Especially noteworthy is the work he did with filmmakers of the Japanese New Wave such as Kobayashi in Harakiri and Kwaidan, Hiroshi Teshigahara in Woman of the Dunes (1964) and The Face of Another (1966), Masahiro Shinoda in Double Suicide (1969) , and Shohei Imamura in Black Rain (1989). It would not be exaggerating to count many of these collaborations among the most artistically daring and accomplished feature films in the history of world cinema, thanks in no small part to Takemitsu's contributions as a composer and sound designer.
Producer: Shigeru Wakatsuki
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Screenplay: Mizuki Yoko, based on stories by Lafcadio Hearn
Photography: Yoshio Miyajima
Music and Sound Design: Toru Takemitsu
Editor: Hisashi Sagara
Art Director: Shigemasa Toda
Cast: "The Black Hair": Rentaro Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama and Misako Watanabe. "The Woman in the Snow": Tatsuya Nakadai, Keiko Kishi. "Hoichi the Earless": Katsuo Nakamura, Tetsuro Tamba, Takashi Shimura, Kunie Tanaka. "In a Cup of Tea": Kanemon Nakamura, Osamu Takizawa.
by James Steffen
Released in Japan in 1964 as Kaidan; running time: 164 min. Original segment titles: Kurokami (Black Hair), Yuki-onna (The Woman of the Snow), Mimi-nashi-Hoichi (Hoichi, the Earless), and Chawan no naka (In a Cup of Tea). Second episode was deleted from U. S. release after the Los Angeles opening.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1965 New York Times Film Critics.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival.
Released in United States Summer July 15, 1965
Released in United States November 1972
Released in United States September 9, 1990
Shown at Los Angeles Festival (Modern Masters of Japanese Cinema) September 9, 1990.
The 2nd episode was removed from the American release after the 1965 Los Angeles opening.
Released in United States Summer July 15, 1965
Released in United States November 1972 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (A Tribute to International Cinema) November 9-19, 1972.)
Released in United States September 9, 1990 (Shown at Los Angeles Festival (Modern Masters of Japanese Cinema) September 9, 1990.)