In 1964, Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi directed a film adaptation of several stories from Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan. The film, Kwaidan is an utterly gorgeous picture with a very measured pace, telling four stories in its 3 hour runtime. The four represented tales are: "The Black Hair," "The Woman of the Snow," "Hoichi the Earless" and "A Cup of Tea."
The massive sets rendered in wide shots, the glorious costuming, the vibrant colours - so much effort went into this picture and while it's long, I was certainly never bored by it. At times it's like watching a painting come to life. I had been seeking the film for a few years before I finally saw it and read Hearn's book in the meantime. Having enjoyed his "Yuki-Onna" so much, I quite loved the film's "Woman of the Snow" telling the same story with particularly impressive snow-covered forests and fiery sunsets.
"Hoichi the Earless" is perhaps the most widely-depicted segment of the picture, appearing on most video boxes for the movie. This segment concerns a blind musician who is called away each night to a cemetary to play for the dead. To protect him, the priests whose temple is his home paint the musician's body with protective Buddhist glyphs but they happen to make a tragic error. Another segment, "A Cup of Tea" is a fine reminder of Hearn's tone in the book as it includes a narrator remarking in a jocular fashion upon how the story is incomplete.
There are those who would tell you Kwaidan is not a horror film because of its artistry; those peopls are snobs. Much like how comic books have been traditionally considering a "low" or "trashy" form of culture, so to are horror films. Ergo:
This movie features stunning photography and clever, artistic direction = It is not a horror film
But genre means nothing where quality is concerned; not every horror film is a brainless slasher flick. Is the horror film genre any more trashy than, say, western films or detective pictures? Perhaps fans of Halloween or Dawn of the Dead may not find a great deal to enjoy in Kwaidan, but fans of Cat People or The Exorcist? They might. A better formula would be:
This movie contains scenes intended to startle, unnerve or even frighten the audience = It is a horror film
One last look at Kwaidan tomorrow!