Just in time for Halloween comes Masaki Kobayashi’s rapturous quartet of ghost stories, Kwaidan, making its Blu-ray debut from Criterion in glorious TohoScope.
Spiritual trials and demonic comeuppance comprise Kwaidan (1965), adapted from Lafcadio Hearn’s folktales by Japanese director Kobayashi, known for his political dramas (The Human Condition, Harakiri). This is the original 183-minute cut, released in the U.S. for the first time in a new 2K digital restoration from the original camera negative and an interpositive (supervised by Criterion’s Lee Kline).
As Geoffrey O’Brien emphasizes in his introduction (“No Way Out”), Kwaidan is a unique, hand-made work that transcends any genre conventions. It’s a hypnotic and exotic kind of horror. The first three stories concern broken vows yet the final one’s an absurd comedy. However, from the opening “liquid swirls of primary-colored ink” to the contrapuntal seasonal shifts, there is a fascinating theatricality that underscores the perilous journeys into the supernatural.