masaki ito

10

Kwaidan Directed by Masaki Kobayashi (1964)- Kwaidan opens with a telling opening credits sequence. We see in close up different coloured inks floating around in water. That on its own is a neat effect, but also shows what this film will be. Disparate stories and ideas will be thrown together and create this fresh new enticing whole. That’s what basically all anthology films aspire to, but few do that this well. We’re treated to a series of traditional Japanese spook-tales shot predominantly in beautifully constructed, coloured, and lit set spaces. It’s like the prettiest moments in Shaw Brothers films and the best of Powell & Pressburger’s studio work. Forthrightly surreal in the way some strands of classical Japanese horror can be, with Junji Ito and Kiyoshi Kurosawa coming to mind, and becomes a collage of images and themes that get underlined by the perplexing. It’s often less pointed than the directness of Samurai Rebellion or Harakiri but that completely fits both the unknowability of the other realms seemingly existing alongside our own as well as the anthology structure. Some anthology films with looser ties can be unsatisfying for that reason, but not this. Formally everything fits so well as does the feel that I can’t imagine watching these stories any other way. There are so many brilliant little touches amidst the big bold ones. Like how sound, or the lack of it, is used. Horrors bringing forth silence has a power to it as things like Lost Highway and A Field in England show, and this is an early example of how affective and effective that can be. One of the prevailing themes is our past and our legacy; strictly things out of our immediate view, things that are hypothetical or only accessible through memory and imagination, but which will have a huge impact on the totality of our life. That may be the one major thing to take away from a film like this- so much of what will define our lives is the unknowable, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. How we respond to these things is ultimately all that’s in our control, so we’d best respond well.