Kaidan (Kwaidan) (Ghost Stories) (1964)



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Movie Info

Kwaidan is an impressively mounted anthology horror film based on four stories by Lafcadio Hearn, a Greek-born writer who began his career in the United States at the age of 19 and moved permanently to Japan in 1890 at the age of 40, where he eventually became a subject of the empire and took on the name Koizumi Yakuno. Hearn became a conduit of Japanese culture to western audiences, publishing journalism and then fiction incorporating traditional Japanese themes and characters. "Black Hair," the first tale, concerns a samurai who cannot support his wife; he leaves her for a life of wealth and ease with a princess. Returning years later, he spends the night with his wife in their now-dilapidated house, only to awake to a horrifying discovery which drives him insane. In "The Woman of the Snow" (deleted from U.S. theatrical prints after the film's Los Angeles opening; it is on the DVD version), two woodcutters seek refuge during a snowstorm in what appears to be an abandoned hut. A snow witch appears and kills one of them but lets his partner free. Years later, the survivor meets and married a lovely young woman, only to learn her true identity. The most visually impressive tale is "Hoichi the Earless," in which a blind musician is asked by the ghost of a samurai to play for his late infant lord at a tomb. The monks who house the musician cover him with tattoos to prevent any harm coming to him, but they forget his ears. He returns from the engagement with his ears cut off; however, his misadventure propels him to fame. "In a Cup of Tea" concerns a samurai who is haunted by the vision of a man he sees reflected in his tea. Even after he drinks from the cup, he still sees the man while on guard duty. ~ Tom Wiener, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for Kaidan (Kwaidan) (Ghost Stories)

All Critics (24) | Top Critics (4)

Film is visually and physically stunning but its three tales of the supernatural are more intellectual than visceral.

Mar 26, 2009 | Full Review…
Top Critic

The first episode builds an effective mood through its elliptical action and long, slow tracks through empty rooms, but this 1965 film soon levels off into academic stylization.

Sep 19, 2007 | Full Review…

It is a compendium of four ghost stories adapted from Lafcadio Hearn, so determinedly aesthetic in their design and style that horror frissons hardly get a look in. Very beautiful, though.

Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

Couple these sound effects and voices with some remarkable pictorial images and the consequence is a horror picture with an extraordinarily delicate and sensuous quality.

May 9, 2005 | Full Review…

Kwaidan is one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of art I have ever seen.

Nov 6, 2018 | Full Review…

A film that captures something deep and real about the remoteness of traditional folklore.

Mar 21, 2018 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Kaidan (Kwaidan) (Ghost Stories)


It takes real talent in an artist to make a ghost story scary and poetic, and here are four of them. Before, only in the Powell/Pressburger films I had seen such pictorial beauty.

Pierluigi Puccini
Pierluigi Puccini

Super Reviewer

a film containing four short films that are ghost stories from various points of the samurai era in japan. while all four stories were compelling, my perfect rating is mostly for the third story called "hoichi the earless man". hoichi is easily the greatest ghost story i have ever seen on film, with wonderful acting, flawless cinematography, and a haunting storyline. it was a pleasant suprise to see takashi shimura appear as well. the art direction and cinematography for all four stories was essentially perfect, and these four stories assemble to make one of the greatest films i have ever seen.

danny d
danny d

Super Reviewer

Four supernatural Japanese folk tales: a samurai is haunted by regret when he leaves his poor wife for a rich one; a snow-spirit spares the life of a young man on one condition; ghosts demand a blind harpist perform for them; a man sees an apparition in a cup of water. Slow, beautiful, hypnotic, poetic; eye-popping sets and masterfully eerie music. A masterpiece.

Greg S
Greg S

Super Reviewer

Anyone who's ever seen "The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)", or any of his previous films based on Poe's stories, knows Vincent Price's contribution to horror. He seems to specialize in the weird and the offbeat, the creepy and the sometimes trippy. I get the feeling Vincent Price would've felt right at home in Kwaidan (if he had been in Japan at the time), a japanese ghost film that leans toward the avante garde. Kwaidan is actually four short separate movies, each with highly stylized sets and costumes (painted backgrounds with giant eyes in the sky). In story one, a samurai leaves his wife for a rich woman but realizes his mistake as he's constantly haunted by her memory. In the second story, A man trapped in a blizzard is spared by a snow vampire on the condition he never tell a soul the story of meeting her. In the third story, a young blind priest is asked to sing the story of an ancient battle to the ghosts of the participants. In the fourth story, a swordsman goes to get a drink and sees a stranger's face in the cup. All these stories play out almost like silent films, as there is very little dialogue, but there is a jarring, dischordant soundtrack. The art direction is very imaginative, everything looks like a graphic novel, unfortunately, it takes forever to turn each page. The movie is glacially-paced. I hit the fast forward button and it only made the actors move in real time. The stories are all too predictable as well, there's virtually no suspense generated. Perhaps these simple stories were taken from children's fairy tales. Perhaps this film is so inaccessible to me because it was written for another culture at another time. If so, I don't know. You could watch old episodes of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" and get the same effect in a fraction of the time it takes to watch Kwaidan.

Devon Bott
Devon Bott

Super Reviewer

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