This film is fairly high on my list of favorite movies. Kwaidan is stunningly gorgeous, especially whenever the set design is considered, because all of the sets were built indoors (with a couple of obvious exceptions). The sound of the movie also does a lot to add to the atmosphere, utilizing the absence of sound in order to achieve a sense of discomfort. All of this is achieved in 1964, which I think makes the film even more remarkable. I wish more modern films to a cue from artworks like this one. Today I had the chance to share it with my students, since many of the storytelling and visual elements of the movie reflect the style of traditional Kabuki theatre. A double bonus: it also happens to be an incredibly creepy delivery, which my students have now deemed “spooky kabuki”. I approve.
Rather than take you through all of the four short films in this episodic piece, I just want to talk about my favorite of the short stories (the black hair, the woman in the snow, Hoichi the earless, and a cup of tea). The Woman in the Snow is just an absolute triumph of traditional storytelling. What a lesson! As you may guess, the woman of the snow is a supernatural figure, one that still has human desires and drives. The story opens when Minokichi, a commoner, gets caught out in the forest of the ghosts while gathering wood. Forced to try and find shelter due to the arrival of a snow storm, Minokichi manages to elude the deathly breath of the snow woman, though his partner is not so lucky. We spend the rest of the story watching how Minokichi chooses to live his life following that fearful night, and waiting to see if he honors the bargain that the snow woman gave to him: to never speak of what happened that night.
Why I love this story:
– The snow woman, though not a snarling beast, is a fairly formidable opponent. The delivery of this character is quite an eerie one, as she drift in over the snow with nearly flight like footsteps. With her black hair and white outfit, Yuki the snow woman is beautiful and also quite deadly, and Keiko Kishi’s delivery embodies the spirit of the character.
– The backdrops. The supernatural forest is haunting with its swirling eyeballs, and I can’t say enough about the gorgeous watercolor sunset that hangs over the open fields as Minokichi and Yuki run like you’d expect two young people in love would in an open field.
– The story is heartbreaking. Seeing how much Minokichi loves his wife and children is the most adorable thing. You will certainly find yourself sympathizing for this character, as do my students. Though the fate that befalls him occurs by his own hand, it’s still fairly tragic.