Criterion Collection Kwaidan Cover

Kwaidan: A Different Type of Horror (Part I)

What does it mean to be haunted? Does haunting consist of ghosts and terror? Is haunting like a whiff of cigarette smoke lingering in the air which won’t subside, or it is like an ancient ruin that once stood proudly in splendor only to be left abandoned and rotten in time? This is the feeling I get from watching this film. It’s a film comprised of four haunting stories.

The first story is called Black Hair. It’s a tale about a man who abandoned poverty to gain higher social status at the expense of leaving his soft-spoken, docile wife. Like most ambitious men, the husband desired status and wealth. Unfortunately, when he did achieve his ambition by marrying a woman belonging to a higher social status than his former wife, he realized that the grass was not always greener on the other side. His new wife was cold and selfish. As time progressed, he started to yearn for his former wife and remembered innocently how she spoke to him. When he decided to return to her. She was no longer there but a past memory. In the end, his unwise decision to abandon his former wife indirectly killed her by leaving her to die in poverty alone. What’s the irony in that? We seek fortune only to fall out of a fortune. All of these points mentioned were done with few words. There was not a lot of talking. Each frame illustrated these points so hauntingly beautiful that I just had to summarize the story myself in words to captivate its essence.

In contrast to Black Hair, The Woman of the Snow is a tale about a woman’s temperament. One moment she can be so warm and the next, cold. In this tale, a young woodcutter and his father went out into the forest to cut wood but found themselves stranded in the snowstorm. The father died from the snowstorm but he survived because the Snow Woman found him attractive. She let him live but under one condition: never tell anyone about their encounter. If he breaks the promise, she will kill him. Long story short, a year later, when he recovered, he met a beautiful fair skin woman (Snow Woman) just passing along mysteriously. The woodcutter fell in love with her and they both had three children together. One evening, while he was making sandals for the children and for his wife, the woodcutter innocently smiled at his wife and told her how he met Snow woman in the shelter on a snowy day. Like a light switch, the wife turned from warm to cold because the woodcutter had broken a promise. The wife revealed she was the Snow Woman and so he must die. But out of sympathy, she decided to let him live instead for the sake of their children. It’s an unfortunate tale that demonstrated how women can be unforgiving. Sadly, he spoke wrongly unintentionally, as he meant to compliment her on her beauty. How is this tale haunting? Well, beautiful women can be quite scary, but we fall for them anyway.

Note: For this film analysis, I will break it into three posts. It’s a long film which runs about 3 hours. My final thoughts will be at the end of the analysis. Originally posted on Nov. 11, 2019. Revised April 2, 2022.

3 thoughts on “Kwaidan: A Different Type of Horror (Part I)”

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