Kwaidan (怪談, Kaidan, literally "ghost stories") is a 1965 Japanese anthology horror film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. It is based on stories from Lafcadio Hearn's collections of Japanese folk tales, mainly Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, for which it is named. The film consists of four separate and unrelated stories. Kwaidan is an archaic transliteration of Kaidan, meaning "ghost story". It won the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival,[2] and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.[3]

Directed byMasaki Kobayashi
Produced byShigeru Wakatsuki[1]
Screenplay byYoko Mizuki[1]
Based onStories and Studies of Strange Things
by Lafcadio Hearn
Music byToru Takemitsu[1]
CinematographyYoshio Miyajima[1]
Edited byHisashi Sagara[1]
  • Bengei Pro
  • Ninjin Club[1]
Distributed byToho
Release date
  • January 6, 1965 (1965-01-06) (Japan)
Running time
182 minutes[1]


The Black HairEdit

"The Black hair" (黒髪, Kurokami) was adapted from "The Reconciliation", which appeared in Hearn's collection Shadowings (1900).

An impoverished swordsman divorces his wife, a weaver, and leaves her for a woman of a wealthy family to attain greater social status.  However, despite his new wealthy status, the swordsman's second marriage proves to be unhappy. His new wife is shown to be callous and selfish. The swordsman regrets leaving his more devoted and patient ex-wife.

The second wife is furious when she realizes that the swordsman not only married her to obtain her family's wealth, but also still longs for his old life in Kyoto with his ex-wife. When he is told to go into the chambers to reconcile with her, the swordsman refuses, stating his intent to return home and reconcile with his ex-wife. He points out his foolish behavior and poverty as the reasons why he reacted the way he did. The swordsman informs the lady-in-waiting to tell his 2nd wife that their marriage is over and she can return to her parents in shame.

After a few years, the swordsman returns to his home to find it in disrepair. He reconciles with his ex-wife, who refuses to let him punish himself. She tells him that she understood that he only left her in order to bring income to their home. The two happily exchange wonderful stories about the past and the future until the swordsman falls asleep. He wakes up the following day only to discover he had been sleeping next to his ex-wife's rotted corpse. Rapidly aging, he escapes the house only to be attacked by his ex-wife’s black hair.

The Woman of the SnowEdit

"The Woman of the Snow" (雪女, Yukionna) is an adaptation from Hearn's Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903).

Two woodcutters named Minokichi and Mosaku take refuge in a fisherman's hut during a snowstorm. Mosaku is killed by a Yuki-onna, but Minokichi is spared because of his youth. The Yuki-onna warns him to never mention what happened or she will kill him.

Minokichi returns to work and meets Yuki, a young woman who resembles the ghost he encountered. She tells him that she is on her way to Edo, as she lost her family and has relatives there who can secure her a job as a lady-in-waiting. Minokichi offers to let her spend the night at his house with his mother. The mother takes a liking to Yuki and asks her to stay. She never leaves for Edo and Minokichi falls in love with her. The two marry and have children, living happily for ten years. The older women in the town are in awe over Yuki maintaining her youth even after having three children.

One night, during a snowstorm, Minokichi tells her that her appearance reminds him of the Yuki-onna he met and tells her about the strange encounter. It is then that Yuki reveals herself to be the Yuki-onna. Despite the fact he broke his word, she refrains from killing him because of their children. Yuki then leaves Minokichi with the children, warning him to treat them well or she will return and kill him. She disappears into the snowstorm, leaving Minokichi heartbroken.

Hoichi the EarlessEdit

"Hoichi the Earless" (耳無し芳一の話, Miminashi Hōichi no Hanashi) is also adapted from Hearn's Kwaidan (though it incorporates aspects of The Tale of the Heike that are mentioned, but never translated, in Hearn's book).[citation needed]

Hoichi is a blind musician, or biwa hoshi, whose specialty is singing The Tale of the Heike about the Battle of Dan-no-ura fought between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the last phase of the Genpei War. His continuous late night disappearances baffle his friends and the temple priests. One night, his friends follow him to discover he has been going to a graveyard and reciting the Tale of Heike to the court of the dead Emperor from the story.

Concerned for Hoichi’s safety, a priest and his acolyte write the text of The Heart Sutra on his body to make him invisible to the ghosts and instruct him to go outside and sit still as if in meditation. They forget to write it on his ears, which are visible to the ghost that comes to fetch him. The ghost, wanting to bring back as much of Hoichi as possible, rips his ears off. The next morning, a full retinue of ghost comes to Hoichi, who plays the Tale for them despite his friends’ warnings. He goes on to become a famous and wealthy musician.

In a Cup of TeaEdit

"In a Cup of Tea" (茶碗の中, Chawan no Naka) is adapted from Hearn's Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs (1902).

Anticipating a visit from his publisher, a writer relates an old tale of an attendant of Lord Nakagawa Sadono named Sekinai. While Lord Nakagawa is his way to make a New Year's visit, he halts with his train at a tea-house in Hakusan. While the party is resting there, Sekinai sees the face of a strange man in a cup of tea. Despite being perturbed, he drinks the cup.

Later, while Sekinai is guarding his Lord, the man whose face appeared in the tea reappears, calling himself Heinai Shikibu. Sekinai runs to tell the other attendants, but they laugh and tell him he is seeing things. Later that night at his own residence, Sekinai is visited by three ghostly attendants of Heinai Shikibu. He duels them and is nearly defeated, but the author notes the tale ends before things are resolved and suggests that he could write a complete ending, but prefers to leave the ending to the reader's imagination.

The publisher soon arrives and asks the Madame for the author, who is nowhere to be found. They both flee the scene in terror when they discover the author trapped inside a large jar of water.



In 1964, Toho began a three-film deal with director Masaki Kobayashi that concluded with the production Kwaidan.[4]


The roadshow version of Kwaidan was released theatrically in Japan on January 6, 1965 where it was distributed by Toho.[1] The Japanese general release for Kwaidan began on February 27, 1965.[5] Kwaidan was reedited to 125 minutes in the United States for its theatrical release which eliminated the segment "The Woman of the Snow" after the film's Los Angeles premiere.[1] It was released in the United States on July 15, 1965 where it was distributed by Continental Distributing.[1] Kwaidan was re-released theatrically in Japan on November 29, 1982 in Japan as part of Toho's 50th anniversary.[6]


In Japan the film won Yoko Mizuki the Kinema Junpo award for Best Screenplay. It also won awards for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction at the Mainichi Film Concours.[1] The film won international awards including Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.[7]

In a 1967 review, the Monthly Film Bulletin commented on the colour in the film, stating that "it is not so much that the colour in Kwaidan is the way Kobayashi uses it to give these stories something of the quality of a legend."[8] The review concluded that the Kwaidan was a film "whose details stay on in the mind long after one has seen it."[8] Bosley Crowther, in a 1965 New York Times review stated that director Kobayashi "merits excited acclaim for his distinctly oriental cinematic artistry. So do the many designers and cameramen who worked with him. "Kwaidan" is a symphony of color and sound that is truly past compare."[9] Variety described the film as "done in measured cadence and intense feeling" and that it was "a visually impressive tour-de-force."[10]

In his review of Harakiri, Roger Ebert described Kwaidan as "an assembly of ghost stories that is among the most beautiful films I've seen".[11]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Kwaidan holds an approval rating of 88%, based on 24 reviews, and an average rating of 7.4/10. Its consensus reads, "Exquisitely designed and fastidiously ornate, Masaki Kobayashi's ambitious anthology operates less as a frightening example of horror and more as a meditative tribute to Japanese folklore."[12]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Galbraith IV 2008, p. 217.
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Kwaidan". Retrieved 2009-03-04.
  3. ^ "The 38th Academy Awards (1966) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-11-06.
  4. ^ Galbraith IV 2008, p. 451.
  5. ^ Galbraith IV 2008, p. 218.
  6. ^ Galbraith IV 2008, p. 332.
  7. ^ Galbraith IV 2008, p. 215.
  8. ^ a b D.W. (1967). "Kwaidan". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 34 no. 396. London: British Film Institute. pp. 135–136.
  9. ^ Crowther, Bosley (November 23, 1965). "Screen: 'Kwaidan,' a Trio of Subtle Horror Tales:Fine Arts Theater Has Japanese Thriller". New York Times. Archived from the original on June 9, 2016. Retrieved September 28, 2016.
  10. ^ Galbraith IV 1994, p. 100.
  11. ^ "Harakiri Movie Review". November 16, 2011. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  12. ^ "KAIDAN (KWAIDAN) (GHOST STORIES) (1964) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Flixter. Retrieved 1 December 2018.


External linksEdit

Text of Lafcadio Hearn stories that were adapted for KwaidanEdit