I’m pretty sure I’d see people in my tea too, I mean, tea is pretty nasty ya know!
Screenplay By: Yôko Mizuki
Directed By: Masaki Kobayashi
Anthologies have seen a bit of a resurrection the past few years in horror. The key word in that sentence is resurrection, because anthologies have been a part of the horror film lexicon for years now. And, to be frank, a lot of the horror anthologies I’ve seen have sucked, really bad. Perhaps that’s not the most intelligent criticism I’ve ever written, but it’s darn tootin’ true. The problem that a horror anthology represents is that it is one film containing many stories. There are two basic ways to go about presenting an anthology horror film. Either the stories within the film are connected in some manner, or they are completely separate of one another. Neither approach is better than the other, but I find myself liking the disconnected approach more. Kaidan takes the disconnected approach, and because of that Masaki Kobayashi is able to craft four very different and very compelling horror tales.
Kaidan loosely translates, in English, to Ghost Stories, or so the internet tells me. Ghosts, or supernatural beings, play an important role in every single tale within Kaidan. While none of the tales are connected in the traditional sense, there are themes that run from tale to tale. For instance, the lack of cooperation between the living and the dead is major theme in Kaidan. More to the point, the human characters we see are almost always either betraying the trust of ghosts or attempting to trick them in some way. The ghosts are ghosts, but they are more than ghosts. They are remnants, or representations, of the past, present, and future of humanity. The fact that the human characters in Kaidan struggle to get along with and understand the motives of the ghosts speaks to the inability of humanity to understand itself.
Helping Kaidan are the gloriously surreal visuals. Kobayashi-san takes an expressionist approach, saturating his film with vibrant colors and motifs that are almost beyond fantastical. I can’t recall the last time a horror film was a bright and as full of color as Kaidan. There is a lot of darkness in Kaidan, but the darkness is enhanced by the vibrant reds, oranges, greens, and yellows that pop up throughout the film. Expressionistic filmmaking has always had a home in the horror genre, and Kaidan is but another example of how artful the horror genre can be.
In addition to the visuals and the solid storytelling, Kaidan also boasts some delightful acting. No one performance stood out from the crowd, Kaidan is more of an ensemble piece than anything else. But, a knockout performance isn’t needed when just about every performance in the film was stellar. Kan’emon Nakamura is a great example of the acting fitting the story and the atmosphere of the film. His character of Kannai starts out as restrained and very reserved. As the crazy in his life multiplies he becomes more and more unhinged and the performance of Nakamura-san matches the crazy that his character is enduring. By the time we see the last of Kannai he is a laughing lunatic, and I completely bought Nakamura-san as that darn crazy and cracked.
If I wasn’t busy dropping my jaw at the visuals in Kaidan I was busy immersing myself in any of the films four stories. Kaidan is the third film I have seen from Kobayashi-san and I have loved every one of them. H doesn’t have a specific visual style, but his visuals are always strong. Kobayashi-san does seem to have an inherent distrust of humanity, and that plays out in full force in Kaidan. Those looking for something a little different in their horror watching need to make time for Kaidan. Tension, suspense, and atmosphere rule the roost, and by the time it’s finished Kaidan is the cock of the walk.