Another installment in the occasional series of milestone film scores by the Japanese Avant-Garde composer Toru Takemitsu. This one from 1964. The Horror anthology was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1965 and has been considered a classic. It further illustrates the amazing versatility of Toru Takemitsu as composer of this beguiling and utterly creepy score.
Kwaidan (Kaidan, literally “ghost stories”) is a 1965 Japanese anthology horror film directed by Masaki Kobayashi (shot in 1964 and released in January 1965). 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, and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
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. 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.
In a 1967 review, the Monthly Film Bulletin commented on the color in the film, stating that “it is not so much that the color in Kwaidan is ravishing…as the way Kobayashi uses it to give these stories something of the quality of a legend.” The review concluded that the Kwaidan was a film “whose details stay on in the mind long after one has seen it.” 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.” Variety described the film as “done in measured cadence and intense feeling” and that it was “a visually impressive tour-de-force.”
In his Harakiri review, Roger Ebert described Kwaidan as “an assembly of ghost stories that is among the most beautiful films I’ve seen”.
Toru Takemitsu’s contribution to film music was considerable; in under 40 years he composed music for over 100 films, some of which were written for purely financial reasons (such as those written for Noboru Nakamura). However, as the composer attained financial independence, he grew more selective, often reading whole scripts before agreeing to compose the music, and later surveying the action on set, “breathing the atmosphere” while conceiving his musical ideas.
One notable consideration in Takemitsu’s composition for film was his careful use of silence (also important in many of his concert works), which often immediately intensifies the events on screen, and prevents any monotony through a continuous musical accompaniment. For the first battle scene of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, Takemitsu provided an extended passage of intense elegiac quality that halts at the sound of a single gunshot, leaving the audience with the pure “sounds of battle: cries screams and neighing horses”.
Takemitsu attached the greatest importance to the director’s conception of the film; in an interview with Max Tessier, he explained that, “everything depends on the film itself … I try to concentrate as much as possible on the subject, so that I can express what the director feels himself. I try to extend his feelings with my music.”
If you aren’t familiar with either the Director Kobayashi or the composer Takemitsu – time to get busy. A whole world awaits.