Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Three Films


Kwaidan is a Japanese film with subtitles directed by Masaki Kobayashi.  The title comes from a collection of short Japanese tales translated by Lafcadio Hearn .  The film includes four stories from the book.  The photography is beautiful and the colors vibrant, and it is hard to believe the film came out in 1965.  It must have been reworked to bring back the original colors.

The four tales include the following:

 A woodcutter's life is spared by the Snow Woman who killed his comrade on condition that he never speak of what happened to anyone at any time.  However, humans being human . . .

Hoichi is a young, blind Buddhist monk who is also talented musician and singer.  One night a man comes to guiide him to the court of a noble who wishes him to sing about the last great battle his clan lost to the Genji. Since he is blind, he doesn't know who comprises his audience.  His attempt at freedom, aided by his fellow monks, costs him dearly.

A samurai leaves his wife to marry a rich woman in order to escape their poverty and his insignificance.  Over the years, he learns that this was a bad decision.  Finally he leaves his rich wife and his comfortable position with her father and returns to his former wife.  Unfortunately he learns  that not only one can't go back,  but that it is far better that one never even tries.

A samurai upon pouring himself a bowl of tea discovers a strange face inside the bowl staring out at him.  Each time he empties the bowl without drinking it, the face becomes clearer and more ominous.  Finally he drinks the tea in spite of the face--a very poor decision.  Unfortunately, the reader never finds out what eventually happens to the samurai because every time a writer attempts to finish the story, he or she disappears, leaving it unfinished. What would happen if someone tried to adapt this tale for film?

If there's a moral to the stories, it is that it doesn't pay to get involved with spirits and demons.


The film is a collaboration, a fruitful one, between the Teaching Company and the National Geographic Society was first shown in 2015.  The lecturers are obviously knowledgeable, which is what I would  expect of a Teaching Company production, and the photography is stunning, again something I would expect from National Geographic.

It is a boxed set, which I got from the local library, consisting of 4 DVDs, each DVD with six 30 minute lectures.  The first set of lectures focuses on the various expeditions to the North and South Poles, the men who went on them and the many who did not return.  Subsequent lectures then centured on the geology, the geography, the climate, and the inhabitants of both regions, along  with commentary on the present situation at the Poles, which has been declared off-limits to resource development and territorial claims by countries.

The last set detailed the changes now taking place at the Poles.  In 2014, aerial photography disclosed a large crack in the Larson C ice shelf.  The lecturer discussed the possibility that the shelf might actually break from from the continent.  Several weeks after I viewed the DVDs, I read that the Larson C ice shelf had broken away from Antarctica. 


A Walk in the Woods is based on the book by Bill Bryson about his walk with a friend along the Appalachian Trail, a marked trail that stretches through the Appalachian Mountains some 2200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

It is really a buddy film as Bryson is joined by Stepen Katz, a longtime friend he hasn't seen or talked to in many years.  The film is not a travelogue, and those viewing it for the scenery will be disappointed.  While there are some shots of scenery, the real focus is on the reconnecting between the two friends, Bil Bryson played by Robert Redford and  Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz.   Actually that was my reason for watching the film; I wanted to see Redford and Nolte for I just couldn't picture them together in a film.  It turned out to be a great pairing. 


  1. i've heard of Kwaidan before, but never viewed it; it sounds a little obscure, maybe... the second sounds VERY interesting, what with the geology and all... as i said somewhere, i saw Woods, and was rather ho hum about it: okay, but not exciting.... tx for the synopses...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      I'm not sure about what you mean by obscure in reference to Kwaidan.

      The second film was an excellent presentation, just what one would expect from National Geo and the Teaching Company.

      I was curious to see Redford and Nolte together and they did a very decent job with little that would be considered dramatic.

  2. "obscure"... ummm not the usual westernized plot... maybe conveying a message that perhaps might difficult to understand... "vague" might be better than "obscure"... having to do with alien psychology?

    1. Mudpuddle,

      This is the third collection of Japanese tales, fables, ghost stories, so the strangeness has generally disappeared. The only exception is the depiction of the Buddhist priests who frequently appear in these stories. I was raised Catholic so my conception of a priest has been in that direction and to a lesser extent, Protestant ministers. Buddhist priests are quite different from Catholic priests, so that their behavior frequently surprises me.

      However, a number of the stories leave me with the feeling I'm missing something, most likely due to my incomplete knowledge of the Japanese culture.

    2. sometimes i think that it's almost impossible to understand one's own culture, much less any other... but gleaning meanings from different media is pleasurable, so we speculate away...

    3. Mudpuddle,

      Yes, it's speculation that keeps us going, about our own and other cultures. And, occasionally I surprise myself and get something right, or mostly right.