Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Headaches, for various reasons, and KWAIDAN (90)

As you may have noticed, I've been a bit slow on the blog-kick lately, this hot on the heels of a inner-proclamation that yes, I'd be kicking this here Criterion Quest blog in to high gear. Well, for once, for sweet-toothed once, I have excuses, body-related excuses! And for you, those:

- I've been sick the last few days. Not a sniffle, nasal blockage, spot-of-a-headache sort of jaunt either, no siree, this has been, at least to my knowledge, some sort of real deal fever-wracked-lying-in-bed-sweaty-as-a-clam-on-meth flu-type battle. Honestly, I spent all of Monday evening, and most of Tuesday morning in a fitful, almost hallucinogenic bout of sickness. I was too weak to lift an arm, let alone type a blog, and though I was wracked with regret, I chose sweaty slumber over blogging.

- I've given up, temporarily caffeine. Yes, the sweet liquid that has driven me, and at most times my income for so long is temporarily being expunged from my body. I've been trying to keep a diary of the various stages of symptoms and withdrawals and such and such, but all I can really attest to in terms of these things so far is a pretty steady headache (at one point on Saturday my face seriously felt like an exploding light bulb) and the fact that exactly one day after quitting the delightful amphetamine, my body was invaded by flu-like aliens. Why am I doing this? Good question. Something about finding out just what it feels like to be deprived of something I've consumed so much of in the last three or four years of my life. I don't want a crutch, be it cigarettes, be it religion, be it booze or caffeine, so lets see what happens when I jettison in to the great abyss. Maybe, maybe I just want to test my willpower.

Thus, headaches abound, fevered, dry-lipped headaches, and the aching need for something that'll speed me up just a bit. So please, excuse a bit of lag.

The Japanese really scoot my clouds, filmically speaking that is. The way they look at the medium, and the way, perhaps, they just look at the basics of life is so much different, so much calmer and with more introspection. This is readily apparent in the beautiful, foursome of "horror" stories that is Kwaidan (90).

Each of these stories, seemingly based on a color or a season even, follows a haunted character. But in Japan you aren't haunted by ghosts in sheets with eye holes chopped out. Oh no, you're haunted by memories, by regrets, by history, and by the dark spaces that lurk in your own brain. In Kwaidan (90) you don't have startling musical cues, and grotesquely make-upped gore-hounds, oh no, you have slow silence and some of the creepiest sound effects to ever grace this Earth. I was lying in bed, or sitting at my kitchen table, or squeezed next to Alex's fully functioning new sewing machine, just shivering with fearful delight as a branch cracked, or a blast of mist rolled down a set of stone stairs. These are stories about the things that haunt all of us, whisked back in to an era of traditional Japan many of us know nothing about. There's samurais and monks and long-haired spinsters, mixed with impetuous princesses and funny-hatted lords all tangled in creepy snow, and giant eyes, and a trio of unkillable samurais that might just drive you mad. Fantastic.

Most intriguing about the Japanese take on the ghost-tale is that these "ghosts" aren't feared as much as their accepted as a real part of life. Yes, to protect one's self, often times you must take certain measures to ward these ghostly beings away, but, not because these beasts are inherently trying to harm you. They're just a part of the world like anything else, and we must move along with them with as much patience as we do anything else. It's an interesting way of viewing it.

What struck me as amazing is that this beautiful, quiet, at times even simple piece of film was, when filmed, the most expensive Japanese movie ever made. If you'd given that sort of money, today, to a horror director, you'd have three-second edits, explosive light flares and a big-eyed child scribbling circles on wax paper.

And yes, the long haired, shrieking female horror of modern day J-horror, has basis in historical Japanese horror films. That I will admit.

Thursday: The Blob (91)