Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Guyver: Limited Collector's Edition – Unearthed Classics (4k UHD/Blu-ray/CD Combo)

Theatrical Release Date: USA/Japan, 1991
Directors: Screaming Mad George, Steve Wang
Writers: Jon Purdy, Yoshiki Takaya
Cast: Greg Joung Paik, Jimmie 'JJ' Walker, Peter Spellos, Michael Berryman, Spice Williams-Crosby, Mark Hamill, Jack Armstrong, Johnnie Saiko, Vivian Wu, Willard E. Pugh, David Gale, Linnea Quigley, Jeffrey Combs

Release Date: June 25th, 2024
Approximate Running Time: 92 Minutes 26 Seconds
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 2160 Progressive / HEVC / H.265 / HDR10
Rating: R
Sound: DTS-HD 5.1 English, LPCM Stereo English
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Region Coding: Region Free (4K UHD), Region A (Blu-ray)
Retail Price: $59.95

"In this thrill-a-minute action adventure, Sean Barker (Jack Armstrong) is a college student who discovers the "Guyver", an alien mechanical device that merges with his own body, turning him into a super-powerful cyborg fighting machine. The device belongs to Chronos, an evil corporation run by human mutants that metamorphize into monstrous soldiers called "Zoanoids". Chronos badly wants the Guyver back and sends a gang of Zoanoids to kidnap Sean's girlfriend, Mizuki (Vivian Wu). Sean rescues Mizuki with the help of Max Reed (Mark Hamill), a CIA agent determined to keep the device from falling into the hands of Chronos. However, the rescue attempt is not completely successful, thereby triggering a series of epic battles between the forces of good and evil." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 5/5 (4K UHD, Blu-ray)

Here’s the information provided about this release's transfer, "NEW 4K restoration of the original R-rated 35mm camera negative by Unearthed Films."

The Guyver comes on a 66 GB dual layer 4K UHD.

Disc Size: 60.8 GB

Feature: 60.1 GB

The source is in excellent shape; it is easily the best this film has ever looked on home media. Flesh tones look healthy, colors look correct, image clarity, black levels, and compression are solid, and the image always looks organic.

The Guyver comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 41.1 GB

Feature: 27 GB

The Blu-ray uses the same source as the 4K UHD does for its transfer.

Audio: 5/5 (DTS-HD 5.1 English, LPCM Stereo English)

This release comes with two audio options, a DTS-HD 5.1 mix in English and a DTS-HD stereo mix in English. Both tracks sound clean, clear, balanced, and robust when they should. That said, though the 5.1 audio track opens things up, I still prefer the stereo audio track. Removable English subtitles and removable English SDH are included.

Extras:

Extras on the 4K UHD disc include an audio commentary with directors Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang, moderated by Dom O’Brien, the author of Budget Biomorphs: The Making of The Guyver Films.

Extras on the Blu-ray disc include a production gallery (19 minutes 35 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo with music from the film playing in the background), a promotional gallery (6 minutes 22 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo with music from the film playing in the background), English language trailer (1 minute 45 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), German language trailer (2 minutes 32 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo German with removable English subtitles), Spanish language trailer (54 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Spanish with removable English subtitles), French language trailer (2 minutes 15 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo French with removable English subtitles), alternate title sequences: English (6 minutes 10 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English with removable English subtitles), German (6 minutes 10 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo German with removable English subtitles), and Spanish (6 minutes 10 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Spanish with removable English subtitles), Gag Reel with audio commentary by Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang (10 minutes 55 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), Outtakes with audio commentary by Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang (14 minutes 31 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), Suit Tests with audio commentary by Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang (7 minutes 6 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), Suit Tests with audio commentary by Evil Ted Smith and Wyatt Weed (7 minutes 6 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with Screaming Mad George titled The Altered States of Screaming Mad George (56 minutes 48 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with producer Brian Yuzna (35 minutes 39 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), and an audio commentary with Screaming Mad George, Steve Wang, and Dom O’Brien.

Included with this release is a CD with Matthew Morse’s 19-track soundtrack.

Other extras include reversible cover art, a slipcover, and a 8-page booklet with an essay titled An Ode to the Bonkers Battling Biomorphs written by Dan O’Brien, an essay titled Mutating Melodies written by Mathew Morse, the composer of The Guyver, and a 19-track listing for The Guyver’s score.

Summary:

The Guyver was co-directed by Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang (Drive). The Guyver was adapted from Yoshiki Takaya’s manga Bio-Booster Armor Guyver. Both directors are known for their work in special effects.

An evil corporation run by mutants seeks an alien mechanical device that transforms users into cyborg fighting machines.

Live adaptations of Manga’s too often miss the mark. And though The Guyver retains the core elements from its source, the execution of the said source is not without its shortcomings. The most glaring of these are the tonal shifts from sinister to absurd. And nowhere is this clearer than when it comes to the stereotypes and exaggerated caricatures that populate The Guyver.

That said, there are a few areas where The Guyver holds up well. Things start off strong with an opening that does a fantastic job of laying the foundation for what follows, and a solid final does a superb job wrapping up the events that unfolded. Unfortunately, it was the moments in between that let The Guyver down.

The most impressive aspect of The Guyver is its cast, which is filled with recognizable faces like Jimmie 'JJ' Walker (Good Times), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Mark Hamill (Star Wars), Linnea Quigley (Night of the Demons), and Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator). That said, The Guyver is not a film that one watches because of its performances. At least you get to see Jimmie 'JJ' Walker act like a buffoon and say Dynomite.

Just how much one will enjoy The Guyver comes down to two things: whether you’re a fan of the manga or if you first saw this film in your youth and enjoyed it back then. That said, for those watching The Guyver for the first time, this film is going to be a tough sell for most of them.

Based on the technical merits and content, one would be hard-pressed to find any faults in this release from Unearthed Classics. The Guyver gets an exceptional release from Unearthed Classics that comes with a solid audio/video presentation and an abundance of extras. Highly recommended.

Note: This release is limited to 5000 units.

Note about the 4K screenshots: It is not possible to make Dolby Vision or HDR10 screenshots that faithfully match the experience of watching a film in motion on a TV. Instead of not having any screenshots, all of the 4K screenshots are m2ts taken with a VLC player and lossless PNGs.












Written by Michael Den Boer

Friday, July 12, 2024

Beijing Watermelon – Kani (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1989
Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Writer: Yoshihiro Ishimatsu
Cast: Bengal, Masako Motai, Yasufumi Hayashi, Haruhiko Saitô, Takashi Sasano, Hana Kino, Akira Emoto, Yugi Ogata, Ryô Ôkubo, Ryô Iwamatsu, Kazunori Hagiwara, Hiromi Oshima 

Release Date: June 25th, 2024
Approximate Running Time: 135 Minutes 35 Seconds
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: NR
Sound: DTS-HD Stereo Japanese and Mandarin
Subtitles: English
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $36.98

"Shunzo (Bengal) and his wife Michi (Masako Motai) run a beloved greengrocer on the outskirts of Tokyo. When Lee, a struggling exchange student from China, visits the shop but is unable to afford the produce, an uneasy relationship sprouts. Begrudgingly, Shunzo agrees to lower his prices. Soon, Lee’s classmates begin frequenting the shop. As Shunzo’s generosity sneaks up on him and strains his family’s welfare, he confronts his role as surrogate father to his newfound Chinese friends." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 4.5/5

Here’s the information provided about the transfer, “This 2K restoration of Beijing Watermelon was commissioned by Shochiku from a 4K scan of the 35mm negatives, scanned at IMAGICA Lab Inc. in 2021 on a Lasergraphics Scanstation.”

Beijing Watermelon comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 41.1 GB

Feature: 35.8 GB

The source looks excellent; flesh tones look healthy, colors look correct, and image clarity and compression are solid. Though most of the time the black levels are strong, there are a few darker scenes that are not as convincing as they should be.

Audio: 4.5/5

This release comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD stereo mix in Japanese and Mandarin. The audio is in great shape; dialog comes through clearly, and everything sounds balanced and robust when it should. The English subtitles are removable, and they come in two colors: white when a character is speaking in Japanese and yellow when a character is speaking in Mandarin.

Extras:

Extras for this release include a theatrical teaser (47 seconds, DTS-HD stereo Japanese and Mandarin with removable English subtitles), a theatrical trailer (2 minutes 29 seconds, DTS-HD stereo Japanese and Mandarin with removable English subtitles), a new theatrical trailer (2 minutes 33 seconds, DTS-HD stereo Japanese and Mandarin with removable English subtitles), an interview with Chigumi Obayashi, daughter of director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi (19 minutes 5 seconds, DTS-HD stereo Japanese with removable English subtitles), a slipcover (OOP), and a 28-page booklet with an essay titled Beijing Watermelon Weaving Obayashi’s Cinema written by Aaron Gerow, pages from the script, and information about the restoration.

Summary:

A grocer's kindness to a struggling exchange student from China puts a strain on his finances and his relationship with his family.

When viewed through the lens of Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, there are only a few moments in Beijing Watermelon that bear resemblance to his most celebrated films. Where he is most known for his work in the fantasy film genre and coming-of-age films, Beijing Watermelon is a straight-forward drama that is based on true events. That said, most Japanese filmmakers make a name for themselves by finding a genre in which they excel, while Nobuhiko Ôbayashi films are a genre unto themselves.

It is the friction between the wife and the husband that drives the narrative. What starts off as a moment of kindness greatly expands when other Chinese exchange students get the grocer to help them out. The grocer's devotion to the Chinese exchange students creates a wedge between him and his family. His act of kindness puts a financial strain on his family. When a health emergency leaves the grocer unable to work, the Chinese exchange students help him out by paying it forward.

There is a naturalism that enhances the story as it unfolds. Bengal’s (Boiling Point) portrayal of the grocer is the performance that anchors Beijing Watermelon. Another performance of note is Masako Motai’s (Gemini) portrayal of the grocer's frustrated wife. That said, all of the performances are very good.

As mentioned before, Beijing Watermelon is as grounded a film as you will ever see from Nobuhiko Ôbayashi. Most of the narrative is based on reality, but Nobuhiko Ôbayashi infuses a few moments with his unique style. All of these moments happen in the last 30 minutes, and there are instances where the protagonist acknowledges the audience. In the first of these fourth-wall moments, the protagonist makes a comment about how they could not afford to go to Beijing, so a studio set is constructed instead. During production, the Tiananmen Square massacre prevented scenes from being filmed in Beijing.

At 2 hours plus in length, some might find the deliberate-paced narrative slow-moving. That said, how much you get out of Beijing Watermelon depends on connecting with the characters. Fortunately, the narrative is greatly aided by likable characters who are easy to empathize with. The characters are likable and easy for the audience to empathize with, which greatly aids the narrative. Ultimately, Beijing Watermelon is a heartwarming drama about removing barriers and making connections despite our differences.

Beijing Watermelon gets an excellent release from Kani that comes with a solid audio/video presentation and a pair of insightful extras, highly recommended.








Written by Michael Den Boer

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Soledad's Shawl (El Rebozo de Soledad) - VCI Entertainment (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Date: Mexico, 1952
Director: Roberto Gavaldón
Writers: Roberto Gavaldón, Estela Inda, José Revueltas
Cast: Arturo de Córdova, Pedro Armendáriz, Estela Inda, Domingo Soler, Carlos López Moctezuma, Jaime Fernández, Gilberto González, Rogelio Fernández, José Baviera, Francisco Jambrina, José María Linares-Rivas, Lupe Carriles

Release Date: July 23rd, 2024
Approximate running time: 114 Minutes 54 Seconds
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: NR
Sound: LPCM Mono Spanish
Subtitles: English
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: $22.95

"Though a successful and highly respected physician in his humble rural community, Dr. Alberto Robles, still battles with anguish over not fulfilling any of the personal dreams he'd had before medical school and beginning his practice. Also, his idealistic and enterprising attitudes concerning medicine earned him some enemies. Along with this, there is a long going battle with local Chief, David Acosta, over unfair dealings with landowners. When a peasant woman named Soledad goes to him seeking help for her brother, Dr. Robles, is hesitant at first but relents and ends up saving the boy. At some point, Dr. Robles falls in love with Soledad, who out of gratitude has offered to help in his office. Ultimately, the ongoing battle, riddled with all the tensions, prejudices, and the feuds over land in the impoverished rural community, leads to tragedy.” – Synopsis provided by the Distributor

Video: 4.5/5

Here’s the information given about the transfer, “The digital transfer of this film was made from the 35mm acetate copy belonging to the Cineteca Nacional Collection.

The process consisted of scanning, color and sound correction, restoration of a frame and image stabilization in the credits.”

Soledad's Shawl (El Rebozo de Soledad) comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 39.7 GB

Feature: 30.6 GB

The source looks fantastic; there is no sign of source damage or any other imperfections. Flesh tones look correct; image clarity, contrast, and black levels are solid. When it comes to digital noise reduction or compression, there are no issues.

Audio: 4.5/5

This release comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in Spanish with removable English subtitles. The audio sounds clean, clear, and balanced. That said, the audio is in such excellent shape that it is hard to imagine it sounding any better than it does.

Extras:

Extras for this release are limited to a video essay by film historian Dr. David Witt (26 minutes 43 seconds, LPCM stereo English with removable English and Spanish subtitles).

Also, the menu is bilingual, English and Spanish.

Summary:

Roberto Gavaldón directed Soledad's Shawl (El Rebozo de Soledad). His other notable films are La Barraca, In the Palm of Your Hand, Night Falls, Untouched, and Macario. Soledad's Shawl (El Rebozo de Soledad) was nominated for 14 Silver Ariels (Mexican cinema’s equivalent of the Oscars), winning 8 Silver Ariels.

The narrative revolves around a big city doctor who struggles to convince a rural town of the benefits of modern medicine.

Though the narrative begins with the doctor waiting for the hospital's board of governors to make a decision on his employment, most of the narrative is told via flashbacks as the doctor reflects on his time in the rural village. That said, the scenes at the beginning and end of the narrative take place in the present; these scenes bookend the flashbacks.

There are a lot of parts at play in Soledad's Shawl (El Rebozo de Soledad). The doctor narrates Soledad's story equally well, recounting several of her diary entries and interspersing them with flashbacks. The two things that run throughout the narrative are the doctor’s experiences working with the superstitious rural people and his relationship with a peasant woman named Soledad. There is a love triangle subplot where two men, the doctor and a sadistic landowner, compete for Soledad’s affection. Where the doctor treats her with kindness and respect, the landowner only knows one way to get what he wants: brute force.

All of the acting is outstanding, especially Arturo de Córdova (El Gángster) in the role of the doctor and Estela Inda (The Aztec Mummy) in the role of Soledad. They have a tremendous amount of on-screen chemistry, which further elevates their performances. Another performance of note is Pedro Armendáriz’s (The Brute) portrayal of the landowner. He delivers an utterly convincing performance that perfectly captures his character's cruelty and lack of empathy.

From a production standpoint, there is no area where Soledad's Shawl (El Rebozo de Soledad) does not deliver, and then some. The well-constructed narrative does a phenomenal job of building momentum by giving key moments an ample amount of time to resonate. The cinematography of Soledad's Shawl (El Rebozo de Soledad) is stunningly beautiful and effectively utilizes its rural landscapes. In a film that has many striking moments, the two most harrowing are a scene where the doctor saves a choking baby and the scene where the landowner rapes Soledad. Ultimately, Soledad's Shawl (El Rebozo de Soledad) is a solid drama from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.

VCI Entertainment gives Soledad's Shawl (El Rebozo de Soledad) a first-rate release that comes with a solid audio/video presentation and an excellent interview with film historian Dr. David Witt, highly recommended.








Written by Michael Den Boer

The World of Kanako – Drafthouse Films (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 2014
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Writers: Tetsuya Nakashima, Miako Tadano, Nobuhiro Monma
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Nana Komatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Hiroya Shimizu, Fumi Nikaidô, Ai Hashimoto, Jun Kunimura, Joe Odagiri, Miki Nakatani, Aoi Morikawa, Munetaka Aoki, Asuka Kurosawa, Mahiro Takasugi, Shôno Hayama, Hiroki Nakajima

Release Date: July 9th, 2024
Approximate Running Time: 119 Minutes 5 Seconds
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: NR
Sound: DTS-HD 5.1 Japanese, DTS-HD Stereo Japanese|
Subtitles: English
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $24.95

"Akikazu on the hunt for his daughter, Kanako. What he discovers is a web of depravity surrounding both Kanako and himself. As he stumbles along a shocking trail of drugs, sex and violence, he finds himself unprepared for the shocking revelations." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 4.5/5

The World of Kanako comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 43.8 GB

Feature: 31.6 GB

The source looks excellent; flesh tones look correct, colors are nicely saturated, and image clarity, contrast, black levels, and compression are solid.

Audio: 4.5/5 (DTS-HD 5.1 Japanese, DTS-HD Stereo Japanese)

This release comes with two audio options, a DTS-HD 5.1 mix in Japanese and a DTS-HD stereo mix in Japanese. Both tracks do an excellent job when it comes to ambient sounds. Range-wise, the 5.1 audio track is a more robust experience. Dialog always comes through clearly, and everything sounds balanced. Included are non-removable English subtitles.

Extras:

Extras for this release include a theatrical teaser (50 seconds, LPCM stereo Japanese with non-removable English subtitles), a theatrical trailer (1 minute 57 seconds, LPCM stereo Japanese with non-removable English subtitles), an interview with author Akio Fukamachi (7 minutes 50 seconds, LPCM stereo Japanese with non-removable English subtitles), an interview with actress Nana Komatsu (34 minutes 45 seconds, LPCM stereo Japanese with non-removable English subtitles), a featurette titled The Making of The World of Kanako (31 minutes 26 seconds, LPCM stereo Japanese with non-removable English subtitles).  

Other extras include these trailers: Mean Guns, Sukiyaki Western Django, Knock Off, Swamp Thing, and The Linguini Incident.

Summary:

With The World of Kanako, Tetsuya Nakashima once again uses a novel as the starting point. The World of Kanako was adapted from Akio Fukamachi's novel Hateshinaki Kawaki (Endless Thirst).

An ex-wife, whose daughter Kanako has gone missing, contacts an estranged father who used to be a detective. From there, the further he digs into his daughter's life, the more he starts to realize that he never really knew her. Who is responsible for taking her, and the fact that she was taken, is more disturbing than any truth he uncovers.

While watching The World of Kanako, I began to see similarities between it and Memories of Matsuko. The protagonists in both films tell their life stories through flashbacks. That said, despite both of these films having bleak subject matter, The World of Kanako is the noticeably darker of these two films tone-wise.

The World of Kanako opens with a flurry of information, the first 8 minutes overflowing with rapid-fire editing and juxtaposition of images. And once again, Tetsuya Nakashima's visual eye plays a significant role in enhancing the story that unfolds. That said, The World of Kanako’s striking imagery is filled with symbolism and visually arresting moments.

When it comes to the performances, as amazing as the entire cast is, they all pale in comparison to Nana Komatsu’s portrayal of Kanako. Though her character is never in the present, her character's specter looms large throughout. Another standout performance is Koji Yakusho’s (Cure) portrayal of Kanako’s father. So much of what unfolds is from his character's point of view.

From a production standpoint, there is no area where The World of Kanako does not excel. The well-constructed narrative does a phenomenal job peeling away the layers of Kanako’s life, and the gut punch final provides a perfect coda. There is endless pain and suffering on display throughout The World of Kanako. To say that there is an ample amount of carnage would be an understatement. Ultimately, The World of Kanako is an unflinching portrayal of a society rotten to its core and the evil that it produces.

The World of Kanako gets an excellent release from Drafthouse Films that comes with a solid audio/video presentation and informative extras, highly recommended.








Written by Michael Den Boer

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Memories of Matsuko – Third Window Films (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 2006
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Writer: Tetsuya Nakashima
Cast: Miki Nakatani, Kana Okunoya, Eita, Akira Emoto, Teruyuki Kagawa, Mikako Ichikawa, Yusuke Iseya, Shosuke Tanihara, Kankuro Kudo, Gekidan Hitori, Ryo Arakawa, Shinji Takeda

Release Date: February 14th, 2011
Approximate Running Time: 130 Minutes 20 Seconds
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: DTS-HD 5.1 Japanese
Subtitles: English
Region Coding: Region Free (Blu-ray), Region 2 PAL (DVD)
Retail Price: OOP

"When the body of Aunt Matsuko (Miki Nakatani), who has been living as a tramp, is found murdered, her selfish young nephew Shou (Eita) is sent to clear out her apartment. Shou finds the place crammed full of garbage but, as he begins to sort through the rubbish, he finds himself becoming more and more interested in this strange woman. Conversations with neighbors begin to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together and Shou discovers that Matsuko has led a more than colorful life. From her early fall-out with her father, her progression through life included a career as a teacher, a series of love affairs and a spell in a massage parlor, until she ended up in jail for murdering her pimp. On her release, finding that her lover had gone off with another, she became involved with a Yakuza gangster, before being dumped again and becoming a recluse. Finally, she met her untimely death. All of Matsuko’s life story is portrayed in a series of extravagant musical set-pieces, which enable even the darkest episodes of her life to be seen in a unique and enjoyable way. All of these revelations about his aunt affect Shou greatly and lead him to the conclusion that he must change his own self-centered ways." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 4.5/5

Memories of Matsuko comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 27.5 GB

Feature: 26.9 GB

The source looks excellent; it is a noticeable improvement over the Third Window Films DVD release. Flesh tones look correct, colors look vivid, image clarity and contrast are solid, and black levels are strong throughout. Also, compression is very good, and there are no issues with edge enhancement.

Audio: 5/5

This release comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD 5.1 mix in Japanese with removable English subtitles. The audio sounds excellent, the dialog comes through clearly, and everything sounds balanced and robust when it should.

Extras:

All the extra content comes on a second disc (a single-layer DVD). Extras on this disc include a theatrical trailer (1 minute 47 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Japanese with removable English subtitles), a Storyboard to Film Comparison (12 minutes 40 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Japanese with non-removable English subtitles), an Interview with soundtrack composer Gabriel Roberto (21 minutes 37 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), and a Making of featurette (30 minutes 29 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Japanese with non-removable English subtitles). Other extras include trailers for other films released by Third Window Films.

Summary:

The nephew of a recently deceased woman cleans up her apartment. Because of her estrangement from the family, he never met his aunt. While cleaning her apartment, he gets to know her through the conversations he has with those who know her.

“Forgive me for being born."  These words are written on the wall outside Matsuko's apartment. What could have possibly made someone write the above sentiment? This is just one of many clues that give deeper insight into the downward spiral that ultimately led to her death.

Memories of Matsuko adopts the narrative structure outlined in Citizen Kane. It is a narrative that relies completely on other characters speaking on behalf of the protagonist. And it is through their recollections that Matsuko comes to life. That said, since there are several viewpoints at play, there is not a reliable narrator.

It is a formidable task to sum up someone’s life and untimely demise over the span of two hours. Thankfully, Memories of Matsuko does a great job of keeping things concise; there is no unnecessary filler. And nowhere is the narrative more effective than how it builds momentum via the flashbacks that give a glimpse into Matsuko's turbulent life.

From the get-go Memories of Matsuko is a roller coaster ride that, at times, is whimsical and often bleak. The earliest memories of Matsuko reveal a little girl who is desperate for affection from her father. He devotes most of his time to her sickly younger sister. This eventually leads to her leaving home. When she breaks away from her family, she struggles to find a stable relationship with anyone who is not abusive to her. And while all of these relationships end badly, she always finds within herself a reason to live and not give up.

The heart and soul of this production is the spectacular performance from its leading lady, Miki Nakatani (Ringu). She delivers a gut-wrenching performance that perfectly captures her character's despair. She would go on to win the Japanese Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Matsuko. Asuka Kurosawa’s (A Snake of June) portrayal of Megumi Sawamura is another performance of note. Matsuko became friends with her character while serving eight years in prison for murder.

Stylistically, with Memories of Matsuko, Tetsuya Nakashima picks up where he left off on his previous film, Kamikaze Girls. His films have a strong visual eye, and Memories of Matsuko is overflowing with stylish moments. And though this time around he delves into bleak subject matter, there are a few lighthearted moments, notably musical numbers. Pacing-wise, after starting off briskly, things slow down by the second act; thankfully, the final act gets things moving again, culminating with an evocative ending that provides a satisfying closure. Ultimately, through all of its peaks and valleys, Memories of Matsuko is an emotionally charged melodrama that stays with you long after its final moments.

It is a shame that the Third Window Films Blu-ray release is now OOP since it gave Memories of Matsuko a solid audio/video presentation.








Written by Michael Den Boer

Monday, July 8, 2024

Ozon's Transgressive Triple: Sitcom, Criminal Lovers, and Water Drops on Burning Rocks - Altered Innocence (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Dates: France, 1998 (Sitcom), France, 1999 (Criminal Lovers), France, 2000 (Water Drops on Burning Rocks)
Director: François Ozon (All Films)
Cast: Évelyne Dandry, François Marthouret, Marina de Van, Adrien de Van, Stéphane Rideau, Lucia Sanchez, Jules-Emmanuel Eyoum Deido (Sitcom), Natacha Régnier, Jérémie Renier, Predrag 'Miki' Manojlovic, Salim Kechiouche, Yasmine Belmadi (Criminal Lovers), Bernard Giraudeau, Malik Zidi, Ludivine Sagnier, Anna Thomson (Water Drops on Burning Rocks)

Release Date: June 25th, 2024
Approximate Running Times: 80 Minutes 23 Seconds (Sitcom), 96 Minutes 33 Seconds (Criminal Lovers), 86 Minutes 1 Second (Water Drops on Burning Rocks)
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Sitcom, Water Drops on Burning Rocks), 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Criminal Lovers)
Rating: NR
Sound: DTS-HD Stereo French (All Films)
Subtitles: English (All Films)
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $39.95

Sitcom: "An upper-middle-class nuclear family experiences upheaval when they adopt a laboratory mouse as their new pet. As each member interacts with the new addition to the household, the animal exerts a strange power that prompts them to explore their repressed psychosexual desires. A satire of bourgeois values - something of a cross between John Waters and Luis Buñuel - Ozon offers surreal delights and a rollercoaster of perversions in Sitcom." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Criminal Lovers: "An audacious queer take on Hansel and Gretel, Criminal Lovers starts with a thrill kill that sends its protagonists, Alice and Luc, down the rabbit hole. Like a wannabe Bonnie and Clyde, the couple flee their safe suburban lives before getting lost in the woods, only to find themselves trapped by a psychotic woodsman. What awaits in his cellar - from sexual enlightenment to karmic retribution - must be seen to be believed." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Water Drops on Burning Rocks: "Water Drops on Burning Rocks adapts an unproduced play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder - Ozon's favorite filmmaker - in which Franz, a naïve 19-year-old, is seduced by a smug-yet-alluring, 50-year-old businessman Leopold, quickly moving into his apartment. Domestic bliss is short-lived as a sadomasochistic relationship takes root and the power dynamics continue to shift upon the arrival of both men's ex-girlfriends: the spry Anna and mysterious Véra. This ménage à quatre leads to sex, despair, and, of course, a musical number." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 4.5/5 (Sitcom, Criminal Lovers, Water Drops on Burning Rocks)

Sitcom and Criminal Lovers come on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 45.3 GB

Feature: 20.6 GB (Sitcom), 24.8 GB (Criminal Lovers)

Water Drops on Burning Rocks comes on a 25 GB single layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 23.2 GB

Feature: 21.6 GB

The sources for all three films look excellent; they are on par with their French Blu-ray releases. Flesh tones look healthy, colors look correct, image clarity is solid, black levels are strong, compression is very good, and there are no issues related to digital noise reduction.

Audio: 4.5/5 (Sitcom, Criminal Lovers, Water Drops on Burning Rocks)

Each film comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD stereo mix in French, and each film comes with removable English subtitles. All audio tracks are in excellent shape; dialog comes through clearly, and everything sounds balanced.

Extras:

Extras on the second Blu-ray disc include a newly created trailer for Ozon's Transgressive Triple (1 minute 11 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo French with non-removable English subtitles), an interview with actor Stéphane Rideau (13 minutes 14 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo French with non-removable English subtitles), a video essay by Kat Ellinger titled Little Deaths: Loss and Coming of Age in François Ozon's First Chapter (25 minutes 55 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an audio commentary with Cerise Howard and Rohan Spong for Water Drops on Burning Rocks, a pull-out poster and on the opposite side of the poster an essay titled Transgress, Transform, Transcend written by Juan Barquin and Trae DeLellis, and trailers for The Wounded Man, Fogi is a Bastard, Wild Reeds, and The Strangler.

Summary:

Ozon's Transgressive Triple collects three films directed by François Ozon: Sitcom, Criminal Lovers, and Water Drops on Burning Rocks. Other notable films that he directed are 8 Women, Swimming Pool, and Time to Leave.

Sitcom: Turmoil disrupts the idyllic life of a family in a middle-class suburb.

Sitcom is an exaggerated black comedy version of the American sitcom. The narrative revolves around a family with traditional values facing challenges that are outside of their comfort zone. The first of these shocks occurs when the son announces at dinner that he is a homosexual. Unwilling to accept this revelation, the mother becomes distraught. The rest of the family seems to take this revelation in stride. The daughter is a sadomasochist whose fascination with death leaves her paralyzed after a failed suicide attempt. The mother, determined to cure her son, commits an act of incest by offering herself to him. And as if all of these things were not disturbing enough, the father becomes a rat after devouring one.

For a film that delves into taboo and other off-putting subject matter, the execution is flawless. The narrative constructs the story perfectly, allowing key moments to linger and building up to the shocking moment. The humor, albeit on the darker side, never misses the mark. When it comes to the performances, the entire cast is fully committed to their characters and the absurd story that unfolds. That said, even in this early part of his career, it is clear that François Ozon is a filmmaker who has mastered visually arresting moments. Ultimately, Sitcom is a highly entertaining film that overflows with piercing social commentary and subversive humor that might turn off some viewers.

Criminal Lovers: A boyfriend and girlfriend who killed a classmate cover up their crime by burying the body in the woods.

Criminal Lovers is a devious retelling of Hansel and Gretel in a modern setting. What starts off as a thrill kill shifts into the realm of fairy tales when the two killers find themselves hungry and lost in the woods. And when it appears that they have finally found sanctuary, things take a turn for the worse when the hermit who lives there returns home. Instead of turning them over to the police, the hermit locks them away in the cellar below his cabin. The boy captivates him; he ignores the girl, not allowing her to eat, leaving her confined in the cellar. Though there is a familiarity to the story that unfolds because of its connection to Hansel and Gretel, the result is a film that is never predictable and, at times, goes places that are not easy to watch.

From its opening moments, Criminal Lovers establishes an unnerving tone that enhances the story that unfolds. The well-constructed narrative does a superb job building momentum towards an exemplary ending. There is an abundance of tension, most of which comes from the hermit’s interactions with the boy, whom he keeps on a leash. The cast are all excellent in their roles, especially Miki Manojlović (Underground) in the role of the hermit. Once again, François Ozon delves into subversive subject matter like cannibalism and sadism. Ultimately, Criminal Lovers is a twisted fairy tale that you are either going to fully embrace or loathe by the time the initial setup makes it clear what kind of film it is.

Water Drops on Burning Rocks: A 50-year-old man falls in love with a man 30 years younger than him. Over the course of their relationship, the younger man decides to get back together with the fiancee that he walked away from. This action sets in motion a series of events that end tragically.

Adapted from Tropfen auf heiße Steinen, a play written by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. A theater production was the source of Water Drops on Burning Rocks, so it's not surprising that its staging exhibits a more theatrical feel than one would typically find in a film. The entirety of the narrative takes place inside an apartment where two lovers live. The narrative consists of four acts that follow the evolution and disintegration of the two lovers' relationship. Content-wise, Water Drops on Burning Rocks is equal parts melodrama and romantic comedy.

Water Drops on Burning Rocks is a dialog-driven film. The camera follows characters and lets their performances take center stage. Despite being filmed in one location, when it comes to the visuals, they are filled with interesting compositions that heighten the mood. The most memorable and bizarre moment is when the four characters break into an impromptu dance. When it comes to the performances, the cast is excellent. Ultimately, Water Drops on Burning Rocks is a very satisfying mix of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and François Ozon.

Ozon's Transgressive Triple gets an excellent release from Altered Innocence, highly recommended.



























Written by Michael Den Boer

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