Blu-ray Review “The Twilight Samurai (2002)”

Starring: Rye Miyazawa, Ren Ohsugi, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Hirouki Sanada, Nenji Kobayashi
Directed By: Yoji Yamada
Distributed by: Twilight Time
Run Time: 129 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Release Date: November 11, 2014

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 1.5 out of 5 stars

“The Twilight Samurai” was nominated for the Academy Award, Best Foreign Language Film back in 2002. It didn’t win but it did end up winning 12 Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. It deserves the praise cause it is a fantastic samurai period film. Star Hirouki Sanada has since gone on to big things in the U.S. as well including “The Wolverine” and “47 Ronin”. This Blu-ray release is an Screen Archives Entertainment Exclusive and is a Limited Edition release with only 3000 copies produced. So if you are a fan, get it quick before they sell out.

Official Premise: The Twilight Samurai (2002) is a contemplative character study of Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada), a traditional samurai reduced—in a rapidly modernizing Japan—to working as an accountant. A widower, Seibei has to care for his senile mother and his two young daughters; his financial problems are so severe that he finally, humiliatingly, must pawn his sword. And then, his clan comes to him with one last job. Directed by veteran Yoji Yamada, best known for helming Japan’s beloved “Tora-san” films.

Twilight Time is releasing this film on a region free Blu-ray disc. The 1080p transfer is solid and really looks solid. There is only a Japanese audio DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track included. The special features include an Isolated Score Track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 by Isao Tomita (“Zatoichi”). Lastly there are the film’s Original Theatrical Trailers. Also like with all of Twilight Time’s releases be sure to enjoy the extensive Julie Kirgo liner notes included to enjoy. I just wish there was a little more here in the extras department.

DVD Review “Hirokin: The Last Samurai”

Actors: Julian Sands, Wes Bentley, Angus Macfayden
Directed by: Alejo Mo-Sun
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Lions Gate
DVD Release Date: November 6, 2012
Run Time: 105 minutes

Film: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

When I first heard of this film, I didn’t even recognize Wes Bentley on the cover. Then I realized that he was in “The Hunger Games” and this was a mere cash in on that role.  The film itself is an awesome premise dealing in a post-apocalyptic setting with samurai and dark magic but it doesn’t take advantage of this total coolness.  There is some decent CGI effects but nothing that really blew me away.  This feels like a low-budget “Dune” without the cool worms and blue eyes. Worth a went but I wouldn’t recommend this as a buyer.

Official Premise: On a planet where humans must scavenge the post-apocalyptic barren wasteland, Hirokin, a reluctant samurai with a dark past sets off on a mission to fulfill his destiny. Having fought to the death to save his wife and son from the planet’s evil dictator, Griffin, and his elite army of warriors, the lone samurai is left for dead in the vast desert. Armed with his samurai blade Hirokin is forced to choose between avenging the murder of his family and fighting for the freedom of his people. As he goes into war he’ll discover a shocking revelation about his family leaving revenge running through his veins.

The special features are ok but not spectacular on this DVD.  There is a short but sweet featurette called “Creating Aradius: The Making of Hirokin: The Last Samurai”.  I would have liked to seen more of Aradius in this film to be honest, just looked like a desert set to me.  There are also two featurettes on the fighting called “Training the Samurai” and “Fight Choreography”.  Lastly there are a few deleted scenes.  I should point out in closing that even though this is only DVD, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is quite decent with the few action scenes in the film.

Takashi Miike talks about making “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai”

Takashi Miike is know for his controversial Japanese filmmaker style. He is know for directing ultra-violent films like “Ichi the Killer” and “Audition”. His last film was the amazing “13 Assassins”, a remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 film. Takashi took some time to answer some questions about his new film “Hara-Kiri” and shooting in 3D.

Q: What was your inspiration for choosing “Hara-Kiri” as your next film?
A: It just so happened that this kind of epic film was my next film after “13 Assassins”. I don’t plan to make only films like this. The touchstone benchmark is quality over quantity. By quality, I mean what kindles your heart or whether or not it makes you feel free as you devote yourself to the filming. Next fall, I will shoot a TV drama for late night television that is ruinously low-budget. But with low-budget works comes an excitement that can only be relished through low-budget.

Q: How do you compare your film to the original from 1962?
A: What excites me about resurrecting this film from the past is being able to feel first-hand the existence of the universal human suffering which “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” depicts at its core as it transcends time, genres and countries. My new versions share everything in common with the old films yet everything is a little off. Since things like originality or being finicky about some worthless triviality were thrown away a long time ago, one cannot compare two works by lining them up next to each other. They are only connected in tandem as part of the flow of time in which they were created.

Q: Tell us about your experience working with Ebizo Ichikawa and Koji Yakusho? A: Ebizo Ichikawa is the real deal when it comes to being the prize of kabuki. He is the king of traditional performing arts in Japan. He is a man without a net challenging frontiers with a great deal of curiosity. He made the set a fun, stimulating place day after day. I am looking forward to even more exciting things from him. Koji Yakusho is a living treasure in Japanese film. He always seams up the frayed edges in my clumsy directing in an artful way. He is a living treasure of modern Japanese film who leads you into the special world of filmmaking. He always teaches me Japan’s unique virtue of humility. Also, his wife is a lovely lady filled with elegance.

Q: Can you reflect on the film’s music by Ryuichi Sakamoto?
A: From the bottom of my heart, I really appreciated Ryuichi Sakamoto providing such wonderful music. The souls of the characters in the film squeal in the soundtrack. And these sounds aren’t rammed down-your-throat and don’t really come so far forward. His music fills the theater like air with a certain stillness and quietness yet its sureness and authority remain. Ryuichi Sakamoto is an artist who sees through the deception of the essence of 3D.

Q: Can you tell us was your biggest challenge shooting in 3D?
A: Nothing changed for me shooting a movie in 3D. It was the same on set experience as any other film for me. The only difference was that the speed of shooting was slightly slower than normal. All in all, this film will probably be a welcomed development for those who already pursue stereo spatial visuals in the world of 2D via lighting and camera angles. There was no change to my approach other than I was able to go brag to the director shooting at the studio next door and say, “Huh? Yours is flat and level? Ours is bumpy and convexo-concave.”

Q: With 3D being the big craze, what are your expectations for the audience?
A: I would be most pleased if the audience feels that what can be expressed in 2D can also be expressed in 3D. For the people who are not fans of 3D, I hope they will say, “Wow! 3D works.” It would be perfect if older audiences would say, “How interesting the way this film bursts out and sucks me up.” I guess for the next few years this situation will continue where 3D is just one option for making a movie. And the audiences will probably decide and determine what happens after that. I definitely anticipate making more 3D movies. Next, if I have the chance, I want to have things that shouldn’t come out of our bodies be hurled at the audience.

Film Review “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai”

Directed by: Takashi Miike
Starring: Ebizo Ichikawa, Eita, Kōji Yakusho
Distributed by: Tribeca Film
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running time: 126 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Takashi Miike is known for his gut-gringing films like “Audition” and “Ichi the Killer”. His last film is an amazing remake of Eiichi Kudo’s “13 Assassins”, and one of my favorites of 2011. I feel that his directorial cred has become really more mature over the years. Though “Hara-Kiri”, a re-imagining of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 film “Harakiri”, doesn’t exceed his effort with “13 Assassins”. It is still very intense and really slow-burning samurai action/drama. The story is takes it time developing but really pays offs throughout its very visual journey.

The story follows a mysterious samurai, who requests honorable death by ritual suicide in the courtyard of his feudal lord. The lord tells him the story of Motome, a young ronin, who made similiar request only to meet a brutal end. The mysterious samurai unaffected by this story takes the feudal lord on his own tale with an ending that nobody will see coming. Told with wonderful cinematography and amazing performances, this film packs a deep story of revenge, honor and disgrace.

I must say that Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 film “Harakiri” still holds the reign as the better film but this one comes quite close. This was shot in 3D (2D version reviewed here), but I saw no scenes that would have benefited from this format and I am a big proprietor of 3D films. I must give credit to pop star Ryuichi Sakamoto for creating an amazing score, which drives the film well. Kōji Yakusho also delivers an notable performance and is a living legend in Japanese film. Since Miike’s last two films are about feudal Samurai’s era, I really look forward to what he is planning to do next.