Mono no aware
Back in 1991, visionary auteur Takeshi Kitano, arguably the greatest Japanese filmmaker since Akira Kurosawa, took a step back from his frequented comedy and crime genres to do something a little different.One of his least accessible features, A Scene at the Sea remains an equal-parts inspirational and melancholic look at a young deaf couple struggling on the fringe of Japanese society, whose lives gain direction when the man finds a broken surfboard and decides he wants to teach himself to surf. Despite being mocked by the local youths, and ridiculed by the pro surfers who watch his seemingly futile efforts from the shore, he persists, almost oblivious to outside influences, and eventually his dedication pays off. On the face of it, Kitano's exploration of the lives of this young deaf couple is a pedestrian near-silent-movie-esque enterprise, with a narrative that involves almost literally nothing happening for the majority of the runtime, all set to the dulcet - and melancholic - tones of composer and future long-term Kitano-collaborator, Joe Hisaishi.But Kitano - even if relatively new to the Big Screen back then, and yet to make his masterpiece (1993's Sonatine) - was always a confident and accomplished filmmaker, with a distinct vision, and it's not unreasonable to see this, retrospectively, as another intimate look at Japanese class struggle, fringe existence and life - with his protagonist's obliviousness to the trappings of modern Japanese society (most notably, and most bluntly, often through not actually being able to hear the comments and criticisms) enabling him to do what most others can only sit back and dream about. Unfortunately, ultimately, it is a particularly inaccessible film - even by Kitano's frequently inaccessible standards - and despite it's unusually poetic, sweet and bittersweet, tones, and subtle, well-meaning symbolism, this may leave all but the most ardent Kitano fans cold.
Picture QualityThanks to another 2K remaster, A Scene at the Sea looks better than ever
Following suit after Third Window Film's release of three of Kitano's other gems, A Scene at the Sea benefits from another 2K remaster completed by Office Kitano in Japan. The results are, unsurprisingly, very good indeed, although the 25 year old film is the earliest in the Kitano oeuvre that the studio has chosen to revisit, and wears both its budget and vintage on its sleeve somewhat. Detail remains better than ever before, with some nice clarity on close-ups and a warm, suitably filmic sheen of grain pervading the piece, although this does fluctuate somewhat, giving a couple of shots a slightly noisier edge. The colour scheme, whilst inherently dour given the location and style, still remains faithful to the natural tones on offer, and there are few distracting niggles in this almost invariably impressive restoration.
Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track does a solid job with the material
Benefitting greatly from Joe Hisaishi's tremendous score - which, depending on your viewpoint, is either far better than the film deserves, or perfectly captures the underlying core spirit of Kitano's themes - A Scene at the Sea is, in many respects, almost a silent movie. Consdiering the fact that the two lead protagonists are deaf and don't say a word, and that the supporting characters only utter a few words here and there - and the fact that Kitano himself (despite not actually appearing in this film) has a penchant for communicating without words, the film's aural accompaniment is almost entirely driven by Hisaishi's melancholic melodies. Effects are minimalist, with even the crashing ocean waves never really coming alive (although the surf competition is a little more engaging), but the track does a solid enough job with the material.
ExtrasFilm Critic Jasper Sharp provides an Audio Commentary for this particular Kitano outing and it is only a shame that this is the first available on Third Window Film's Kitano releases, as it proves a welcome, insightful offering which will likely only enhance your enjoyment of this unusual film.
Blu-ray VerdictDespite a great score, this thoughtful ode to life is sometimes too slight for its own good
Although it is often regarded - by both fans and critics - as one of Kitano's more impressive efforts, A Scene by the Sea is still one of his least accessible films. Nonetheless, this early effort makes for a welcome addition to Third Window Film's output of his back catalogue, marking their fourth release after Hana-Bi, Kikujiro and Dolls, with Kids Return coming up next. Kitano fans should celebrate 2016 and Third Window's dedication to the master filmmaker.
You can buy A Scene at the Sea on Blu-ray here
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