Kuroneko Blu-ray Review
Classic Japanese horror in the vein of Onibaba
PictureThe disc presents a widescreen 2.35:1 original aspect ratio, 1080p picture using the AVC MPEG4 codec and is Region locked to B.
A couple of words spring to mind with this picture, frustrating and inconsistent. There has clearly been an attempt at a clean-up of the image and where the original print has allowed for a very decent looking picture, considering the age, there are also areas that are really quite poor in terms of definition, solidity and contrast and this can make for a frustrating watch as it stands out all the more compared to the good. The major issues are confined to the first quarter of the film and consist of brightness fluctuations, water marks on the image, scratches, tramlines and other anomalies, with a contrast level that is trying desperately to maintain a constant pitch; it can’t keep up I’m afraid. This leads to a softening of the image, harsh whites, crushed blacks and myriad defects. But once the film moves on things improve significantly. Detail, while never being pin sharp, improves to the point where skin texture is apparent, the decals of the samurai’s clothes are well defined, eyes appear clear and watery, and hair is sharp. Backgrounds maintain good edges, particularly the location landscapes – in sharp contrast to the opening of the film where they are pretty woeful.
Brightness and contrast are set quite strong, in that blacks are reasonably deep, never really black, but a deep grey and this can lead to a decent enough grey scale – though early in the film it wavers dramatically leading to much blooming. There has been some contrast boosting to enhance the whites and strengthen the blacks, for the most part this is ok, but when the action moves to night, or darker areas the white areas can clip quite badly. This is exasperated by the original filming technique of brightly lighting the ghosts in a shadow filled area to enhance their luminosity; whist it achieves that very effect the clip and crush that it also leads to further adds to the frustration.
Original print damage is quite extensive in the first quarter, but cleans up nicely later on. No signs of heavy handed DNR, there is a decent grain structure throughout, though with the contrast boosting this can lead to its own set of problems. In the end the picture can only be regarded as average, even considering its age and whilst I’m sure the clean-up has been done to the very best standard using the best available print (as per Eureka’s ethos) this particular title does come up a little short.
SoundJust the one track: Japanese LPCM 1.0 Mono. I’d advise against using your amp to artificially process this track into some pseudo surround or bolstered mono as the original should be more than adequate to showcase the track. The track has been subjected to a very decent clean-up and is free from hiss, crackle and pop, even when turned up to my reference, which is excellent – however the track does have a number of issues all related to the original recording. First up the soundtrack comes through on an excellent level, is well layered and contains reasonable bass (enough to keep the sub switched on at any rate). But the track has made extensive use of ADR and foley and these are pitched too high in the mix – this foley noise (such as drinking out of a river, or a horse walking) can become laughably loud. Dialogue is always audible due to it, again, being quite high in the mix, making it sound like the actors are inside the speaker rather than part of the film. Taking the volume down a notch or two does go some way to alleviating this issue. The original recording does also come with its own inherent distortion which can be clearly heard once the volume goes up, but can be noticeable on critical hearing at ‘normal’ volume levels. But I did love the effects and the music track, really quite creepy at times!
The subtitles are in a good sized white font at the bottom of the screen, they hang around for just the right amount of time and, whist grammatically correct, do use ‘older’ English when describing the speech - a generous vocabulary would be fortuitous.
- Theatrical Trailer
- 24 Page Booklet - Containing an essay by Doug Cummings, a reprint of a vintage interview with Shindo by Joan Mellen and rare archival imagery. (Don't read the first essay within before watching the film as it describes the story in a lot of detail; it is is very spoiler heavy)
VerdictKuroneko is a dark and atmospheric supernatural horror film which follows the vengeful spirits of two women after their brutal assault at the hands of wandering samurai. Director Kaneto Shindô revisits the similar themes he explored in his better known horror Onibaba, but here tells the story with far more whimsy by using beauty and purity to evoke emotion and combines horror, tragedy with social commentary. As such the film is slightly less accessible. However, the rich score, exciting visuals and graphic depictions juxtaposed with the tragic story do leave one with a sense of wonder. Its multi-layered story has a lot to say, if you’re willing to go there and its climax leaves you feeling as defeated as the poor unfortunate characters.
As a Blu-ray set Eureka’s Region B locked disc is rather low-key compared to their recent fair; the picture whist cleaned up as best as it can be is still rather poor in places, the sound, as clean as it is, suffers with some poor mixing and the extras are limited to the trailer and ever-present booklet. It does work, however, as a companion piece to Onibaba released only a few months ago.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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