Onibaba: Criterion Collection DVD Review
PictureThis is a new high-definition digital transfer, and generally is good. This is a black and white film with extremely high contrasting images - normally terrible for showing over processed edge enhancement - well rest easy, this print has hardly any. There is often aliasing on the shots of the constantly moving grass, this kind of image is notoriously difficult to encode, so (maybe) this can be expected.
There is print damage visible - the worst instance I have screen captured for you - this only lasts for a few frames, and is as bad as it gets (check it out yourself at 27.55) but as you can see, it is pretty bad.
I also noticed flickering on large sky shots - the image isn't entirely stable - the greys seemed to fluctuate back and forwards - I viewed this on a 8 foot screen and this was noticeable - what you notice on a smaller display device will depend on your set-up and your eyes....although I can still see the flickering on my LCD monitor - take a look at 35.55 for one example.
Despite the above negative comments, I must stress that overall, the picture is very pleasing, especially when you consider that this is an obscure foreign movie, that is 40 years old.
The subtitles are player generated - on my player they were white with black edging, and they appear on the film.
Special mention should go to the menus of this disc which are a delight - and follow the theme of the packaging.
SoundThe Japanese mono soundtrack is very good. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the voices have been re-recorded - they sound clear, but slightly tinny. The score is extremely effective (even in mono), the low end thunder rumbles will be routed to your sub.
ExtrasThe main extra is a video interview (in 16x9) of the director. Kaneto Shindo was in his 90's when this was recorded last year, but he looks a lot younger and seems to have a far better memory than most people I know! This is a fascinating and worthwhile extra, which provides insight both into the meaning and the making of the film that only the director would know - this last 21 minutes.
Also included are 38 minutes of rare super-8 black and white and colour footage provided by the actor Kei Sato (Hachi). This was shot on location during the production of the film, and although silent, it is nonetheless fascinating. This extra is accompanied by pages of notes which are fairly detailed regarding the production of the film - taken together, this is an excellent addition to the disc.
A slightly incomplete trailer is also on the disc, along with a comprehensive still gallery, which shows a large number of pre-production art, set designs, sketches, storyboards and promotional artwork for the film.
The usual Criterion booklet is included, this time with an interesting essay by Asian film scholar Chuck Stephens, a filmmaker's statement by the director, and a translation of the original Buddhist fable that inspired the film.
For such an old, obscure title, I cannot imagine anything else a fan of this movie would either want or expect in terms of extras.
VerdictRingu brings us full circle. If you have enjoyed any in the recent splurge of Asian supernatural movies that have been released, like Ringu, Dark Water, The Eye or The Grudge for example, I would recommend giving Onibaba a try. The films I have mentioned above all have one thing in common with Onibaba: they all reek atmosphere.
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