PictureWell, as has been reported elsewhere, Tartan Video has supplied this collection with quite shoddy transfers. But, it has to be remembered that these are indeed, very old black and white movies, and if the source material was the best that they could find - then it is just unfortunate for us all. Both appear to be telecine transfers that betray NTSC origins.
Both movies have a 1.33:1 image that is absolutely riddled with damage, Tenement Gentleman suffering the worst, by far. Forget the simple little specks and flecks of dust and the scratches - although there are plenty of them - it is the annoying jiggle and wiggle of the image that really disappoints. Even the 1933 King Kong doesn't have a picture that rumbles this much. Totally unstable, the image wobbles up and down and from side to side very often - and not just at scene changes, where it may have been expected. Sometimes, it can be terribly distracting. The afore-mentioned scene-changes also suffer from popping and frame-jumps. There is the almost constant presence of clouding across the image and the contrast is also quite badly affected with many scenes flickering from dull, flat grey to a rather nasty high brightness. Tenement Gentleman has a distinct lack of detail, too, which can only be expected, given the age of the print - the waves upon the beach have a dismal flat lifelessness. And here's a switch - sometimes the backgrounds actually exhibit more clarity than the immediate foreground, with the sand-dunes being a case in point. Despite this, when we get blacks - usually the shanty town shadows - they are not too bad. Perhaps fittingly, the best image that this transfer delivers is when Tane and the urchin visit a photographer's studio to have their portraits taken, with the setting appearing quite sharp and detailed and, for once, stable.
Green Tea does improve on this, but still suffers plenty of jiggling about. Detail is much better and the overall image is far cleaner and sharper than Tenement Gentleman, and it certainly benefits from a much improved contrast balance. There is much more location work here, and the scenes in the city streets often have a spectral, luminous quality that goes some way to alleviating the print damage afflicting the film. Interior scenes have a nice black level, too. The score is upped from 3 to 4 for the benefits this second film adds to the overall package.
Somewhere out there must exist better transfers than these. Or hopefully, one day, a company with the appropriate technology will invest the time and effort to clean these movies up properly for, as it stands right now, they are watchable but still suffering an incredible injustice.
SoundBoth movies come with a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track that does the job as well as could be expected, given your knowledge that these transfers are not the best. Sounding tinny and harsh at the best of times, they are nevertheless quite clear and perfectly audible. Tenement Gentleman suffers more in the way of crackles, hiss and pop with one or two scenes coming off worse than others but overall, with a film as quiet and reserved as this, I found little to complain about. Green Tea experienced drop out during a couple of scenes and the sweetly fluctuating score - on the rare occasions that it actually plays - seems a little muted. Both are on the dull side of things, but I doubt that this could ever be convincingly altered. They certainly don't warrant a new mix being created.
ExtrasThis is where it really hurts. For films this good, and considering the classic status being bestowed upon Ozu's work, you would expect something of value here, wouldn't you? And what do we get? Nothing, folks.
Well, that's not entirely true. But what we do get is little more than an insult so, in fact, nothing would have been better. Tenement Gentleman is blessed with a Commentary Track, by no less than esteemed film critic Derek Malcolm who delivers little more than a few interspersed minutes of chat that reveal precious little. What was the point? I'm a commentary track devotee but this pathetic handful of sentences was just salt in the wounds. A five-minute talking head introduction would have been better. Pathetic. We also get a Photo Gallery (whoopee!) and a Video Restoration featurette lasting four minutes that splits the screen diagonally to present us with before and after versions. To be fair, you can what has actually been to improve the image. If you think the wobbling about was bad in this transfer, then you should see how it looked originally.
Green Tea remains commentary-less (perhaps Mr. Malcolm had worn himself out earlier) but still gives the perfunctory Photo Gallery and we also get an Audio Restoration Featurette lasting 3.40 mins. The before and after sections here reveal how much hiss, crackle and distortion have been removed for this transfer. Again, it is evident that there was quite a lot actually.
A terrible set and unforgivable, really.
VerdictSo, there you have it. Two marvellous films that I recommend wholeheartedly yet saddled with abysmal transfers and left bereft of any decent extras. Ozu was a masterful filmmaker and his work truly deserves to find new audiences today, but if this is how his wonderful legacy is going to be treated then it is a dire situation for all concerned. Tartan should be applauded for wanting to place these movies on the shelves, but perhaps they should have waited for better transfers or, at the very least, made more of an effort to secure some better features. The collection carries a hefty price-tag and, although the movies are gold dust indeed, I would advise caution before investing in such mistreated material. But, if you are willing to take the plunge, then the films themselves will offer ample reward. An awesome opportunity wasted.
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