Pigs and Battleships comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution encoded using the
AVCcodec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to Region B.
Eureka boasts not just a restoration but an “exclusively restored high-definition master from the original camera negative”. Like several of the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray series, the previous benchmark was a Criterion
DVDand it is with this in mind that grading must be balanced. As with the comparison of Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp from both distributors and respective formats, one of the notable changes appears to be contrast. Proceedings once again look decidedly lighter, but not to the levels of the aforementioned title. Blacks aren’t inky but they also don’t push into silvery greyness. The whites are comparatively uniform and there looks to have been steps taken to alleviate this general lack of contrast, but it wavers a little in terms of effectiveness (one instance of minor blooming, to my eyes).
The extra detail is there for all to see though, be it minimal as in long shots or startlingly obvious, as shown in the close-ups that now have some great intricacy highlighted within. Shadow detail is also improved with the various night shots having more of a gentle gradation to them than previously. The restoration looks to have kept dirt and debris issues under wraps, with only a couple of instances being visible but not distracting.
Delineation is good, with a very naturalistic distinction between foreground, background and mid shots – a gentle roll off of the sharpness as you’d expect from a period organic filming process that hasn’t been tinkered with too much via modern technical wizardry. There’s a healthy depth of frame that is altogether pleasing; a bit more contrast would have been nice but the generally clean nature of the print, minimal light fluctuation and extra layers of detail revealed make this a solid upgrade on what has come before.
Subtitles appear within the frame.
One track only - Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
It is a slightly harder aspect of the disc to quantify in scoring terms as it brings to light the issues associated with rating something reproduced from imperfection. The good news is that there is no crackling, pops are non existent and background hiss is also not to be found here. The music helps show the soundstage to be capable of some reasonable width and the track can be expansive. The gunfire is punctuating and copes without an LFE channel as well as one could expect from late fifties production.
The fly in the ointment, though not major, is the speech. It is generally of a fairly high standard, and low volumes are mellow, but there are moments where the voices raise and the effect is typically aged in nature - tinny – screeching tones sometimes sound higher than the mic could handle and an ensuing breaking at the pitch is the result. The argument would be that this is a faithful reproduction of the source; the counter argument would be that one could classify a hair over the lens in a similar fashion.
In truth the material, besides the score, probably doesn’t warrant a lossless track but it’s a pleasant bonus to have.
Stolen Desire – 1080p – 1:32:16
A chance to see Shôhei Imamura’s debut feature for Nikkatsu, presented in a nifty new high definition transfer. Less of an extra and more of a secondary feature if you will, but with a 1080p resolution and lossless sound (Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio) it is a great addition.
The 36 page booklet contains two essays by Tony Rayns, one on each Imamura film contained on the disc, as well as some nice photographs and marketing material.
The often now obligatory secondary format choice.
Pigs and Battleships is an escalating tale of desperation in post-war Japan. Shôhei Imamura crafts a cinematic spy hole through which we can peer at those floundering at the bottom of the barrel and for whom choices are few. His social commentary may be earnest; however the film never wallows in maudlin sentimentality. Though its messages seem stark, they are softened by an aura of empathy as well as humour that reaches a crescendo in one of the most unforgettable climaxes you’ll likely see.
The disc is a solid upgrade that shows off the extra detail that can be squeezed on a high capacity format as well as the arguably extraneous necessity of a lossless audio track for material that was always limited. The extras are few, but having the director’s debut feature in high definition is enough to offset any disappointment consumers may feel for the meagre number of such bonuses.
Witness a film that helped stir the waters that would come to be labelled the New Wave of Japanese cinema.
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