Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky comes to US Blu-ray from Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock with a 1080p resolution, encoded with the AVC codec and framed within a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
Given the delays this title has had, you'd expect it to be pretty much flawless. In the time it's taken the disc to reach punters I could have carved a life-sized statue of Ricky himself out of granite, so when the blurb announces a new HD transfer you'd do well not to get your expectations up. Media Blasters reputation for such claims are often perhaps a bit of a stretch of the terminology. There have been titles that have been slammed, but still showed a definite step-up from previous SD versions, but others have carried the whiff of upscaled material as a more significant millstone around their necks. So, which is Ricky?
Well prepare to wince, because I'm going to dance around that old backhanded compliment of “better than DVD”. The fact that we're even in that ballpark, when there are bound to be proper prints still knocking about is bothersome to say the least, so if you've sourced a good DVD the need to double dip isn't best represented by this release.
I watched this on a TV and then projected, and at the far larger size some shots definitely show better delineation (a couple of close up do look more akin to genuine HD, though this may be only comparatively speaking) but it rarely goes beyond the level at which minor sharpening would account for the shortfall. It's still a soft image and a bump in fine detail doesn't generally enter the equation. At least it hasn't been scrubbed by excessive DNR as the frame still displays as healthy a layer of grain as it ever did.
HD transfer is a loose term, it really comes down to what it was struck from, and indications are that this probably comes from the same source as was used for a previous SD release (which, if I recall correctly claimed it was from a HD master), it bears the tag of Fortune Star and looks closest to their HK Remastered release. Perhaps the DVD didn't show all the detail that master could offer, but in between that instance and a proper high def transfer there's a healthy chasm of detail, delineation and colour fidelity.
The line “it hasn't looked better” probably won't assuage many, I still consider it something of an upgrade, but there's no sugar coating an image that falls well below the standards of the medium, touts a new HD transfer and delivers little beyond incremental improvements you could infinitely question and a couple of clearly crisper close ups.
There are five audio tracks to choose from: Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0/5.1, Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and finally English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0/5.1.
I'm not a big fan of dubs, but for some material it's a necessity, and where there is no tether to reality, and hammyness abounds, such as with Ricky-Oh, it's a must.
In truth they're not great tracks, I always worry when I see so many crammed onto a BD25, they all lack dynamic range, sit pretty flat and fail to ignite with any potency. The least you could expect from pulp fare would be some barbaric use of the bass, it needn't be tight and precise, but a shake every now and again wouldn't go amiss. Speaking of which, I noted a continual hum in places which emanated from my subwoofer. No faulty cables and pausing the film cured it.
The centre on the English 5.1 track seems muddy, nothing, even the battles cries and screams of pain, cut through with any degree of what you might refer to as clarity. Sadly, this isn't really a fault of the centre channel as indicative of the mix, which sways from acceptably spongy to downright muffled. Surround sound doesn't add anything discernibly beneficial to the viewing experience, discreet effects aren't precise, there is no real directionality and given the hum I got from the LFE I was happy to switch back to the 2.0 variant.
Dialogue is better, there's a sharpness to voices but it's far more agreeable than the aforementioned muddiness. It isn't particularly wide for a 2.0 offering but the plus points are simply that it gives less noticeable instances of poor audio. It's not much of a compliment, but considering the use of lossless codecs, it's small mercy that both English tracks weren't unnecessarily hard on the ears.
The Cantonese tracks are a little better, sharper with less need to turn the volume up, but effects and the like follow a similar path to the English tracks. The Mandarin 2.0 track felt punchier, there's a bit more depth to effects, smashing glass has more ring to it, but it's hardly a night-and-day improvement, the higher volume leads to a shrill note creeping in and clipping which is arguably worse.
None of the tracks are great, there is no sign that they deserved lossless treatment and it's yet another indication of the format's buzzwords and technological advancements being used improperly as a marketing tool.
Original trailer – 1080p – 4:25
A hefty four minute trailer, with no English subtitles, introducing all the characters. Of interest to many will be the inter-cut character shots with illustrations from the original manga.
Fan Siu Wong interview – SD – 19:38
The star of Riki-Oh gives us a bit of background info, on both himself (I never knew his father was in some old Shaw Bros pics) and his experiences making the film.
Riki with a shotgun – SD – 1:59
Jason Eisener, director of Hobo With a Shotgun, explains the plot whilst he is continuously hit by the cameraman in “comedy” fashion. Your guess is as good as mine.
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is an insane voyage down the rabbit hole of ultra violent manga adaptations. It's a classic example of how to translate two dimensional material to the screen without the need to tone down the more ludicrous elements that are taken more easily in comic-book form.
The US Blu-ray crams five lossless tracks and a supposedly new HD transfer onto a BD25, and proves once again why we should all take the catchwords this new format has thrown up with a pinch of salt. The picture may show some improvement, but it is marginal, and there isn't an audio track that requires the extra headroom of a lossless codec.
After delays galore you'll get your dose of gore, but it's budget material given the budget treatment. It should probably be seen more as an alternative to out of print DVDs (if you're stuck with the old non-anamorphic version this will be more of a draw) than a box to sit alongside your favourite examples of what Blu-ray has to offer.
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