This Western-to-Samurai retcon works, but fails to find its own voice
Yurusarezaru mono (Unforgiven) Blu-ray
Whilst there’s an innate and wholly justified mistrust levelled at remakes in general, over the years – and even more recently – there have been exceptions to the rule. This can likely be regarded as one of them.Not only does it play with the advantage of setting the story within a new environment but it also follows a fairly natural reverse-engineered trajectory in taking an immensely popular Western masterpiece, Clint Eastwood’s final statement on the genre – 1992’s Unforgiven – and reworking it to fit a dying Samurai era. It’s an undoubtedly natural transition, mainly because so many films have been adapted successfully in the other direction – from the Dollars’ take on Yojimbo to Magnificent Seven’s retelling of Seven Samurai – and so you feel like this remake could have easily come first. Unfortunately, what works in theory, does not come through with perfect execution, with director Lee Sang-il staying just that little bit too faithful to the source material; following not only the same footsteps as the far more skilled Eastwood, but even copying whole scenes and lines of dialogue.Indeed, it is a strange constraint that the filmmakers set themselves, because the alternate setting – the post-Shogunate era in Japan, as Samurai were outlawed and guns were becoming more prolific – could have afforded a more interesting tale which followed the same basic structure, but was not restricted to the exact same scenes and same order of events. Still, it’s an interesting attempt at doings something the same but differently. It does work, for the most part, and is helped no end by a strong cast led by Ken Watanabe who brings us his best take on Eastwood’s William Munny. This version is much more explicit in its examination of the character’s violent roots, and dwells on the bloody finale too, in an excellent confrontation, but still suffers from retreading familiar ground at an even slower pace, and failing to take the obvious directions towards innovation that the changes in setting could have easily afforded it.
What is Yurusarezaru mono (Unforgiven) Blu-ray Picture LikeWarner serve up this new remake with a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 widescreen. Although not without its limitations, the presentation benefits a great deal from the stunning natural vistas captured during the shoot, which took place on the Northeastern-most island in Japan. The cinematography lovingly reflects these sumptuous locations, whether the snowy mountains or the low plains below, crafting Japanese period imagery in a way that is almost impossible to differentiate from its Western counterpart.
The presentation certainly capitalises on the stunning locations, which reflect the Wild West perfectly, despite being relocated to Japan.
Detail levels are generally very good indeed, with some strong facial textures showcasing the lines, scars, and facial hair of all of the key players, whilst the weathered period costumes have their own welcome textures observed in such a way as to highlight every tear and fray. Sets are also well-recreated, lovingly shot with a similarly tattered look in many cases. The image is not without issue though, as a few shots - more than enough to notice - have a slight softness to them that, whilst quite possibly inherent to the original photography, feels slightly out of place when counterpointed with the latest releases on the format. This is a 2013 production, and there are times when you feel that Eastwood's 30+ year-old original looks far more stable in this respect. Still, the image is largely devoid of any digital anomalies, and aside from a couple of softer shots - particularly around the edges - this is a generally faithful rendition.
The colour scheme is expectedly restrained to help accentuate the period look, but it nonetheless offers up plenty of natural tones, with wood browns and faded green and grey scenery dominating the piece, and only a smattering of more striking vibrancy on offer, perhaps from fires (CG-assisted, no less) and a few other sources. Black levels are strong, allowing for decent night sequences and low-level lighting shots. Indeed the final confrontation handles the teetering sway of lanterns, which raises and lowers the light in the shot, quite well all things considered, leaving this a strong presentation which benefits from stunning vistas and which has only a few niggles that should, for the most part, not significantly affect your viewing pleasure.
How Does Yurusarezaru mono (Unforgiven) Blu-ray SoundThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is in the original Japanese language, as well as - for a couple of scenes - the local dialect tongue which has been yet further subtitled with fixed titling. The English language subtitles are clear and non-invasive, although they play that little bit too fast during the opening scroll. Dialogue is fairly restrained, as you might only expect, with - also expectedly - those traditional Japanese outbursts of super-volume shouting which will certainly draw your attention. Either way it seeks dominance over the fronts and centre channels where appropriate.
The playful score is both quintessentially Japanese and also perfectly suited to the Western-flavoured material.
Effects are quite broad, in that we get plenty of firearms at play, from muskets to rifles to pistols, each given a distinct voice, and keen reverberation wherever the setting requires. Surround usage makes the most of the shots and, whilst the sword-based combat is understandably more restrained, there's still a nice twang when a blade is unsheathed. The ambient environment is also well-represented, with a keen atmosphere created both in the snowy outreaches and the plains below, as well as in the wooden interiors, both the broken-down shacks and lavish taverns.
The score is probably a highlight, offering up a welcome blend of Western-infused, but quintessentially Japanese tones which plays wonderfully to the strengths of the remake, and offers some rousing accompaniment during key sequences, whilst being respectful and reserved where necessary. Although not a stellar, demo offering, this is an authentic, impressive representation of the source audio nonetheless.
Yurusarezaru mono (Unforgiven) Blu-ray ExtrasA brief 13-minute Challenge to the Masterpiece Featurette looks at adapting Eastwood's original, whilst the far more substantial hour-long Behind the Scenes Documentary expansively and comprehensively charts the production, and features plenty of welcome interview contributions from the filmmakers, as well as some nice behind the scenes footage. 20 minutes of Deleted Scenes (with Optional Commentary) add little new, but are worth a watch for completists.
Is Yurusarezaru mono (Unforgiven) Blu-ray Worth BuyingWhilst still a good and worthy watch, this feels like something of a missed opportunity, a far better idea on paper, which the filmmakers did not fully commit to. They were too busy staying faithful to the original to strive for originality themselves.
An unoriginal remake is no surprise, but this particular bit of reverse-engineering could have easily bucked the trend were it less doggedly faithful.
Very good video and audio, and a decent selection of substantial extras leave this Region Free UK release - which comes complete with an impressive Steelbook packaging as the Blu-ray default - a must-have purchase for fans of the film, and a worthy rental for those who liked the original, and who are interested in the various Samurai/Western counterparts.
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