The Insect Woman comes to UK Blu-ray, courtesy of Eureka and the Masters of Cinema label, with a 1080p resolution, encoded with the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc is locked to Region B.
Boasting a newly restored high definition master, the results are pretty much what you'd expect for late fifties/early sixties Japanese fare. The opening shots of the insect crawling over the grains of dirt on the ground are crisp, showing some improvement in that you can pick out the crystalline lumps of sand and grit.
It's still a pretty flat image, the extra delineation isn't startlingly obvious in many scenes, but when the camera is drawing the eye into the frame, as with the shots down the fabric of the weaving loom, or the large crowd sequences, it finds depth.
Shadow detail is pretty good, but the contrast wavers and can have a negative effect on it. The cinematography moves from unlit ramshackle farmhouse interiors to bright external sunshine in the snow, and the image sometimes struggles to show the best in both instances. A certain amount of bloom, as shown in the doorway as the young child looks in, was always intentional, but finding the extra detail 1080p should offer seems to have been hard at times for this picture.
Print damage looks fairly minimal, but lines are still visible, and when Imamura's trademark freeze frames come into play they are emblazoned across the screen, still as clear as day.
It's a good image, but blacks are all too frequently silvery (when there's a blackout for example) and due to this there's a distinct lack of punch. Masters of Cinema don't tend to put out duff images, and this certainly is no exception, but the track record of previous entries that have shown large improvements on SD releases isn't necessarily as clear here.
One track – Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
The monaural nature of this track is quite deceptive at times, it feels wide and subtle effects are well integrated. The layering of fire, wind, crickets chirping in the background and weaving looms clacking is far better than expected. All the little noises and even the somewhat more dimensional effects such as planes flying overhead, rising in volume as they soar towards the camera’s perspective and then dying away with doppler effect into the clouds are brought to life with great finesse.
The score has an element of flourish to it, it pings and twangs in all the right ways and can reverberate with some depth. However it can also fall a little tinny as one would expect of such material.
Speech is perhaps the most hit and miss area, in low volumes it is well rounded, capturing the gruff country tones of characters such as Chuji, speaking in harsh, low, coarse voices, the gravelly, husky timbres sounding rich and buoyant. When higher frequency voices get raised though, the speech can get harsh and sharp, clipping and altogether too pronounced for the rest of the track. Children's voices always sound shrill in period fare, but I found myself turning the volume down, which was a pity given the delicate score.
It is a wide and surprisingly precise monaural track, which may be prone to a few imbalances still, but otherwise maintains a mellow and effective layering of the elements.
Nishi-Ginza Station – 1080p – 51:50
A little seen 1958 Imamura feature, this comedy won’t give you a new perspective on the director, and it hardly sets the screen alight, but it is a nice addition, especially with a new progressive transfer, for those interested.
A 36 page booklet including essays by Tony Rayns on both films as well as numerous shots from each.
Imamura Interview – 20:53
A period interview where critic Tadao Sato discusses the film with Imamura. Dry but enlightening for those unaware of the background of the film, it’s nice to hear the director’s own words regarding his piece.
Making this a dual-format release.
The Insect Woman is a measured study of the spiral of behaviour patterns and Imamura’s ode to the indomitable spirit of perseverance of the Japanese working class female. There is no lingering poignancy or melodramatic sentimentality, just a stark depiction of frank and honest human behaviour.
The disc is up to the usual Masters of Cinema standards, but falls short of their best in that it doesn’t necessarily show the night and day upgrade that previous entries have. The new master is solid but still contains print damage, whilst the commendable lossless monaural track is far more textured than expected.
The extras are minimal but essential to fans given the presence of a progressive transfer of Nishi-Ginza Station.
It’s a solid package just shy of “must buy” status for non fans, but certainly in that ballpark for Imamura aficionados.
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