'Tokyo Sonata' is presented in widescreen 1.85:1 with 1080p MEPG-4 AVC coding.
Initially it struck me that the image seemed somewhat dark but as the movie progressed and I began to get into the “feel” of the presentation, these dark tones really suited and enhanced the source material. The contrast ratio is strong and boasts some inky blacks. Primary colouring is strong throughout and despite the muted palatte, has bold greens, reds and blues. For example, the flowing deep red of the piano's teacher's shawl and the pale green of Autumnal suburbia are very well saturated. Background objects can appear slightly soft at times and there were zero jaw dropping moments of high definition splendour noted. The print is in fine condition with a few minor speckles of damage. There is grain present in the majority of the scenes but it's always organic and unobtrusive. Lighting plays a large part in this movie with plenty of subtleties in the shadows - all of these facets of the presentation are clearly visible, with none of the detail lost or muddied in the darker scenes.
There were no instances of that sought after 3D pop factor, with the entire presentation remaining firmly two dimensional. While the image definition was a little lacking, there was plenty of detail on show here which is aided by the 1080p transfer. I suppose that Kurosawa intended to keep the image somewhat soft and gloomy and I have to say that the transfer really suits the story being told. Subtitles are very well translated (a new translation was done especially for this release) and always easy to follow.
'Tokyo Sonata' comes with both Japanese 2.0 dts HD Master Audio and 2.0 Dolby TrueHD audio tracks. I sampled both tracks and each sounded more or less identical. The dialogue seemed slightly clearer on the Dolby TrueHD track and is the focus for this review.
The dialogue, which is the most important facet of this release, is crystal clear throughout. Ambient effects such as birds twittering in the background and the gentle breeze playing with wooden blinds are present but not very dominant in the mix. Other effects such as the trains which pass over the line close to the Sasaki's home bring forth a powerful rumble, which disrupts the almost serene and peaceful silences which are present throughout. The same can be said for the automobiles which pass by, an effect which seems to seep through the open window in the Sasaki's living/dining area. Front separation is impressive and the track does an admirable job of creating a wide soundstage. It's the silences, strangely enough, which have the most impact on this audio track and they descend like death over the listening position, leaving only the soft whirr of audio equipment to listen to. It's obvious that this track has been carefully engineered.
The score (by Kazumasa Hashimoto) is almost nonexistent but when it does surface it can change the tone of the scene to great effect. As delicate as the movie itself, the score does play a strong role and is always completely audible with gentle flutes and other instruments which sit perfectly in the mix. It seemed as though the score and its specific themes are used to highlight moments of revelation, which is a nice touch.
Like the video transfer, the audio presentation also suits the source material but this one definitely won't make it into the demo material category, even if it is very well engineered.
As 'Tokyo Sonata' comes to us curtsy of the Eureka Masters of Cinema range there's plenty of extras all of which have English subtitles. All features are in standard definition unless stated otherwise. The package also includes a deluxe 28 page booklet which includes a note from the director and a short essay by B.Kite which charts the works of Kurosawa.
Making of Documentary (61mins) - An extremely comprehensive documentary which looks at all aspects of making 'Sonata'. There's plenty of B-roll/behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast as they give their thoughts on working with Kurosawa, each other and the characters which they play. Kurosawa also speaks on how he got the best from his actors, the process for bringing 'Sonata' to the big screen as well as expanding on many aspects of the story.
Questions and Answers Session, Tokyo, Sep 2008 (12mins) - As the title implies this is a Q&A session involving Kurosawa and the entire cast, filmed at the Cannes Film Festival before the official release of the movie. Kurosawa even shows off his Un Certain Regard Jury Prize which he won at Cannes. All the cast are very respectful and give both Kurosawa and the movie center stage in humble fashion.
Premiere, Tokyo, Sep 2008 (15mins) - This short piece features Kurosawa introducing the cast and the movie itself before its premiere in Tokyo. They each speak about the movie and give some background into their characters and the dynamic of the Sasaki family unit. There was a very strange segment where Kyoko Koizumi fed the rest of cast some donuts!
DVD Discussion (9mins) - Kurosawa, Kagawa and Koizumi discuss the advantages which DVD based recording has allowed and also give an in depth introduction to the movie and accompanying DVD release.
Trailer - A high definition trailer for the UK release of 'Sonata'.
'Tokyo Sonata' is the latest offering from J-horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira). With source material which could not be further from his usual offerings, 'Sonata' is the tale of a traditional Japanese family feeling the pressure of the credit crunch. With the sole breadwinner of the family “downsized” (a fact that he conceals from his family), tensions grow and grow until finally the family disintegrates in a series of unrelated events. With strong themes of tradition, respect, pride, greed and authority, Kurosawa has created a very tender and intimate piece which is a refreshing change to usual offerings in the drama category. The movie is at its core simplistic, but uses emotion and realism to create a fragile web of events which will decide the fate of one family. Somewhat similar to 'Amores Perros', 'Sonata' comes highly recommended to those looking for a break from the norm.
The video presentation, while appearing somewhat soft at times, suits the source material and does boast good colouring, a strong contrast ratio and plenty of detail. Likewise the audio presentation, while only available in 2.0 dts Master Audio/Dolby TrueHD, is well engineered and creates a pleasant soundstage.
The extras offer a comprehensive look at the making of the movie and other aspects of its release. As this is a Eureka Masters of Cinema release there are English subtitles for everything and the entire package has a polished feel. While the audio and video presentations don't reach the levels of high definition glory it's the movie itself which makes this BD release a must buy for all Kurosawa (and drama!) fans.
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