Ozu Collection Vol. 2 DVD Review (Region 0)

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  1. Seth Gecko

    Seth Gecko
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    Oct 9, 2004
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    <P STYLE='text-align: center'><FONT STYLE='font-size: 18px'><IMG SRC='http://www.wvip.co.uk/images/dvd/Ozu/OzuVol2R2.jpg' ALT='OZU COLLECTION VOL. 2 DVD cover artwork' ALIGN='RIGHT'>OZU COLLECTION VOL. 2</FONT><br>Reviewed July 2005 by <A HREF='search.php?do=process&query=Chris McEneany&showposts=1&forumchoice[]=107&forumchoice[]=197' target='_top'>Chris McEneany</A>.</P><P><B>The Movie : 7</B></P><P>Yasujiro Ozu is a legendary filmmaker; his name is now mentioned in the same breath as Bunuel, Bergman and his contemporary countryman, Kurosawa. His classic movie Tokyo Story was recently declared the Top Film of All Time in Halliwell’s Top 1000 films list and his other movies are now being offered up for rediscovery and appreciation. He’s a critically celebrated character then. And, do you know what? Until receiving this little box set from Tartan Video, I’d barely ever heard of him. Tokyo Story, I had certainly heard of, though still haven’t had the privilege of seeing. But now, after watching the two mini-masterpieces contained within this second Ozu collection, apparently from the director’s golden era just after the Second World War – Record of a Tenement Gentlemen and Flavour of Green Tea over Rice - I resolve to rectify that as soon as possible. Quite simply, folks, I went into these movies with no prior knowledge of them, and therefore no grand expectations. And, it is with tremendous pleasure that I can reveal that my open mind was hugely captivated and entertained from start to finish with both movies. So, without further preamble, let’s discuss what I found within Volume 2.</p><P> “The moon has shadows once in a while. So do human beings.”</p><P>Starting with Record Of A Tenement Gentleman (1947), Ozu here presents us with the tiny tale of young boy, apparently abandoned by an uncaring father, found and brought to the poor shanties of Tokyo by Tashiro (Chishu Ryu) and given to the scowl-faced widow Tane (played wonderfully by Chouko Iida) to look after. That he cries a lot and wets the bed drives the bitter woman to the point of trying to abandon him herself in the hope that someone else will take him in. But, unable to shake him, she is forced to keep him for longer than she expected. And, inevitably, tensions rise and upsetting misunderstandings ensue along the way … but we all know that a bond between the two will ultimately develop. Sounds clichéd, doesn’t it? Trust me, it is anything but, and it is all down a beautiful and gently comic screenplay, natural and realistic performances and a subtle approach that steadfastly refuses to go for the emotional jugular like so many other movies would have opted to do.</p><P> “Get me some shells. I want them as souvenirs.”</p><P>Ozu’s approach is gentle and unobtrusive. He merely sets his camera up and lets the cast get on with it, to the point where I often felt like I was spying on real people going about their everyday business. This effect seems to be his main modus operandi, allowing us into his perfectly realised, small-scale world of unexciting lives and incident-free situations that <i>should</i> be boring, but prove to be anything but. A get-together over “… the real sake!” results in talk of peep-shows and a terrific impromptu cup and chopstick jamming session that could certainly have been a forerunner for karaoke. A simple request for a rubber hose delivers more observation of the era and its values than many contrived scenes in other films of the time. Hohi Aoki as the unappealing little urchin is genuinely irritating at first, but nevertheless elicits sympathy whenever Tane chastises him - “I’ll bite you!” she threatens at one point and even throws things at him in an attempt to ditch him among the sand-dunes – and the image of him fanning his latest wet blanket is touchingly amusing. The depiction of life in the poorer elements is never spoon-fed, never political. These people are basically happy and are content enough to just get on with their lives, come what may. When another tenement denizen gets lucky after her son buys a lottery ticket, Tane just scowls a little more fiercely when her adopted charge fails to bring her such good fortune. Besides, when she gets a good deal on a load of potatoes she just has him carry them.</p><P> “Luck falls on pure-minded people.”</p><P>Next to this admittedly slight story, Ozu presents us with a pleasingly unsentimental view of the matters of these simple folk of few pleasures. They have the same dreams and ideals that we all share, the same woes. His film is neither haunting nor lyrical, yet strangely mesmerising all the same. Measured, languid scenes ease the story along at a sedate, Sunday afternoon pace which helps maintain an almost carefree tone that is fresh and enticing. His filming benefits from good, but un-elaborate compositions, his framing favouring people over setting. Camera movements are rare and his shots are always dignified and steady, gaining strength and resonance purely from the wealth of character on display. I’m tempted to call his style theatrical, as so much of it just revolves a modest number of players in one setting, usually the home. But, when the boy disappears after one telling-off too many and poor Tane discovers that her armoured façade is crumbling, and goes out to search for him, Ozu opens up to give us some nicely picturesque shots of the city. This search through the streets also opens the gate to Tane’s emotions, although wisely, these are kept largely in check with Ozu adamant not to pander to formulaic heartstring-tugging. And, strangely enough, this low-key approach is exactly the element that threatens to choke you up come the finale, which packs an emotional wallop that Ozu <i>still</i> manages to restrain. Wonderful stuff, despite having a title that seems to have little relevance to the story and a final coda that comes across a tad too heavily for all that has gone before.</p><P>The second film in the set is 1952’s Flavour Of Green Tea Over Rice, and it is this tale of slow marital dissolution and the search for a love rekindled that is, perhaps, the most spellbinding.</p><P> “Darling, don’t blame me for being hungry at work again.”</p><P>Again, simply told with no sense of urgency, drama or showboating, Green Tea works a brand of magic that is deceptive and intoxicating, drawing you into an almost cosy, unhurried trip through marital melancholia. A middle-class couple have come to realise that their arranged marriage is losing its excitement and romance. And what compounds this is the advent of their niece’s own impending arranged marriage - a tradition that the young Setsuko (a luminous Keiko Tsushima) is not at all keen on. Even less so when she hears her aunt, the alluring Takeo (played brilliantly by Michiyo Kogure) belittle her own husband and generally paint a depressing picture of married life in general. Taking to lying to her bland husband (played with great depth by Shin Saburi) to get away from the house and see her equally demoralised married friends for weekend spa sessions and the like, Takeo is slowly, but surely, withering now that the spark of love has been extinguished from her life. Her husband, whom she has nicknamed Dull-chan, is reliable and has a good, steady job. Their home is lovely and they even have a maid. But staleness in their relationship has soured her terribly. Whilst her friends, and her niece, have embraced modern fashions and a seemingly very western lifestyle – baseball games, anyone? – she wears traditional kimono and still clings to the values that have so obviously wrought havoc on her intimate relationships. That some serious soul-searching is needed by all concerned provides the impetus for Ozu’s take on post-war societal ideals and the dangerous fragmenting of love and commitment. Tradition versus modernisation. Devotion versus duty. Some heady themes but, as with Tenement Gentlemen before it, Ozu keeps the proceedings light and interesting, letting his tone and the power of slow-burn emotion be absorbed at an almost genteel pace.</p><P> “You can’t escape, poor man.”</p><P>Dealing here with a much larger cast and far more varied scope of settings - from the mountainside health spa to the city theatre, bustling offices to the varied atmospheres of the different homes – Ozu creates a bright city that is teeming with life and hope, the opposite of how his characters feel. His framing is once again a joy to behold, interiors often shot from the low level of the little tea-tables, giving a sense of space and dimension, particularly to Takeo’s lovely house – which will only serve to compound the distance between herself and her husband as the film progresses. He also allows much more movement of the camera this time, sweeping us down corridors and through rooms, even along the seats of a sports stadium. Everything he does here in Green Tea feels that bit more assured and painterly, although he maintains the luscious and leisurely pace of Gentleman. With tales as simple as this, there’s no need to hurry or contrive. As someone in the film even says at one point “Simple is good. That’s my principle.” That could almost be Ozu, himself, talking.</p><P>“You can’t force her to marry if she doesn’t want to. It’ll only make another married couple like us.”</p><P>The loneliness of the marital home is a universal and timeless concept – it could be shown in a prehistoric cave or a gleaming space-station. Ozu’s depiction of it is no less tragic, or beguiling, but what sets his tale apart is the singular lack of the conventional tears and tantrums usually inherent to the situation. Instead, he crafts a languid, and inexorably slow, dissolution of feelings that is inescapable and, halfway at least, only to be expected. The mood he affects gets slowly under the skin and is so delicately done, that it is welcome to stay there. But it is the performances of Michiyo Kogure and Shin Saburi that dominate the film. Watch out for the exquisite character baton-change that poor Dull-chan and then Takeo make when each of them, in turn, has to experience life alone at home. Their eroding relationship holds the attention without ever resorting to overblown sentiment. That the two have so much to say to one another speaks volumes about their inability to communicate. But the protracted finale, whilst not exactly unexpected, is a delight. The perfect way to a man’s heart, as ever, is through his stomach and it is telling that the most intimate and emotional scene in the film is actually never seen, merely recited after the event. Remarkably clever denouement, really.</p><P> “I will never call my husband Dull-chan in front of other people.”</p><P>Once again, I have to admit that I felt somewhat voyeuristic during much of this film. The performances and the interactions of the characters have a resolutely real and natural approach that makes you feel as though you’ve just snuck into someone’s house to eavesdrop. And, much like Tenement Gentleman, this feels constructed almost like a play, with so much attention lavished on character and the minutia of mood and nuance. But it still transcends the stage with a cinematic verve that sees the cast live and breathe. Enormously well-made and entertaining. I may not have known much about Yasujiro Ozu before watching these two impeccable movies, but I feel privileged to have discovered his work now, and look forward to catching up with more of his output.</p><P><B>Picture : 4</B></P><P>Well, as has been reported elsewhere, Tartan Video has supplied this collection with quite shoddy transfers. But, it has to be remembered that these are indeed, very old black and white movies, and if the source material was the best that they could find – then it is just unfortunate for us all. Both appear to be telecine transfers that betray NTSC origins.</p><P>Both movies have a 1.33:1 image that is absolutely riddled with damage, Tenement Gentleman suffering the worst, by far. Forget the simple little specks and flecks of dust and the scratches - although there are plenty of them - it is the annoying jiggle and wiggle of the image that really disappoints. Even the 1933 King Kong doesn’t have a picture that rumbles this much. Totally unstable, the image wobbles up and down and from side to side very often – and not just at scene changes, where it may have been expected. Sometimes, it can be terribly distracting. The afore-mentioned scene-changes also suffer from popping and frame-jumps. There is the almost constant presence of clouding across the image and the contrast is also quite badly affected with many scenes flickering from dull, flat grey to a rather nasty high brightness. Tenement Gentleman has a distinct lack of detail, too, which can only be expected, given the age of the print – the waves upon the beach have a dismal flat lifelessness. And here’s a switch – sometimes the backgrounds actually exhibit more clarity than the immediate foreground, with the sand-dunes being a case in point. Despite this, when we get blacks – usually the shanty town shadows – they are not too bad. Perhaps fittingly, the best image that this transfer delivers is when Tane and the urchin visit a photographer’s studio to have their portraits taken, with the setting appearing quite sharp and detailed and, for once, stable.</p><P>Green Tea does improve on this, but still suffers plenty of jiggling about. Detail is much better and the overall image is far cleaner and sharper than Tenement Gentleman, and it certainly benefits from a much improved contrast balance. There is much more location work here, and the scenes in the city streets often have a spectral, luminous quality that goes some way to alleviating the print damage afflicting the film. Interior scenes have a nice black level, too. The score is upped from 3 to 4 for the benefits this second film adds to the overall package.</p><P>Somewhere out there must exist better transfers than these. Or hopefully, one day, a company with the appropriate technology will invest the time and effort to clean these movies up properly for, as it stands right now, they are watchable but still suffering an incredible injustice.</p><P STYLE='text-align: center'><IMG SRC='http://www.wvip.co.uk/images/dvd/Ozu/OzuVol2R2_1.jpg' ALT='OZU COLLECTION VOL. 2'></P><P><B>Sound : 4</B></P><P>Both movies come with a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track that does the job as well as could be expected, given your knowledge that these transfers are not the best. Sounding tinny and harsh at the best of times, they are nevertheless quite clear and perfectly audible. Tenement Gentleman suffers more in the way of crackles, hiss and pop with one or two scenes coming off worse than others but overall, with a film as quiet and reserved as this, I found little to complain about. Green Tea experienced drop out during a couple of scenes and the sweetly fluctuating score – on the rare occasions that it actually plays – seems a little muted. Both are on the dull side of things, but I doubt that this could ever be convincingly altered. They certainly don’t warrant a new mix being created.</p><P STYLE='text-align: center'><IMG SRC='http://www.wvip.co.uk/images/dvd/Ozu/OzuVol2R2_2.jpg' ALT='OZU COLLECTION VOL. 2'></P><P><B>Extras : 2</B></P><P>This is where it really hurts. For films this good, and considering the classic status being bestowed upon Ozu’s work, you would expect something of value here, wouldn’t you? And what do we get? Nothing, folks.</p><P>Well, that’s not entirely true. But what we do get is little more than an insult so, in fact, nothing would have been better. Tenement Gentleman is blessed with a Commentary Track, by no less than esteemed film critic Derek Malcolm who delivers little more than a few interspersed minutes of chat that reveal precious little. What was the point? I’m a commentary track devotee but this pathetic handful of sentences was just salt in the wounds. A five-minute talking head introduction would have been better. Pathetic. We also get a Photo Gallery (whoopee!) and a Video Restoration featurette lasting four minutes that splits the screen diagonally to present us with before and after versions. To be fair, you can what has actually been to improve the image. If you think the wobbling about was bad in this transfer, then you should see how it looked originally.</p><P>Green Tea remains commentary-less (perhaps Mr. Malcolm had worn himself out earlier) but still gives the perfunctory Photo Gallery and we also get an Audio Restoration Featurette lasting 3.40 mins. The before and after sections here reveal how much hiss, crackle and distortion have been removed for this transfer. Again, it is evident that there was quite a lot actually.</p><P>A terrible set and unforgivable, really.</p> <P STYLE='text-align: center'><IMG SRC='http://www.wvip.co.uk/images/dvd/Ozu/OzuVol2R2_3.jpg' ALT='OZU COLLECTION VOL. 2'></P><P><B>Verdict : 6</B></P><P>So, there you have it. Two marvellous films that I recommend wholeheartedly yet saddled with abysmal transfers and left bereft of any decent extras. Ozu was a masterful filmmaker and his work truly deserves to find new audiences today, but if this is how his wonderful legacy is going to be treated then it is a dire situation for all concerned. Tartan should be applauded for wanting to place these movies on the shelves, but perhaps they should have waited for better transfers or, at the very least, made more of an effort to secure some better features. The collection carries a hefty price-tag and, although the movies are gold dust indeed, I would advise caution before investing in such mistreated material. But, if you are willing to take the plunge, then the films themselves will offer ample reward. An awesome opportunity wasted.</p> <TABLE border='0' CELLPADDING='0' CELLSPACING='2' WIDTH='100%'><TR><TD COLSPAN='2'><B>OZU COLLECTION VOL. 2</B></TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Director</TD><TD><A HREF='http://www.totaldvd.net/cgi-bin/dvdreviews.php?include=all&searchfield=director&search_for=YASUJIRO OZU' target='_blank'>YASUJIRO OZU</A></TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65'><B>Region</B></TD><TD><B>0</B> <FONT>(UK)</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>Supplier</TD><TD><FONT>Tartan Video. Released Monday 27th June 2005</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>SRP</TD><TD><FONT>29.99</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>Discs</TD><TD><FONT>2</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>Format</TD><TD><FONT>DVD9</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>Time</TD><TD><FONT>72 /116 mins.</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>Chapters</TD><TD><FONT>16/16</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Picture</TD><TD>Full Screen 1.33:1&nbsp;</TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Sound</TD><TD>Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0</TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Subtitles</TD><TD>English</TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Case</TD><TD>Amaray in Box</TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Extras</TD><TD>Commentary on Record Of A Tenement Gentleman<BR>Photo Galleries<BR>Visual and Audio Restoration Comparisons</TD></TR></TABLE><P STYLE='text-align: center'>If you would like to comment on this review, please reply below.</P>

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