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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 4 Discs
FEATURES
  • Includes the films Sanshiro Sugata, Part 1, The Most Beautiful, Sanshiro Sugata, Part 2, and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail

The First Films of Akira Kurosawa


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Takashi Shimura
2010 | 305 Minutes | Licensor: Toho Co.

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $59.95 | Series: Eclipse from the Criterion Collection | Edition: #23
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: August 3, 2010
Review Date: August 3, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

Years before Akira Kurosawa changed the face of cinema with such iconic works as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo, he made his start in the Japanese film industry with four popular and exceptional works, created as World War II raged. All gripping dramas, those rare first films-Sanshiro Sugata; The Most Beautiful; Sanshiro Sugata, Part Two; and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail-are collected here and include a two-part martial arts saga, a portrait of female volunteers helping the war effort, and a kabuki-derived tale of deception. These captivating films are a glorious introduction to a peerless career.

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PICTURE

Edition 23 of Criterion’s Eclipse series presents director Akira Kurosawa’s first four films: Sanshiro Sugata, The Most Beautiful, Sanshiro Sugata, Part II, and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail. All four films are spread over four single-layer discs and are all presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Criterion has also chosen not to window-box the images.

I can’t say any of the films look good, in the end all varying in level of poorness. The worst of the bunch are probably the two Sanshiro Sugata films, but if I had to choose one as being the worst I’d probably lean towards the second one. All of the films look to have had their contrast boosted, but these two films are the worst, and at times are impossible to see because they’re too dark or if the scene is brighter the whites come off as blooming, somewhat washing out the rest of the scene. The other two films in the set also show what looks to be contrast boosting but they’re not to the extremes of the Sugata films.

The prints also vary wildly, though all of them present scratches, marks, jumps, and missing frames (the first Sanshiro Sugata was actually hacked up by the Japanese censors. The print used for this release appears to have been for a re-release after WWII, which opens with a note on how the missing footage is long gone, and Japanese intertitles are inserted explaining some of the excised sequences.) The first three films (the Sugata films in particular) are the most problematic with plenty of scratches, marks and jumps. Tiger’s Tail is actually in the best shape, presenting far fewer instances of damage (though still not without its share.)

The Most Beautiful and the second Sugata film are the softest of the three, and this looks to be because of the prints used, with the Sugata film be especially problematic in this regard, the opening looking like a fuzzy, out-of-focus mess. The first Sugata film may be just a step up, but Tiger’s Tail presents the sharpest image overall, presenting some very fine details in the settings and the costumes.

The digital transfers themselves look fine, really just limited by the source. I couldn’t detect any noise or artifacts of any sort and the film grain present looks good. There are auras and halos but I blame this more on the source materials, which look at times to be dupes of dupes (at least the second Sugata film does.) Not pretty but still watchable.

5/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Audio is actually a little better than I would have thought, well, for the most part anyways. They all sound flat and (at the very least) a little tinny, but most of them have little in the way of background noise, which is limited to static. Having said that, though, the second Sugata film easily sounds the worst of the bunch, sounding as though you’re hearing the film’s sound come through a tin can and at its worst, actually sounds like the original audio track was recorded through a microphone.

Overall they’re better than I would have expected, but they’re still problematic, some more so than others.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Since this is an Eclipse set we don’t get any disc supplements but we do get some excellent liner notes by Stephen Prince about Kurosawa’s early career and the films here, getting into their production and (to a certain extent) their themes. They’re all excellent pieces and worth reading.

1/10

CLOSING

I’m a big Kurosawa fan so this set, despite some problems with the image, comes with a big recommendation, even if all of the films aren’t “great” (while I appreciate Prince’s essay that defends the film, I still can’t see The Most Beautiful as much more than a fairly mediocre propaganda film, but I might give it another viewing.) Other than Tiger’s Tail (which does look pretty good) the transfers found on here aren’t great and are open to improvement, but they’re still very watchable.


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