Kihachi Okamotoís The Sword of Doom gets a surprising Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion, who yet again present the film in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
Like other Blu-ray upgrades of late (though not all) itís obvious Criterion is again just delivering the full high-def version of the same transfer they used for their previous DVD edition, in this case released in 2005. This isnít always a bad thing as some of them have held up rather well over the years, but again what looked fine, even great, on DVD doesnít always translate well to Blu-ray.
Unfortunately this is one of the ones that doesnít translate well, appearing more along the lines of what we got with George Washington. Sure, the high-def image shows improvements over the DVD in quite a few ways, but the weaknesses in the digital transfer show through far more.
Detail was a strong point on the DVD and the Blu-ray ends up delivering quite a bit more detail in close-ups, with some textures looking more natural in comparison to the DVD. Long shots also look substantially better here: on the DVD they could be a bit fuzzy, lacking depth, but they come off cleaner here. The source still presents a few minor blemishes but again, like the DVD, it has been nicely restored and damage isnít too big of a concern. The only truly noticeable issue in the print is a slight pulse that pops up here and there.
The DVDís digital presentation was good for a standard-definition one, but upgraded all sorts of problems come to light, and ones somewhat noticeable on the DVD are now glaring. It really looks like an unnecessary amount of sharpening was applied and film grain looks terrible, heavy and unnatural, dancing around more like compression noise (in all fairness this effect is also present on the DVD but itís far more irritating here). Whatís even worse is shimmering gets really bad in the tight patterns of outfits or in the various settings: anything with any tight lines creates a jumpy, shimmery nightmare throughout the scene. Contrast on the DVD was questionable but here it actually ends up looking more blown out, with whites that come off far too bright, obliterating fine details in the whiter areas of a scene, particularly in faces (Hamaís close-ups being especially bad). Blacks look far too deep, killing quite a bit of shadow detail in some of the night scenes. This could be the intended look but it looks more like boosted contrast levels.
In the end: does it look better than the DVD? On the whole, yeah, it probably does, but taken on its own itís a weak and problematic Blu-ray presentation. 6/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The original DVD edition from Criterion was basically a barebones edition, featuring only a trailer and an essay. In a bit of surprise Criterion has actually recorded a new audio commentary featuring scholar Stephen Prince, and it is exclusive to this Blu-ray edition. Though not advertised as such itís disappointingly more of a ďselected-sceneĒ commentary track, with Prince going dead during moments that break away from the main character. Conveniently the commentary chapters list where there is no commentary so you can thankfully skip these dead moments and continue on with Princeís track (similar to the old Andrei Rublev DVD). As to why Prince does this Iím not sure (is it a ďdiscountĒ commentary?) since he could have easily filled in this space: he covers a lot of subjects and ground, nicely giving some historical context to the film, which was much needed for me admittedly. Prince also talks about the filmís editing and its action, nicely breaking down some of the fight sequences. Itís a rather solid analytical track, with Prince covering a lot of ground. As the only substantial supplement to be found on the disc it actually does somewhat make up for the lack of much else (the included essay does expand in other areas) and Iím happy Criterion decided to put in the effort to include it.
The filmís theatrical trailer is then carried over from the original DVD edition, along with the same essay by Geoffrey OíBrien, found in the included insert. OíBrienís essay manages to cover a lot about the film, Okamoto, and the story the film is based on. Itís a great read but it reminds you how much more could have probably been added to the supplements, like more material on the original story.
In the end itís still pretty bare but the commentary adds some substantial value. 5/10