In their humble two-room apartment, the Maeda family seem ever so self-effacing - but their modest façade hides another truth. Daughter Tomoko is the mistress of a bestselling author with well-lined pockets. Son Minoru embezzles funds with his lover Yukie (Ayako Wakao, Red Angel), who has her own hidden agenda. And father Tokizo (Yunosuke Ito, Ikiru, Lone Wolf and Cub) is a former military man who swears he will never return to the poverty he knew during the war, no matter what the cost. One after another, those affected by the Maedas’ schemes show up on their doorstep. But these visitors all have their own duplicitous agendas. With each knock on the door, the gamesmanship reaches a whole new level. Elegant Beast was adapted by Kaneto Shindo (Onibaba, Naked Island) from his own stage play. Director Yuzo Kawashima, mentor of Shohei Imamura and a major influence on the Japanese New Wave, makes magnificent widescreen use of the single apartment setting to deliver a ferocious satire on Japan’s post-war economic miracle.
Radiance premieres Yuzo Kawashima’s Elegant Beast on Blu-ray, presenting the film in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio on a dual-layer disc. This 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation stems from a recent 4K restoration conducted by Kadokawa Pictures. I did QC work for this release.
The result is remarkably sharp, delivering a film-like presentation. Details are meticulously rendered, preserving the natural texture of film grain. Although the color palette seems somewhat subdued, I suspect this is a result of a combination of the film's inherent color scheme and the probable use of Fuji film stock. Black levels can, on occasion, appear washed, but they’re fairly rich much of the time, with smooth progression in the shadows.
The restoration efforts have also been remarkably thorough, leaving little of note behind. Furthermore, the encoding looks fantastic, as is typically the case with Radiance’s releases. Overall, it's an impressive presentation.
The Japanese monaural soundtrack, available in lossless 2-channel PCM, offers sharp and clear audio, though it reflects its era. Dialogue and music are distinctly audible, yet the dynamic range appears constrained. Still, there's a notable absence of significant damage, and it seems filtering hasn't been applied.
Radiance's assortment of features may end up being small, yet they provide some rich insights. Firstly, a new 17-minute interview with film critic Toshiaki Sato delves into the film's nuances, from character behaviors to the rhythms within his film (including the movement of characters), actress Ayako Wakao, the script by Kaneto Shindo, and the film's visual elements. Sato also discusses director Yuzo Kawashima's directorial style and recurring themes, connecting Elegant Beast within his broader body of work.
Additionally, filmmaker Toshiaki Toyoda contributes a 14-minute segment offering a broader appreciation of Kawashima's directorial prowess. Toyoda highlights Kawashima's influence on his own work, praising the cinematography, staging, and performances evident in Elegant Beast while also emphasizing the social aspects of the film, reflecting diverse generations.
A standout feature is the 12-minute video essay titled The Age of the Danchi by Tom Mes, which provides an in-depth history of post-war apartment complexes in Japan known as Danchi. Mes explores the architectural designs and their evolving portrayal in film through subsequent decades, drawing connections to other films like Dark Water. The essay impressively incorporates archival and newsreel footage, offering a thorough examination.
Finally, the disc includes the film's trailer and a 23-page booklet. The booklet features an essay by Midori Suiren, focusing on the film's women, as touched upon in Sato's interview. It also includes a 1989 appreciation of the film and its use of confined space by Yasunari Takahashi.
Though the combined runtime of the material is less than an hour, the collection is well-rounded, with Mes' video essay and the booklet standing out as particularly strong additions.
While not an exhaustive edition, the included content delivers valuable insights, while the high-def presentation for the film looks excellent.