It’s death, Japanese style, in the rollicking and wistful first feature from maverick writer-director Juzo Itami. In the wake of her father’s sudden passing, a successful actor (Itami’s wife and frequent collaborator, Nobuko Miyamoto) and her lascivious husband (Tsutomu Yamazaki) leave Tokyo and return to her family home to oversee a traditional funeral. Over the course of three days of mourning that bring illicit escapades in the woods, a surprisingly materialistic priest (Chishu Ryu), and cinema’s most epic sandwich handoff, the tensions between public propriety and private hypocrisy are laid bare. Deftly weaving dark comedy with poignant family drama, The Funeral is a fearless satire of the clash between old and new in Japanese society in which nothing, not even the finality of death, is off-limits.
Juzo Itami’s debut feature film, 1984’s The Funeral, receives a Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection and is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition master was supplied to Criterion by Itami Productions.
I was hoping the long wait following Criterion’s release of Itami’s Tampopo (released five years ago) meant Criterion was waiting for new restorations for his other work after dated ones popped up on The Criterion Channel, but that sadly doesn’t appear to be the case: Criterion has been supplied with an obviously older master for this film. Thankfully it’s a decent looking one, rendering a sharp enough image that does manage to deliver an impressive level of detail, as shown in an opening close-up on leather. The presentation also manages to retain this level of detail despite the use of minor filtering and de-graining, though it can still lead to a moderately waxy image here and there.
Digital artifacts pop up, the most obvious being banding effects, bad ones appearing in a stormy sky earlier in the film. The encode, at the very least, appears to be solid and doesn’t enhance any inherent problems, and moments where fog or mist makes an appearance are rendered well enough, though not as smoothly as what a newer master could probably pull off. The restoration itself has been thorough, though, with very little damage remaining, only some speckling and other minor marks appearing. Colours look decent enough, but black levels can come off a little murky and flat, destroying any sense of depth in darker scenes.
It’s not ideal, sadly, and I think a new 4K scan and restoration would look really sharp thanks to the colours and other visuals within the film, but it's an above average presentation and the end results are serviceable enough.
Criterion includes a lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack. Range and fidelity can be surprisingly strong in the film’s music, particularly during a mid-section monochrome montage that incorporates Bach’s “Air on the String G.” Likewise, both dialogue and background effects sound sharp and clear, though with a slight edge when a character yells. There’s also very little in the way of background noise or damage.
The supplements end up being a bit slim, the only new material here being a couple of interviews recorded in 2022: an interview with the film’s star—and wife of the director—Nobuko Miyamoto, and Itami’s son, Manpei Ikeuchi. Miyamoto’s interview, running around 26-minutes, features the actor recounting how she first met her husband and how her own father’s funeral inspired Itami to make his first feature film, the whole event feeling like an Ozu movie to him. She even talks about Itami’s father, Mansaku Itami, who was also a filmmaker, before touching on how the film was ultimately financed.
She also amusingly talks about her son, Ikeuchi, and his performance in the film (apparently he improvised the moment around his characters hammering of a nail into a coffin). Ikeuchi picks up on this subject in his 16-minute interview, remembering how his father had directed him and how he saw the experience, which he was mostly excited about at the time because it would get him out of school.
The disc then includes a 2018 video essay created by Michael Sragow for The Criterion Channel called Creative Marriages: Juzo Itami and Nobuko Miyamoto, where he looks at the working relationship between the two, though with a focus on Tampopo and A Taxing Woman (the latter of which I was expecting Criterion to release on Blu-ray before The Funeral). They also include around 12 of the numerous advertisements Itami directed over the course of 16 years for Ichiroku Tarts, the head of the company, Yasushi Tamaoki, being the one to eventually fund some of Itami’s films. The ads all go about things in a variety of ways, the early ones basically declaring that you, the audience, pretty much suck, and a tart might help improve things. Others go about things in a more whimsical way, like using paper models, or using comic situations that include two elderly men who can’t recall the name of the product, or a household being visited by a “Tart Inspector.”
The disc then closes with a couple of bizarre trailers for the film, the second humourously making up quotes from audience members with identifiers like “Porn Movie Director,” “Undertaker,” and “Elementary Age 7,” the latter of whom was apparently surprised by the appearance of a “butt.” Criterion also includes a booklet featuring an essay by Pico Iyer, who relates the film to his own experience during the funeral for his wife’s father, contextualizing things a bit for Western audiences. There is also a collection of extracts from the director’s production diary, offering a look at how Itami approached his first film.
The features are all quite good, the booklet being an especially great addition, it just all feels slim in the end.
Slim on features and utilizing a dated master, Criterion's release for Juzo Itami's debut feature leaves a lot of room for improvement. At the very least, the booklet is excellent.