The Makioka Sisters
This lyrical adaptation of the beloved novel by Junichiro Tanizaki was a late-career triumph for director Kon Ichikawa. Structured around the changing of the seasons, The Makioka Sisters (Sasame-yuki) follows the lives of four siblings who have taken on their family’s kimono manufacturing business, in the years leading up to the Pacific War. The two oldest have been married for some time, but according to tradition, the rebellious youngest sister cannot wed until the third, conservative and terribly shy, finds a husband. This graceful study of a family at a turning point in history is a poignant evocation of changing times and fading customs, shot in rich, vivid colors.
Kon Ichikawa’s The Makioka Sisters comes to Criterion on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition digital transfer in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
There’s an inherent softness to the overall image but it’s generally pleasing. Although there can be a bit of a washed over look to the film colours are possibly the presentation’s best feature, best displayed in the kimonos on display along with the plant life and some of the lighting. Black levels are adequate but really come off as more of a very dark gray than a pure black.
Since the film just about takes up the whole disc (of the 50GB of available space, give or take, the film takes up about 41GB) I wasn’t too surprised to see that there wasn’t much in the way of problems in the actual digital transfer. There is a slight softness to the picture but I feel it is a condition of the materials used or a product of the shoot. Though things may not come off super crisp and clear there’s still a wonderful amount of detail present in the many settings and some of the clothing worn. Film grain is present but looks natural throughout, and I couldn’t detect artifacts of any sort.
Admittedly I wasn’t blown away by what we get but it’s still a fairly gorgeous looking presentation.
The lossless linear PCM mono track, in Japanese of course, works well but never excels above average. Dialogue is clear but lacks much depth, coming off flat and dull, while the film’s (rather horrendous, in my opinion) electronic score has a bit more range to it but not much, and it can sound a little edgy and harsh in places. In the end it’s a product of the time but is sufficient for the film.
Other than a short theatrical trailer and a booklet with a nice essay on the film by Audie Bock Criterion has included nothing in the way of supplements. This is the first basically barebones edition Criterion has released on Blu-ray and, not counting their Eclipse and Essential Art House titles, the first they’ve released overall in a very long time, since their 2006 individual editions of their Louis Malle films (Au revoir les enfants, Murmur of the Heart, and Lacombe Lucien, but these were also available in a box set that contained special features). Thankfully it’s priced accordingly, at a lower $29.95, but even if that’s admittedly still a little steep it keeps in line with their DVDs from years ago.
It’s disappointing that no major features were included, like maybe more on the source novel and the adaptation (Bock’s essay does provide some minor details about this) but I’m glad Criterion went ahead and put this out on Blu-ray without simply just pushing it out in one of their other lines only on DVD. Because of this we get a rather lovely presentation, the film benefitting from the format.