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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Foreign > Italy > War > French > Surrealism > Japan > Gangster > Assassin > Mystery > Erotic > Baaria (2009/Image Blu-ray)/The Moon & The Gutter (1983/Cinema Libre Blu-ray)/Branded To Kill (1967)/Tokyo Drifter (1966/Criterion Blu-rays)

Baaria (2009/Image Blu-ray)/The Moon & The Gutter (1983/Cinema Libre Blu-ray)/Branded To Kill (1967)/Tokyo Drifter (1966/Criterion Blu-rays)


Picture: B-/C+/B/B     Sound: B/C+/B-/B-     Extras: B- (Moon: C)     Films: B- (Moon: C+)



Here are some recent foreign films on Blu-ray, including debuts in the format for titles we have seen before.



The one new entry is Baaria (2009), a new film from Giuseppe Tornatore, best known for Cinema Paradiso (reviewed a few times on Blu-ray already elsewhere on this site) in an epic-length (151 minutes) about the life of one young man named Peppino and how he grows up in the shadow of poverty, Italian Fascism and many other historical events.  We meet him as a child and see him through to adulthood, but not always in that order.


It is a good film showing us Italy and Italian history in a way only Tornatore could and in ways we do not see it enough, but it is a little longer than I would have liked and eventually goes into Paradiso territory that is not as effective.  Some of the work here is remarkable and the performances are solid, the script is really good and I bought much of this.  However, make sure you are awake to take this one on.  Extras include Stills, Deleted Scenes, on-camera Tornatore interview, Behind-The Scenes featurette and a feature-length audio commentary by Tornatore that is in Italian, but the disc offers English subtitles and you should see the film before hearing what he has to say.



Jean-Jacques Beineix’s The Moon & The Gutter (1983) with Gerard Depardieu and Nastassia Kinski is on Blu-ray from Cinema Libre, who recently issued the film on DVD, which we covered at this link:




This is the same disc with the same sound and extras, but the image has been upgraded, but more on that in a moment.



Early on when they began issuing DVDs, Criterion gave us two films by Seijun Suzuki: Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded To Kill (1967), unusual action gangster works that eventually got him fired from his studio and blacklisted form the Japanese film industry for ten years!  Those older DVDs (from 10 years ago) were very rough and are now out of print and thanks to these new Blu-ray editions from Criterion, obsolete.


In Drifter, Tetsuya Watari is Phoenix, a deadly (and deadly accurate) hitman so good that his reputation has taken on superhuman, surreal myths involving invincibility and this scares most of his opponents, but also brings on colder, darker killers who would like to make a name for themselves by rubbing him out.  The darkly humorous script is done with the tight intensity of the best thrillers and he finds himself a target all over again to a new generation of power-grabbers.


I thought is was good when I saw it before, but am much more impressed by it this time, plus the new transfer brings out subtleties that the older DVDs could not deliver, resulting in a more cinematic experience and Suzuki’s intents far clearer and more effective than anyone but fans could have thought.  The use of widescreen and color is impressive and will surprise those who have seen the film only on video before or for the first time.  Criterion impresses just as much with the black and white work on Branded in its new transfer.


In that film, Joe Shishido is a Yakuza killer who loves the smell of rice and gets involved with sex and violence as seamlessly as eating his favorite meal.  When he messes up a job for that mob organization, they turn on him and send a skilled new killer (Koji Nanbara) to do away with him.  Like the other film, there is character study, exercises in pure cinema (some of which stop the narrative somewhat) and I again liked it more in this better version than the poorer DVDs from many years ago.


Extras with both Criterion releases include an informative booklet with great illustrations, text on the respective films and essays on the films, while both Blu-rays have original theatrical trailers, 1967 Suzuki on-camera interviews and new video pieces featuring Suzuki and Assistant Director Masami Kuzuu.  Criterion also upgraded the subtitles, but some extras from the older Criterion DVDs are sadly not here.


All four Blu-rays have 1080p digital High Definition image transfers, but the 1.78 X 1 on Moon is barely better than the DVD version with the same softness, detail issues, color issues and even problematic instances of footage the DVD had, so it is the same HD master.  The only thing that improves here is the range of color and reds (a key color in the film) benefit the most.  The 1.78 X 1 on Baaria also has some nice shots and it is a newer film (the newest on the list), yet it has more than its share of soft shots (some caused by the digital work) and can look generic at times.


The 2.35 X 1 Nikkatsu-scope transfers on both Criterion Blu-rays are the best on the list, but even they have some issues despite being superior to the older DVD editions, both from low contrast 35mm prints.  Drifter has better color range, but it is still limited a bit in range and that either comes from the print being a newer kind that cannot capture the full color range intended, the person(s) doing the transfer or a combination of both.  Branded has good gray scale for a monochrome (black and white) film from its time, but it also has some more print issues than expected.  Still, grain seems normal, though expect some detail limits.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) Italian 5.1 lossless mix is on Baaria may be dialogue-based, but offers a fine soundfield throughout including subtle sounds and the music score, so it is the best here as expected.  Moon has the same lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo the DVD had, which is disappointing.  That leaves PCM 1.0 Mono off of cleaned up optical 35mm sound print material for the Criterion Blu-rays that far outdo their older DVD counterparts and land up sounding better than you might expect, also surpassing Moon.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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