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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Japan > TV > Japan - Memoirs Of A Secret Empire (PBS)

Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: D     Program: B+



Asian culture, and more exclusively Japanese culture, has always puzzled and intrigued the other cultures around the world even dating back to the Europeans first encounter by in the 1500’s.  Japanese culture still to this day fascinates and mystifies the rest of the world by their unique customs and fascinating traditions.  Living here in the United States one quickly sees the influence of this culture to the point that Japanese lettering has become a common tattooing practice and movies like the recent Kill Bill series brings us into that world, but even more especially is Edward Zwick’s brilliant The Last Samurai. 


It would be impossible to pinpoint one exact thing that draws people to the Japanese culture and for most it could be different aspects.  Some admire the politics and traditions that have been kept for so many generations.  This is the exact companion piece that anyone would want to add to their collection, especially those that are familiar with the work of Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, or even Kwaidan (1965), Double Suicide (1969), or even the more recent Mishima (1985) and Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (1999). 


What these films lack in back-story will quickly be aided in a documentary feature such as this, which covers many of the historical highlights of Japan’s renaissance (between 16th and 19th centuries), and also covers the transformation of the culture over time.  The influence of Western civilization also became a huge part of the change that occurred in Japan and it is no wonder that by the time Akira Kurosawa began making films that he was using more influences from outside Japan because he understood that the people of Japan were tired of just knowing about their own culture and wanted outside influence because it was more interesting and added to the diversity of their own culture.  Still, Japan remains a country that is deeply forged in its roots and customs, which will only gradually change over time, but only on a larger contextual scale. 


For the DVD release Paramount is responsible for the PBS Home Video department and the feature is presented in its original ratio of 1.78 X 1, which looks more refined than in its original broadcast since it has been designed for widescreen, but was broadcast in a pan & scan version.  Here we get all picture information, which is a definite plus.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Stereo is acceptable as well and this is a well-recorded program and demonstrates that with clarity and accuracy with the audio quality.


The DVD is broken down into three segments to cover its entire three hour length, but once you start watching it seems to cover so much in what appears to be a short amount of time because the content is that fascinating.  Look for other great programs to come from PBS as they still continue to deliver high quality programs that you rarely find anymore.



-   Nate Goss


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