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HTF Blu-ray Review: Ran



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#1 of 24 Todd Erwin

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Posted February 17 2010 - 07:57 AM


 

Ran



Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Theatrical Release Year: 1985

US Blu-ray Release Date: February 16, 2010

Rated: R

Running Time: 162 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Japanese), DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (Japanese, English, French, German, Castilian Spanish, Italian)

Subtitles: English, French, German, Castilian Spanish, Italian, Spanish, Nederlands, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish



Movie: 4.5 out of 5

When one mentions Japanese Cinema, three things often come to mind: Godzilla (and the many often silly monster movies that followed), anime (including the films of Miyazaki and Oshii), and Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa is, perhaps, the most well-known live-action director from Japan, and has influenced many prominent American filmmakers, most notably George Lucas (R2-D2 and C-3P0 were inspired by characters from Hidden Fortress), Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, and Sidney Lumet. When Kurosawa had difficulty obtaining financing for his films later in his career, many of these directors came to his rescue. Lucas and Coppola were executive producers on Kagemusha, and Spielberg served as executive producer and Scorsese appeared as Van Gogh in Dreams. Ran was Kurosawa's most expensive and ambitious film, and ultimately became a French-Japanese co-production after receiving financing from France-based producer Serge Silberman.


As Ran opens, Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) relinquishes his throne and divides the kingdom among his three sons, Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryû), expecting to live the rest of his life in retirement but remain in power, if only by name. When Saburo speaks his mind and tells his father that this will likely end in tragedy, he and his servant Tango (Masayuki Yui) are banished. Hidetora later finds himself banished by his sons following power plays by Taro and Jiro. The plot is loosely based on Shakespeare's King Lear, and, obviously, ends in tragedy after some visually stunning action set pieces,most notably the taking of the Third Castle approximately one hour into the film. The sequence is visually stunning, almost devoid of dialogue and sound effects, with only a haunting musical underscore, reminding me of some of the best epics made during the silent era.


Ran is not a film for everyone. It is often brutally violent and graphic, while at the same time beautifully photographed. It is a must-see for any film student and anyone who appreciates world cinema.


Video: 4 out of 5

Ran is one of three films debuting under the Studio Canal Collection moniker (The Lady Killers and Contempt are the other two), also marking the debut of these films on Blu-ray. Lionsgate is handling distribution of these titles here in the United States.


The 1080p transfer in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, using the VC-1 codec, is quite impressive for a film made in the mid-80s. Colors are vibrant and well-saturated without bleeding, especially the reds which have always been problematic in standard definition NTSC. Blacks are deep, as well. Film grain is visible, although sometimes inconsistent (likely due to varying film stocks and changes in light levels), but never overly distracting. This is probably the best Ran has ever looked at home, and possibly the best it has looked since its initial 70mm theatrical engagements 25 years ago.


Audio: 4 out of 5

Studio Canal has provided all of the audio options in DTS-HD Master Audio. The Japanese 5.1 mix is the one to listen to, which exhibits exceptional fidelity, clear dialogue (although I do not speak Japanese), and the music and sound effects fill the room nicely, This is a good representation of the 70mm theatrical mix.


The English 2.0 track should be avoided, as the dialogue sounds very obviously recorded in a studio, and utilized mostly actors with British accents, which just sounded odd. It is not a bad mix, since the music and effects track are blended nicely with the English dialogue, its just that the dialogue sounds too sterile compared to the original Japanese tracks.


Special Features: 3.5 out of 5

There are some interesting featurettes provided in standard definition, but all were produced for French or Japanese audiences.


A.K. (1:11:32): This is an exhaustive and intimate look at the master at work. The documentary allows us to eavesdrop on a rehearsal, as well as see some scenes being prepared and filmed. It is presented in 16:9 widescreen with French narration and English subtitles.


Akira Kurosawa: The Epic and the Intimate (41:49): This is a more typical documentary often produced for catalog titles, featuring interviews with Kurosawa's collaborators on Ran and later films, as well as film correspondent Bertrand Raison. It is presented in 16:9 widescreen with French dialogue and English subtitles.


The Samurai (52:47): A History Channel style of documentary on the history of the samurai warriors. Although originally produced for a French audience, an English narration is provided. Video is in 4:3 standard definition.


Art of the Samurai (41:11): Japanese warfare expert Jean-Christophe Charbonnier discusses the culture of the samurai and the various armor and weaponry used in Ran. Video is in 16:9 widescreen.


Trailer (2:00): The French theatrical trailer is presented in 16:9 widescreen.


BD-Live: At press time (the day after street date), the BD-Live features were not yet activated.


Overall: 4 out of 5

There have been some grumblings around the internet regarding Ran, along with some other titles, having to move from the Criterion Collection now that the titles were acquired by Studio Canal, but I think this disc is a worthy and impressive debut for the Studio Canal Collection label. The film has never looked or sounded better in a home environment, and the features are quite interesting.





#2 of 24 Ronald Epstein

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Posted February 17 2010 - 09:15 AM

This film remains one of my all-time favorites.

I had to tag this review with Amazon and was rather
astonished to read so many negative reviews there
about the video quality of this Blu-ray.  On the other
hand, it seems that the reviews I have read on this
and at least two other forums rate it very well.

Think I will be picking this up.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#3 of 24 Brandon Conway

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Posted February 17 2010 - 09:21 AM

Many people have been very critical of this release on the various message boards. It seems to stem from three issues: 1) the HD master being used was created for the HD-DVD some 3-4 years ago, 2) the film elements being in somewhat poor shape for a film of its vintage, and 3) the perception that Criterion would have done it better.

There are some online calling it a SD upscale and "not HD", which is patently false.


"And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932


#4 of 24 john a hunter

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Posted February 17 2010 - 10:01 AM

I have had this issue for a month or two and have yet to screen it completely. However from what I have seen it is a good  but not excellent transfer. The main problem is a lack of resolution in the long shots  which can give BD that " 3D pop" . However much better than the DVD and as the reviewer states, probably the best it has looked for a long time.

#5 of 24 Todd Erwin

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Posted February 17 2010 - 10:56 AM

I think most people expect every "classic" catalog title to look like North By Northwest or Dr. Strangelove.

Also, the film stocks used in the late 70 to mid 80s have proven, over the years, to be somewhat unstable.


Not every studio has the money like Sony or Warner to completely restore a film, and even then, Sony and Warner hand pick which films get a full restoration and which ones only a partial.

The online negativity towards this title seems to stem more from StudioCanal snatching the title away from Criterion than the audio/video quality of the disc itself.



#6 of 24 JediFonger

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Posted March 02 2010 - 05:13 AM

it is awful because it is an upscale. i have the Criterion DVD as well. i play the BD on my Panasonic BD60 and i play the DVD on my oppo 980H.

when i swap between both, you can tell the BD is NOT high-res. look at the kimono clothing textures and blades of grass. it's clear they utilized the same prints for either TV broadcast and other mediums that have been been restored specifically for Blu-Ray. it's truly one of the most disappointing and worst looking BDs i have in my collection. i'm a HUGE AK fan too ='(. so sad.


#7 of 24 24fpssean

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Posted March 02 2010 - 05:46 AM

With this BD, what you see is what you get: I just saw the film projected late last year in a theatre and this BD looks like it was based on that print, not a scan of the Oneg. Home video companies, Criterion included, tend to polish the films licensed to them into something that the films never looked like when originally released in the theatre. That is what this BD looks like. It has far more resolution (detail and color spectrum) than the Criterion release, but could have been a much better release. Yes, it is unfortunate, but it does look like a print of the film were you to see it projected in the theatre. Film grain is wildly apparent and it is contrasty. Also, the end title music is different from the Criterion; it plays out early, with a few drum beats (just like the print I saw last year), and finishes in utter silence. Criterion's print, or whatever they used, has the main Mahleresque theme play out through the end of the credits, which is how it is on the complete soundtrack cd from Japan.

Anyway, we seem to be remembering RAN as a glowing pastorale symphony spotted with bright Easter egg colors when in actuality it is a grainy, gritty rough film shot on 35mm negative. That is what we see with this Studio Canal/Lionsgate release on BD. Yes, it could have been better, but damn this movie still holds up even in a warts and all release like this.

Studio Canal also owns my favorite film, The Lion in Winter; perhaps I won't be so forgiving when they do a shoddy release on BD of that. :)
 “The cinema is an invention with no future…”     – Louis Lumière

#8 of 24 Worth

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Posted March 02 2010 - 09:15 AM

I don't think that the blu looks all that bad, either. It's certainly better than any DVD edition, including the Criterion disc, but it's probably not as good as it could have been.

Given that it shares the same director, two of the same cinematographers and was made around the same time, there's no reason to think it couldn't have looked as good as Kagemusha.

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#9 of 24 JediFonger

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Posted March 24 2010 - 08:21 AM

last night at 7:30pm i had the pleasure of attending a local arthouse screening of Ran struck from a new 35mm print! =D afterwards, i immediately 'ran' home and started to compare the 35mm film print vs. my Studio Canal Blu-Ray and Criterion DVD on my 100" front projector.

i apologize and rescind my original statement that Ran Studio Canal release is an upscale. turns out, that's as best as the film will look!

having said that... the film source owners can't find a BETTER copy ANYWHERE ELSE in the world? i mean it's 'only' been 25 years. the blades of grass are so blurry even in the theatrical release!


#10 of 24 24fpssean

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Posted March 30 2010 - 05:14 AM

I just saw the film projected again, too, and it really looks awful. The blu ray is an upscale from the Criterion disc, which apparently over-polished whatever master they were dealing with. None of these releases are struck from the original negative, none of them. Even the print I saw looked dupy; the film grain and occasional dirt and dust were perfectly sharp, but the image was soft, lacking in all detail. Sometimes one couldn't even see faces in longer shots.

Anyway, Studio Canal apparently owns the original negs and are too stupid to release them for proper restoration and scanning. A pity that they carry the original elements to so many great films.


 “The cinema is an invention with no future…”     – Louis Lumière

#11 of 24 JediFonger

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Posted March 30 2010 - 08:30 AM

i wouldn't say BD is an 'upscale'.

think about it: garbage in, garbage out. so if the film source is bad... (as you and i have seen the film projected) there is no way either BD or DVD is going to make it look any better than original limitations of PQ!

so unless SC finds NEW versions/prints of Ran that is unbelievable... we'll be stuck w/these versions for a long time.


#12 of 24 24fpssean

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Posted March 30 2010 - 12:23 PM

No I think the prints being used are bad. They need to scan the O-neg for this, if it is any condition to be scanned. It looks to me like a print is used, since it's so "thick" looking with little detail. Always, always, always go off of the original negative, if possible.
 “The cinema is an invention with no future…”     – Louis Lumière

#13 of 24 JediFonger

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Posted March 31 2010 - 06:14 AM

hopefully in the future... but i'm guessing it's gonna be somn like 5-10 years before anything of that sort will happen /img/vbsmilies/htf/thumbsdown.gif


#14 of 24 24fpssean

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Posted March 31 2010 - 08:38 AM

Yeah, now that it has been released on BD, it is very unlikely they'll dip back into it. Pity.
 “The cinema is an invention with no future…”     – Louis Lumière

#15 of 24 bosque

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Posted March 31 2010 - 08:08 PM

This movie had regularly looked poor on home video - I won't mention the VHS version but anyone remember that Fox Lorber thing inflicted on the public back in 1998/99 ?  And the Wellspring "clean-up" in 2003/4 ?  Hoo-boy !!!  The subsequent Criterion didn't look great (they seemd to be into sharpening up the image on those Kurosawa color movies).  The French DVD release was acceptable for DVD but now we seem to have raggedy HD versions foisted on us.  Still, Gangs of New York was re-mastered within about 18 months and it sounds as though Gladiator is being fixed only six months after the initial Blu-Ray - so with all the previous Ran DVD versions out there, we have room for another go at a Blu-Ray release !

#16 of 24 24fpssean

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Posted April 01 2010 - 04:27 AM

Give it to Warners MPI, they can fix anything!
 “The cinema is an invention with no future…”     – Louis Lumière

#17 of 24 JediFonger

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Posted April 01 2010 - 07:54 AM

we do, but unfortunately there's no 'profit' in it. this probably already sold very poorly. how can a business (remember this is all about making$) make the investment of $ and effort/time/etc. to locate a better print if there is no profit to be had =P.

it really really throws into question whether Criterion can truly 'fix' this. the big issue is at source level!


#18 of 24 David Wilkins

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Posted April 05 2010 - 06:34 AM

 Todd,

Thanks for the review of 'Ran'. 

Since you are the Lionsgate reviewer, are you planning to review 'Jade'?


#19 of 24 Michael Reuben

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Posted April 05 2010 - 06:48 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by David Wilkins 


Since you are the Lionsgate reviewer, are you planning to review 'Jade'?
 
There's no single Lionsgate reviewer. If they send Jade, it's supposed to come to me.

COMPLETE list of my disc reviews.       HTF Rules / 200920102011 Film Lists

#20 of 24 Edwin-S

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Posted April 05 2010 - 09:20 AM

So how is this for EE? The screenshots that I have seen make it look like it is shot though with EE. I'd like to pick this up, but I don't want to pay 40 bucks (including taxes) so that I can be distracted from the film by haloing around every edge.
"You bring a horse for me?" "Looks like......looks like we're shy of one horse." "No.......You brought two too many."





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