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Blu-ray Review Rashomon Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Nov 2, 2012.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is an undisputed film classic and one of the most honored, imitated, and influential films ever made. A stunning examination on the nature of truth within and among individuals, Rashomon is so iconic that its very title suggests a genre of storytelling that’s been adopted by films and television in all the decades since the movie won the Golden Lion at Venice and the Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film. As one of the Japanese filmmaker’s greatest achievements, the movie brought Japanese movies to an international audience for the first time and continues to win the master director new fans every time the movie is presented in film schools or on television and in movie houses around the globe.





    Rashomon (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Akira Kurosawa

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1950
    Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 88 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: PCM 1.0 Japanese
    Subtitles:  English

    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 39.95


    Release Date: November 6, 2012

    Review Date: November 2, 2012




    The Film

    5/5


    When a simple woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) reports a dead body he stumbled over in the woods, the inquiry into the death brings forth four witnesses: a priest (Minoru Chiaki) who has only cursory details of the three people involved, a bandit (Toshiro Mifune) who attacked the couple, a beautiful woman (Machiko Kyo) who was raped by the bandit, and the spirit of the slain samurai (Masayuki Mori) whose story is interpreted by a medium (Fumiko Honma). All three of the accounts offer different variations on the nature of the rape and the subsequent death of her husband by stabbing leaving the actual truth of the event a hopeless enigma.


    With four versions of the rape and murder being offered (the woodcutter himself pulls another surprise version of the story out of nowhere near the end of the film), the question of what actually happened can never be satisfactorily explained, and it’s likely that co-writers Akira Kurosawa and Shinobu Hashimoto wanted it that way since their focus seems to be more attuned to the personalities of the four speakers who tell their stories: why do they subvert the truth in the way they do and make themselves the “heroes” of their own stories at the expense of the others? What does this say about the nature of mankind to twist events to suit the situation and to bend the perception of an individual by others? It’s an utterly fascinating quandary, and the film provides multiple layers of interpretations only to lead a viewer toward no really definite answers. One thing is clear: Kurosawa’s masterful direction that plunges us into those dense forests where the muddled events of the rape and murder take place is so mesmerizing, so haunting and mysterious that the relatively brief film seems over almost before it’s begun. And Kurosawa’s style is so complex that he also manages to keep the statically filmed testimonial scenes interesting (the medium’s sequence is among the creepiest in cinema) and the rain-drenched cutaways at the Rashomon Gate both hypnotic and powerful. He’s also insightful to offer a ray of hope through the veils of cynical views of mankind through the final moments with the woodcutter, a terrific idea to keep the film from spiraling downward into complete negativity.


    With each of the three main characters taking on different personalities depending on who’s offering his or her own version of the story, the actors must do some virtuoso emoting, and they all perform brilliantly. The film offered Toshiro Mifune’s first opportunity to present himself to a world-wide audience, and he’s astounding: a wild man alternately hysterical and brooding, scratching and rubbing himself in a manner that would become his trademark within a few years. Machiko Kyo’s rape victim, whether a pitifully wailing limp rag or a hot-blooded firebrand literally quivering with her sexual awakening, offers a bravura performance. So, too, does Masayuki Mori as the disgraced husband, capable of bravado, cowardice, or self-confidence depending on the story being related. Takashi Shimura is the confused but optimistic woodcutter, and he and priest Minoru Chiaki get to play their more consistent characters without elaborate emotional segues.



    Video Quality

    4.5/5


    The film’s original theatrical 1.37:1 aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. While not offering the deepest black levels possible, it’s remarkable that a film of this age and with its extensive popularity could be presented in such a clear, clean, and sharp way. The grayscale offers a very pleasing image which is free from age-related artifacts and features solid whites that never bloom. The English subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.



    Audio Quality

    3/5


    The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is, alas, not as well rescued from its age-related problems. There is hiss present, sometimes scratchy hiss and flutter together, and there is some distortion in the music when it reaches upper levels of volume. Engineers have obviously done the best they could with ancient and problematic elements, and this is likely the best the audio will ever sound on this title. There is an English-dub track on the disc, but I paid no attention to it other than checking to see if it was there.



    Special Features

    4.5/5


    The audio commentary is by Japanese film expert Donald Richie who offers an excellent track equally split between anecdotal data about the filmmakers and scene-by-scene analysis of the movie as it plays. Fans of the movie will find Richie’s views edifying.


    Apart from the trailer, the video bonus material is presented in 1080i.


    Director Robert Altman offers his views on the movie is in 6 ½-minute video piece.


    “The World of Kazuo Miyagawa” is a 12 ½-minute excerpt from a Japanese television documentary on the life and work of the famous cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa who first worked with Akira Kurosawa on Rashomon. He shares some memories of filming certain scenes and describes some of the complex set-ups he needed to get the shots he wanted for the movie.


    “A Testimony as an Image” is a compilation documentary gathering together many members of the crew who worked on the movie including individual interviews with writer Shinobu Hashimoto and cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa as well as a roundtable discussion with other members of the crew. This runs 68 ½ minutes.


    An audio-only interview with actor Takashi Shimura conducted at the Berlin Film Festival in 1961 discusses his working relationship with Akira Kurosawa over thirteen films (up to that time) in a 16-minute interview translated by Donald Richie.


    The 1080p theatrical trailer runs 3 ½ minutes.


    The enclosed 45-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some artist renderings of characters from the movie, cinema professor Stephen Prince’s examination of Kurosawa and his celebrated film, Kurosawa’s own thoughts on the movie excerpted from his memoirs, and the two Ryunosuke Akutagawa short stories which formed the basis for the film’s screenplay.


    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.



    In Conclusion

    4.5/5 (not an average)


    An inarguable cinematic masterpiece, Rashomon has few equals and is one of the seminal films in all of cinema. This best-ever Blu-ray release of this classic offers some excellent bonus material in addition to sterling picture quality. Highly recommended!




    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. Doctorossi

    Doctorossi Supporting Actor

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    Sounds like nice image quality! Thanks for the review- anxiously awaiting this disc.
     
  3. atcolomb

    atcolomb Screenwriter

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    One of my favorites and the first Kurosawa film i ever saw when i was a kid. Was one of the first Criterion laserdiscs to get back when Criterion was into laserdiscs before it's switch to dvd. I also have Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala" on the Criterion laserdisc and the Kino dvd but the print used in both is in very poor shape and needs a major restoration on it's 70mm negative so i do wish one day Criterion will do that.
     
  4. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    Rashomon was my first Kurosawa, too. I saw it in a film studies class, and as I watched this new Blu-ray yesterday, I couldn't help thinking back to that battered old 16mm print I saw with terrible elevated contrast levels and scratches and damage all over the place. Watching this 2008 restoration on Blu was pure pleasure.
     
  5. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    My first Kurosawa was Seven Samurai.
    I might just have to pick up Rashomon at the Barnes and Noble sale.
     
  6. bujaki

    bujaki Producer

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    The first Japanese film I saw was Rashomon, subtitled, in a hotel room in Detroit, 1964, Even my mother was enthralled by it. It is a great introduction to Japanese cinema, and the Criterion blu is a must.
     
  7. David Norman

    David Norman Producer

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    Roshomon for $15 (more or less) at BN this week will make a nice incentive to make the drive to the store next weekend.
     
  8. Lord Dalek

    Lord Dalek Producer

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    Rule of thumb when dealing with pre-1970s Japanese cinema: their preservation standards over there (particularly Toho's) are sub-subpar so 8 out of 10 times it'll look and sound its been through the battle of the bulge.

    That being said... we should be happy Rashomon looks better than it ever has on this release.
     
  9. andrew markworthy

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    I have this on order but living in the UK it will take some time to arrive. However, I'm really really looking forward to this one.
    I do hope that some of Kurosawa's later non-samurai movies are also going to see the light of day in blu ray.
     
  10. performing arts

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    I will buy this version, one of Kurasawa's best films The truth .. each man and his truth... from his point of view .. its a must
     
  11. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member

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    Definitely on my list to acquire next week, and I'll let Rashomon serve as my own long-delayed entry into Japanese cinema.
     
  12. Craig Beam

    Craig Beam Cinematographer

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    7:00 a.m. on release day, and Barnes and Noble's price is still showing as $34.04.... what's the deal? Is there some reason it wouldn't be included in their 50%-off Criterion sale? :huh:
     
  13. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp

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    I pre-orderd it from them last week and got the 50% of for it to be $19.99. Maybe give it a day in case it's a bug?
     
  14. David Norman

    David Norman Producer

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    I still think a lot of Sandy issues with the website since several folks have reported instore price was 19.99.
    Again, if you are patient there is a good chance of either 15% coupon for everyone and 20% member coupons being available Thursday. In the past these
    are usually generic so you don't have to receive an email and better is that they can be used multiple times in store
     
  15. Craig Beam

    Craig Beam Cinematographer

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    Got it at my local B&N, marked 50% off, so no worries. :D
     
  16. David Norman

    David Norman Producer

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    Interesting that the web now has lowered Rashomon down to $20, but also several of the post sale releases have been returned to 50% off through the Dec releases except for Brazil.
     

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