- May 9, 2002
- Real Name
- Cameron Yee
A low ranking samurai faces some unexpected challenges as feudal Japan faces its remaining days.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 9 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 11/11/2014
Towards the end of Japan’s Tokugawa Shogunate, a low ranking samurai named Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada) struggles to make ends meet as a widower, single father of two daughters, and caretaker for a senile mother. Nicknamed “Twilight” by his colleagues for the time of the day he dutifully returns home to his loved ones, as well as his lack of professional success, Seibei seems more like a member of the peasant class with his threadbare clothing and poor hygiene than an esteemed warrior of the Unasaka Clan.But perceptions of him shift when he takes up a sword dueling challenge for his old friend Michinojo (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), whose former brother-in-law wants satisfaction for being made to divorce Michinojo's sister Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), who was being physically abused. Based on Seibei’s ragged appearance and humble demeanor, no one would expect his skill with a sword, but ultimately it’s his mastery of “fighting without fighting” that garners him a modicum of respect from his peers and – more importantly – rekindles old feelings between him and Tomoe. Though the two seem made for each other and the timing of their reacquaintance more than perfect, the impending sea change in the empire may ultimately force them on another path.Director Yoji Yamada’s Twilight Samurai is practically a character study with its near singular focus on Seibei, but the epic history that starts off as a backdrop becomes so pervasive that the film’s really more an examination of the time period’s challenges and tragedies, as filtered through the experiences of one living in the thick of it. The result is a highly sympathetic story, and one that easily plays on one level as a romantic drama; however, in the final act it’s obvious the film’s ambitions are higher, its content much more profound as we are given insights into a society that’s changing so quickly its citizens don’t know how to adapt. It will always be difficult for those living through an event to realize how it’s shaping, not just their experiences, but their beliefs and values – who they are as people. That understanding, often achieved well after the fact, is what makes history so compelling and it’s that human perspective that ultimately makes The Twilight Samurai such an indelible and resonant piece of storytelling. It’s no surprise it won 12 Japanese Academy Awards and was a contender for the Oscars' Best Foreign Language Film.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Accurately framed at 1.85:1, the 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer will jar even the most understanding of viewers due to its dramatic lack of contrast, which in turn affects black levels and depth of color. Basically, everything looks washed out, hazy, and excessively grainy.Given Twilight Time’s track record, it’s reasonable to think it’s the fault of the film’s original elements, but users on other sites have identified it as a color space issue, an occasional but recurring video encoding mix up with Japanese films being distributed overseas.Whatever the cause, most have advised changing the Blu-ray player’s black level controls, if available, to a full range setting (on PS3s there’s an “RGB Full” option and on Panasonic players a “Darker” setting). I tried the dark setting on my Panasonic player, but it didn’t make a noticeable difference; however, my Panasonic plasma also has a black level dark mode. Set there, the picture falls more in line with what would be considered an accurate picture with acceptable black levels, contrast and color. The image is never razor sharp, but things are likely muted and gauzy by design. At least now with the contrast addressed, one can better appreciate the original, photographic intent.Nevertheless, I can’t rate the video beyond a “3” because, on principle, if your display is calibrated, you shouldn’t have to mess with the settings again to enjoy a specific film. Though Twilight Time has stated this is how the director intended things to look and the picture is identical to the one on the Hong Kong release, this assumes everyone is looking at the same image. And if the transfer is indeed identical to the Hong Kong release, why not just pick up that one instead, at a cheaper price (or an even cheaper price)? You don’t even need a region free player to spin it since Hong Kong is also in Region A.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
Japanese dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently clear and crisp. Surround activity is modest but effective, providing occasional ambient effects and support for the film score. Low frequency activity is similarly measured, peaking at moments involving taiko drums and an instance of gunfire. The high resolution quality of the track stands out most, however, with the movie score, the strings sounding rich and silky smooth.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Special Features Rating: 1.5/5
- Isolated Score: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:08, HD): The video quality looks pretty hazy, so I suspect it’s an upconversion from a standard definition source.
- The Little House Trailer (1:02, HD)
- Twilight Time Catalog: Cover art of releases from 2011-2014.
- Printed Booklet: Includes an analysis of the film by Julie Kirgo.
Twilight Time delivers a problematic but user addressable HD presentation for a compelling drama about a low ranking samurai struggling through a tumultuous period of Japanese history. Though the audio track accompanying the picture is solid, and there are a couple nice extras, the need to tweak player or display settings is a less than ideal solution to address the picture quality, especially if the same experience can be had at a lower price. As much as I appreciate Twilight Time as a company, picking up the Hong Kong release from a reputable vendor may be a better way to go in the case of the Twilight Samurai.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
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