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A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakumatsu Era(1957)
When man-about-town Saheiji (the beloved comedian Frankie Sakai) finds himself unable to pay for a bill at a brothel, he is forced to remain there to work off his debt. However he finds his wit and resourcefulness enable him to turn this situation to his advantage, as he interacts with a whole range of characters, from rivalling courtesans to political activists.
For more about A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakumatsu Era and the A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakumatsu Era Blu-ray release, see A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakumatsu Era Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on April 25, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Yuzo Kawashima
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A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakumatsu Era Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 25, 2013
Japanese director Yuzo Kawashima's "Bakumatsu taiyoden" a.k.a "A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakumatsu Era" (1957) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Eureka Entertainment. There are no supplemental features on this release, but a 36-page illustrated booklet featuring an essay by Frederick Veith and an excerpt from a book published by Shohei Imamura is included. In Japanese, with optional English subtitles. Region-B "locked".
The overwhelming majority of the film takes place in a busy brothel somewhere in Shinagawa. The brothel is popular amongst wealthy married men, samurai, and dignitaries. However, occasionally scammers also visit the place and cause problems for its owners.
Saheji (Frankie Sakai, James Clavell's Shogun) – known outside of Shinagawa as the Grifter – has been drinking saki and enjoying the brothel's best women for some time. Because he does not have money to pay his already unusually long bill, he tells the servants that when his friends finally arrive in the brothel for an important celebration they will take care of his expenses. At first the servants assume that Saheji is speaking the truth and keep bringing him saki and food, but eventually one of them begins to suspect that he may indeed be a scammer. When he openly confronts him, the slightly drunk Saheji finally admits that there are no 'friends' coming to the brothel and that he does not have the money to pay his bill. To make enough money to pay his bill, Saheji begins delivering food and drinks inside the brothel for tips.
Meanwhile, two of the best looking prostitutes, Osome (Sachiko Hidari, She and He, The Insect Woman / Nishi Ginza Station) and Koharu (Yoko Minamida, The Crucified Lovers), try to seduce some of their wealthy clients and force them to marry them. Amongst them is the incredibly naive and generous book dealer Kinzo (Shoichi Ozawa, The Ballad of Narayama), who promises to commit suicide with one of the girls. Seishichi, a well known local troublemaker, also discovers that his conservative father often visits the brothel. Takasugi (Yujiro Ishihara, Alone Across The Pacific), a guest of the brothel and a fearless samurai, also convinces his patriotic friends that the time to confront the leaders in the capital that have betrayed the country has finally come.
Co-scripted by Shohei Imamura and directed by Yuzo Kawashima, Bukamatsu taiyo-den a.k.a A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakamatsu Era is a film with two different identities. On one hand it is structured as a period comedy about men and women who constantly try to outsmart each other within the confines of a supposedly reputable brothel where virtually nothing is off-limits. The more naive ones are often in the middle of some pretty original scams.
On the other hand, this is an eye-opening film about the end of an era (the film is set in 1862, six years before the fall of the Shogun). It effectively captures the erosion of old stereotypes and behavioral codes that determined how people in Japan communicated with each other for hundreds of years. It is a coming of age film in which the main protagonist is a country which is slowly opening up to the world. Unsurprisingly, throughout the film comedy and drama are mixed in roughly equal amounts.
The film is broken into numerous episodes, each chronicling the triumphs and failures of its many colorful characters. The presence of the charismatic Grifter is what brings them together.
Some of the framing is quite unusual. For example, during Saheji's first drunken party the camera is slightly tilted. Close attention is also paid to the manner in which the women in the brothel move from one room to another (the camera follows closely their feet). The big fight between the two prostitutes is also filmed from above.
A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakamatsu Era was lensed by cinematographer Kurataro Takamura, who also collaborated with Shohei Imamura on Stolen Desire, Toshio Masuda's noir film Rusty Knife, and Koreyoshi Kurahara's equally dark and entertaining I Am Waiting.
Note: In 1958, A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakamatsu Era won Best Actor Award (Frankie Sakai) at the prestigious Kinema Junpo Awards.
A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakumatsu Era Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Yuzo Kawashima's A Sun-Tribe Myth from the Bakumatsu Era arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Eureka Entertainment.
The high-definition transfer was struck from a new restoration of the film done by Nikkatsu. Generally speaking, the basics here are indeed very strong - detail is very good, even where light is restricted, while clarity is consistently pleasing. Contrast levels are also stable throughout the entire film. Color saturation is also convincing. There are no traces of excessive degraining corrections. Some minor fluctuations are present, but overall grain is indeed well resolved. Sharpening corrections have not been performed. There are no serious frame transition issues, but there are a few light warps early into the film. I suspect that only viewers with very large screens will be able to spot them. Large debris, damage marks, cuts, and stains have been removed as best as possible, but some small vertical lines around the edges of the image frame are occasionally present (see screencapture #3). Regardless, this is a very pleasing organic presentation that makes it very easy to enjoy this virtually unseen by English speakers classic Japanese film. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakumatsu Era Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one standard audio track on this Blu-ray release: Japanese LPCM 2.0. For the record, Eureka Entertainment have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The lossless track has a very limited dynamic amplitude, but this should not be surprising considering the age of the film and its native sound design. Some light background hiss occasionally sneaks in, but it is never disturbing. There are no distortions, dropouts, or pops. The English translation is outstanding.
A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakumatsu Era Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
A Sun-Tribe Myth From the Bakumatsu Era Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Kudos to Eureka Entertainment for bringing this virtually unseen by English speakers classic Japanese film to Blu-ray. It looks quite beautiful. My only complaint here is the lack of supplemental features. It would have been great to have some material on Yuzo Kawashima's life and legacy. Regardless, this release is extremely easy to recommend. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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