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Aloof teenage Japanese tourists, a frazzled Italian widow, and a disgruntled British immigrant all converge in Memphis, the city of dreams. Mystery Train is a triptych of stories that pay playful tribute to the home of Stax Records, Sun Studio, Graceland, Carl Perkins, and, of course, the King himself, who presides over the film like a spirit.
For more about Mystery Train and the Mystery Train Blu-ray release, see Mystery Train Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on May 19, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Youki Kudoh, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Steve Buscemi, Tom Noonan, Rick Aviles
Narrator: Tom Waits
Director: Jim Jarmusch
» See full cast & crew
Mystery Train Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, May 19, 2010
Nominated for Palme d'Or and winner of Best Artistic Contribution award at the Cannes Film Festival, Jim Jarmusch's "Mystery Train" (1989) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include Q & A session with director Jim Jarmusch; excerpts from the 2001 documentary "Screaming' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me"; the documentary feature "Memphis Tour"; photo gallery; and a collection of polaroids. The Blu-ray disc also arrives with a 26-page illustrated booklet. In English and Japanese, with optional English and English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train offers a fascinating look at the city of Memphis while it tells the stories of three groups of characters. The first story is about a young couple, from Yokohama, Japan, who arrive to Memphis to visit Graceland and the famous Sun Studios. The girl, Mitsuko (Youki Kudoh, Picture Bride), is a big Elvis Presley fan while the boy, Jun, (Masatoshi Nagase, Suicide Club), worships Carl Perkins. After a series of strange experiences, the two end up in a shady hotel in a shady part of town. They rent a room, argue, make love, and then fall asleep. On the following morning, while getting ready to check out, they hear a gunshot.
The second story is about an Italian widow, Luisa (Nicoletta Braschi, Life is Beautiful), who is in Memphis to collect the body of her dead husband. After she signs up the necessary documents, she decides to buy a newspaper from a local vendor but ends up purchasing a stack of expensive magazines she does not need. Eventually, Luisa arrives at the same shady hotel Mitsuko and Jun are staying where she decides to share a room with a kooky woman (Elizabeth Bracco, Louis & Frank) running away from her British husband (Joe Strummer). Before Luisa falls asleep, she meets the ghost of Elvis.
The third story is about a nervous barber, Charlie (Steve Buscemi, The Big Lebowski), his British brother-in-law and one of his friends (Rick Aviles, Waterworld). The three get seriously drunk, rob a liquor store, and then decide to spend the night in a shady hotel in downtown Memphis. On the following day, they discover that there is a lot they did not know about each other.
Similar to Gus Van Sant's early films, Jarmusch's films are about feelings and sensations, and about places in America the news and TV stations rarely, if ever, mention (the lone exception being the director's latest film, The Limits of Control (2009), which is set in Spain). They are basic, stripped of glamor, but full of flavor that is practically impossible to find in other contemporary American films.
Another interesting fact about Jarmusch's films is that their protagonists are always travelers, men and women on the move, looking for someone or something. Their stories are not always fascinating, but the places they visit most definitely are.
The three stories in Mystery Train are entertaining. The first one, in particular, where the two Japanese tourists experience euphoria and great disappointment in a single day, is terrific. There is a lot that could have gone wrong here, with kitsch and vulgarity possibly taking over, but Jarmusch maintains great balance between comedy and drama. The remaining two stories are also as unpretentious as they could have possibly been.
Of course, the focus of attention in Mystery Train is Memphis. But not the idolized, clean and friendly Memphis seen in glossy tourist brochures; rather, the lonely, dirty and unfriendly Memphis; abandoned by Elvis and riddled with unemployment, poverty and crime. Jarmusch captures its pulse remarkably well, perhaps as good as only a director born and raised in Memphis could have.
The acting in Mystery Train is stellar, though none of the cast members shine. There is quite a bit of improvising but nothing is overdone or overemphasized. Also, the film has a great soundtrack comprised of tunes by Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Rufus Thomas, and Otis Redding amongst others.
Note: In 1989, Mystery Train was nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or and won Best Artistic Contribution award (Jim Jarmusch) at the Cannes Film Festival.
Mystery Train Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.77:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears in the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"Supervised and approved by director Jim Jarmusch, this new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit HD from a 35mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction." (Telecine supervisors: Jim Jarmusch, Lee Kline. Telecine colorist: Joe Gawler/Deluxe New York).
This is an excellent high-definition transfer. Fine object detail is outstanding, clarity excellent and contrast levels consistent throughout the entire film. The film's color-scheme also looks substantially stronger compared to the old R1 SDVD release MGM produced quite some time ago. Blues, greens, reds, yellows, browns, blacks and whites look lush yet natural (color bleeding and pixelating were major issues on the SDVD R1). The close-ups look outstanding, and so do the panoramic shots from downtown Memphis. Edge-enhancement and macroblocking are not a serious issue of concern. I also did not see any traces of heavy noise reduction; the film's fine grain structure is fully intact. There are no serious stability issues to report in this review either. I only noticed some extremely mild background flicker very early into the film, when the two Japanese tourists arrive in Memphis, but I don't think that this is something that would even partially affect your viewing experience. Finally, I did not detect any disturbing scratches, cuts, debris, stains, or marks to report in this review. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Mystery Train Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English LPCM 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English and English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
The following text appears in the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated audio workstation."
I don't have any major reservations with the English LPCM 1.0 track. Mystery Train is primarily a dialog-driven feature, and as far as I am concerned, the quality of the dialog is exceptionally strong. As expected, the dynamic amplitude of the English LPCM 1.0 track is rather limited. Finally, while viewing Mystery Train, I did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or hissings to report in this review.
Mystery Train Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Q & A with Jim - this is a rather long but very entertaining Q & A session with director Jim Jarmusch in which he addresses a number of questions sent to him from fans from all over the world. The session was recorded in January 2010. Audio only. In English, not subtitled. (69 min).
I Put a Spell on Me - excerpts from the 2001 documentary Screaming' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me. Here, director Jim Jarmusch talks about his relationship with Jazz legend Jay Hawkins, who has a small role in Mystery Train, as well as his work. In English, not subtitled. (18 min, 1080i).
Memphis Tour - a fascinating look at the city, its people, history, culture, as well as many of the locations seen in director Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train. Narrated by Sherman Wilmott, production assistant on Mystery Train. In English, not subtitled. (18 min, 1080p).
Polaroids - a collection of photos from different locations seen throughout the film, actors, memorabilia, etc.
Photo gallery - a photo book with images from the film, as well as on-location photos of the cast and crew.
Booklet - a 26-page illustrated booklet containing Denis Lim's essay "Strangers in the Night" (the author is a contributor to the New York Times and Los Angeles Times), as well as Peter Guralnick's "Memphis Blues Again" (the author has written extensively on American music and musicians. His books include a prize-winning two-volume Elvis Presley biography, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, and Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke).
Mystery Train Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, a hilarious film that explores Memphis, a city with unique pulse and culture, enters Criterion's Blu-ray catalog with a very impressive high-definition transfer. For years, this gifted American director has been criminally underrated and his works mistreated in America, so hopefully this wonderful release inspires other local distributors to bring the rest of his films to Blu-ray. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Mystery Train Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Criterion Blu-ray in June: Antonioni, Jarmusch, Visconti - March 15, 2010
The Criterion Collection has announced three movies for release on Blu-ray in June. First, on June 15, the studio will release Mystery Train (Jim Jarmusch, 1989), with a transfer supervised and approved by director Jim Jarmusch. A week later, it will release Red ...
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