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Recently released convict Muraki meets the beautiful Saeko at a gambling house. Soon, they are lovers on the lam, navigating the menacing underworld of Tokyo, where danger lurks around every corner.
For more about Pale Flower and the Pale Flower Blu-ray release, see Pale Flower Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on April 29, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ryô Ikebe, Mariko Kaga, Takashi Fujiki
Director: Masahiro Shinoda
» See full cast & crew
Pale Flower Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 29, 2011
Japanese director Masahiro Shinoda's "Kawaita hana" a.k.a "Pale Flower" (1964) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer; selected-scene audio commentary by Peter Grilli, president of the Japan Society of Boston; and an exclusive new video interview with director Masahiro Shinoda. The disc also arrives with an illustrated booklet containing a new essay by film critic Chuck Stephens. In Japanese, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
Influential yakuza Muraki (Ryo Ikebe, The Lone Journey, Theater of Life) has just been released from prison after serving a sentence for murder. He is happy to be back in the real world but does not know what to make of the fact that his gang has formed a truce with their former rivals to minimize the influence of another powerful gang. Unsure what to do with his freedom, he wanders around the city, thinking about the past and contemplating the future.
While visiting an old gambling parlor, Muraki meets Saeko (Mariko Kaga, Heat Shimmer Theater, Muddy River), a strikingly beautiful and wealthy young woman. The two talk, gamble and then go for a ride. By the end of the night, Muraki realizes that Saeko is a pure risk seeker who loves adventures.
Muraki and Saeko arrange to meet again, this time to attend a prestigious gambling parlor attended by various crime bosses and rich businessmen where the bets are a lot bigger. They lose all of their money moments before the police raids the place. They manage to escape and once again go for a ride around the city. Before they part ways, Saeko asks Muraki if he has ever tried taking drugs.
A couple of days later, Muraki is informed that Saeko has started seeing Yoh (Takashi Fujiki, The Night I Want to Dance), a drug dealer and killer with a terrible reputation. Shortly after, he volunteers to kill a high-ranking crime boss and invites Saeko to watch, hoping that she would come back to him.
Based on a novel by Shintarô Ishihara, Masahiro Shinoda's Pale Flower is an interesting hybrid of a film. It has some of those typical dark and bleak overtones that could be found in classic neo-noir films, but it also has a degree of socio-political awareness that is uncommon for Japanese gangster films from the early 60s. Pale Flower also has a very distinctive 'cool' Western look, reminding about the films of the French nouvelle vague directors.
The environment and social setting are a lot more intriguing than the dilemmas the main protagonists face in the film; the focus of attention is clearly on post-war Japan's transformation into something new, something that does not yet have a solid identity, and the manner in which people adapt to the changes.
As Muraki discovers immediately after he is released from prison, rules and expectations have been abandoned while old moral standards have been replaced in favor of a strange vacuum in which people like Saeko are drifting aimlessly. This isn't the world he left behind when he went to prison and he is unsure how to live in it.
Saeko has also realized that times have changed. Unlike Muraki, however, she isn't questioning why; she is too busy experimenting, amusing and ultimately willingly destroying herself. Like a drug addict, she constantly needs a new fix of emotions, new thrills.
At the end both Muraki and Saeko make important discoveries followed by important decisions. Both are influenced by the realization that their lives have been irreversibly changed and, ultimately, doomed.
Pale Flower is beautifully lensed by cinematographer Masao Kosugi (Cobra, The Last Samurai) and complimented by an edgy soundtrack with a distinctive industrial feel courtesy of the legendary Toru Takemitsu (Empire of Passion, Ran).
Pale Flower Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Masahiro Shinoda's Pale Flower arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
This is a gorgeous high-definition transfer, and surprisingly healthy. Despite the fact that the majority of the film takes place at night and in various gambling parlors and clubs where light is not always in abundance, fine object detail and clarity are indeed very impressive. Contrast levels are also consistent thought the entire film, while color reproduction, as at least partially evident from our screencaptures, is beyond satisfying - the deep blacks, lush grays and gentle whites look wonderful. Edge-enhancement is never an issue of concern; neither is macroblocking. I also did not see any traces of heavy noise reduction. Naturally, the film's grain structure is appears intact. Aside from a few inherited frame skips, there are no serious stability issues to report in this review. Also, I did not see any annoying large cuts, damage marks, stains, or debris. (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).
Pale Flower Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: Japanese LPCM 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
Pale Flower has a very unique soundtrack, courtesy of legendary Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, which blends traditional Japanese folk tunes with various atonal themes. The loseless audio track treats it wonderfully, allowing for plenty of depth and nuanced dynamics. The dialog is clean, crisp, stable, and very easy to follow. Also, I did not detect any problematic pops, cracks, hissings, or audio dropouts to report in this review.
Pale Flower Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Pale Flower Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Masahiro Shinoda's Pale Flower is a very unusual, very stylish and genuinely thought-provoking film that offers a fascinating look at post-war Japan. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope that Criterion would find a way to release more of director Shinoda's films on Blu-ray. Predictably, the technical presentation is excellent. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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