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Sekai no Chushin de – HK Region 3 (Panasia) vs Japanese Region 2 (Toho)
21st July 2005

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison Rating/Certificate: HK Category I
Region: 3
DVD Release Date: 5th April 2005
Run Time: 138 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Signal: NTSC
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Genre: Drama
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Cantonese, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Japanese, DTS ES 6.1 Japanese
Subtitles: Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified, Dual Chinese/English
Extra Features: Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Isao Yukisada
Starring: Takao Osawa, Kou Shibasaki, Masami Nagasawa, Mirai Moriyama
Related Movies: Jam Films, As Tears Go By, Hana and Alice, Nobody Knows


Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison Rating/Certificate: Japan N/A
Region: 2
DVD Release Date: 23rd December 2004
Run Time: 138 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Signal: NTSC
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Genre: Drama
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Japanese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
Subtitles: Japanese, English
Extra Features: Deleted Scenes, Behind the Scenes Featurette, Press Conference, Premier Footage, Five Interviews, Photo Montage, Music Video, TV Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: Isao Yukisada
Starring: Takao Osawa, Kou Shibasaki, Masami Nagasawa, Mirai Moriyama
Related Movies: Jam Films, As Tears Go By, Hana and Alice, Nobody Knows


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Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu ComparisonSekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison

Alongside great directors such as Shunji Iwai, Ryuhei Kitamura and Takashi Miike, Kumamoto born Isao Yukisada is also doing his part in developing the new wave of Japanese cinema and gaining international recognition. Starting off as an assistant director on TV productions, Yukisada later collaborated with Shunji Iwai on Love Letter, Swallowtail and April Story before helming his breakthrough title Go, starring Japanese idol and heartthrob, Yosuke Kubozuka. Fast forward a few years and commercially successful films and he brings us Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu (aka Crying out Love, in the Center of the World), based on Kyouichi Katayama’s bestselling novel of the same name.

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison

Film


The film’s prelude sets a livid scene – rain beating against a window on a stormy night with two unseen characters having a conversation. Their voices are filled with fatigue and ambiguity. This seemingly unexplained chapter will fully reveal its emotional potency later in the film. However for now, the primary story begins with Sakutaro and Ritsuko (played by Takao Osawa and Kou Shibasaki respectively), who are about to get married. Just days before the date, Ritsuko discovers an audio cassette amongst her old items. After listening to its contents, she leaves her fiancé a message telling him that she is going away for a while and takes a journey to Sakutaro’s home town.

Sakutaro naturally follows and also discovers audio cassettes of his own. The tapes contain messages from his highschool girlfriend, Aki Hirose (Masami Nagasawa) and though a series of flashbacks, the audience is transported back to 1986 to witness a relationship that began so promisingly but was destined to end in tragedy. Aki’s messages transport the pre-weds around the picturesque Kagawa Prefecture to rediscover a romance, which had been lost during the past seventeen years. Sakutaro finds spiritual footsteps of his old girlfriend around his home town and has a hard time letting go of his past.

Despite selling over three million copies, reactions to the novel have not been overly positive. Conversely, the story must have made some impact as to spawn a film and TV series in the same year. It is worth noting that Kou Shibasaki’s character, Ritsuko, was not in the original novel but had been specifically written for the film. Therefore, it is more than likely that Yukisada’s adaptation may have been subjected to further alterations from the source novel to make it more suitable for the big screen. Either way, Sekai no Chushin de is one of the most overwhelming tragedies of recent years that leaves a knot in one’s stomach, long after the credits have rolled.

Isao Yukisada has structured the film tremendously well; pulling the strings at the right time to evoke sorrow when required. He is never forceful or exaggerated – the audience is given time to understand these two innocent teenagers thanks to excellent characterisation. The film’s relatively long runtime of 138 minutes went by unnoticed thanks to Yukisada’s thorough yet even pacing. Aki’s messages on the tapes are incredibly effective; they are like love letters from the past, providing an eerie sensation that she is still communicating with Sakutaro. Even during highschool, the couple used to frequently communicate by swapping messages on a walkman that Sakutaro had won on a radio programme.

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
Part of the reason that the film generates so much heartache is due to the fear of being forgotten from our loved ones, which is precisely what Aki faced during the closing stages of her relationship. The sense of vulnerability is so severe that the resultant poignancy is inevitable, especially after affectionate scenes such as the couple’s first scooter ride or their final photograph together. Ritsuko’s character is integral to the story but her intentions are never clear until the end. The closing chapters manage to fit in her actions nicely with the overall picture.

Those with a fondness for upcoming contemporary Japanese cinema tend to feel a romance towards Yukisada’s works, myself no exception. The only other title I had seen by the director prior to Sekai no Chushin de was Justice, his contribution to Jam Films – a series of shorts by some of Japan’s most potential talent. Whilst the two aforementioned titles are vastly different in terms of plot, they do share familiar qualities that Yukisada has carried onto his films. His love for music and lighting is apparent in Sekai no Chushin de, Yukisada carefully selects the perfect balance to distinguish between 1986 and 2003. Sakutaro’s youthful days are often filmed with plenty of sunshine and warmth, whereas the 2003 segments appear cold and damp.

The director clearly had a unique vision in mind when deciding to contrast the two timelines; there are plenty of ‘before and after’ shots of specific locations and some of the changes are truly diverse. Perhaps the greatest switch occurs near the very beginning, where the film rhythmically edits from Sakutaro’s footsteps in 2003 to the same character in 1986. This is just a prime example of Isao Yukisada’s masterful storytelling methodology. In addition, he is an expert in hinting major plot events; providing subtle clues early on that will most likely go unnoticed by the casual viewer. One of the most startling pieces of imagery occurs when the shadow of rainfall projects onto Aki’s arms, appearing like dark blood flow and totally contrasting the sweetness of the moment.

The visual flair is similar to Shunji Iwai’s style; Hana and Alice in particular utilised a similar misty complexion throughout the film. Furthermore, Yukisada also share’s Iwai’s gift for precision landscape and background choice – in this case capturing the grand splendour of the Kagawa countryside. Quite often the director zooms out to highlight the scenery, framing the lake and sky together and turning the film’s setting into a paradise for everyone to escape to. Sekai no Chushin de also feels very intimate; getting close to the characters with some amazing hand held camera work. Most shots maintain a natural ‘bobble’ that even extends to high crane- mounted angles. There is a difficult section where Aki is placed inside a car and Sakutaro ends up chasing the vehicle. That footage is not only captured in one long take but miraculously keeps focus on Sakutaro, as the cameraman chases him into the distance.

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
The choice of cast is sublime, especially Mirai Moriyama who bares an uncanny resemblance to Takao Osawa, as he steps into the shoes of a teenage Sakutaro. The performances from everyone, including the minor characters, are mesmerising – everybody has put their soul into the film, appearing authentic and true to life. Takao Osawa is a rising Japanese star and has recently appeared in his first Hollywood film. However considering that the title is B-movie straight to video flick Into the Sun, starring Steven Segal, it may very well be his last. Sekai no Chushin de fully exposes Osawa’s immense potential; his misfortune made vividly explicit by skilled use of body language and facial expressions, as he reacts to Aki’s messages.

An actress who rightfully deserves a worthy mention is Masami Nagasawa, for her rather bold performance as Aki Hirose. Initially portraying her character as a charming teenage girl, Nagasawa later has to express a struggle that nobody should have to face. Her actions and dialogue are so convincing that Aki’s situation could easily be happening to someone very close to us – making it even more agonising to absorb the story. Nagasawa also delivers sufficient integrity in her tape messages that the tone of her voice fully reveals her fear and love for Sakutaro.

It is quite unusual to see a TV drama and film adaptation to be released in the same year, which again establishes how monumental an effect the novel had on the Japanese people. The character of Sakutaro (at highschool) is played by Takayuki Yamada and Mirai Moriyama in the drama and film respectively; both actors starred together in the hit drama Waterboys. In addition, the series also has Haruka Ayase taking on the role of Aki, who had worked with Isao Yukisada on Justice.

With all the useless trivia out of the way, it would be a good idea to highlight the differences between the two productions. The series is an eleven part drama that aired between July and September 2004.The fundamental difference lies within the visuals – the drama looks and plays like a typical Fuji TV production, appearing staged with overly theatrical performances. Whilst Yukisada employed long takes with extensive camera movement, the drama opts for more rigidly framed shots, making cuts when required. The melodramatic moments in the drama are so sickly sweet that a diabetic would fall in a coma after watching it. This is dangerous territory to be stepping on, considering that the story is fragile enough without having to squeeze emotions out of an audience – a lot of the scenes lose their passion in consequence. Yukisada’s version is a lot more natural and subsequently heartfelt; presenting the events as they occur and leaving the audience to react to the tender moments.

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
In the drama, minor characters also have considerably more screen time and subplots. This is in complete contrast to the film, which limits the involvement of school friends and family members and very much centralises Sakutaro and Aki. Judging by initial inspection, the film is certainly far more favourable. However I have a soft spot for J-dramas; regardless of their quality, they somehow remain powerfully addictive. For the time being, Sekai no Chushin de has left such a mark that my eyes still water from thinking about it. Isao Yukisada has inevitably become a trusted filmmaker – based on the name alone, his works are certain to be amazing accomplishments.

Video


Both DVDs present the film in an anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Firstly it should be noted that the director has deliberately approached the film in a documented style; as such, the image omits gloss and sophisticated effects in favour of a healthy, natural looking presentation. Grain is predominant throughout the film and the details remain quite soft on the eyes. Even night scenes are quite difficult to distinguish, remaining murky and dim. However these are all side effects from Yukisada’s intended look. As mentioned earlier, the TV drama’s smooth finish subsequently loses a lot of the charm.

The colours are reasonably well defined, with believable skin tones and shade reproduction. However Sekai no Chushin de is not a very colourful film; it is almost rather pale to look at. The black levels for instance are noticeably weak and are borderline grey on occasion. The film’s strength lies within its use of lighting – carefully selected filters redirect the powerful rays to highlight specific background or foreground objects. Certain scenes are gloriously lit up in a warm blaze whereas other segments are almost deathly to look at.

The contrast balance varies during the film, almost smearing the whites beyond its boundaries. This is however not a technical issue but an artistic one, as the director has carefully selected which chapters should receive the contrast boost. There is a lot of movement in the film, from both the actors and the camera. Thankfully these are kept clear and distinct, without any motion blurring or ghosting.

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
HK (Panasia) Region 3

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
  Japanese (Toho) Region 2

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
  HK (Panasia) Region 3

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
  Japanese (Toho) Region 2

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
  HK (Panasia) Region 3

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
  Japanese (Toho) Region 2

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
  HK (Panasia) Region 3

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
  Japanese (Toho) Region 2

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
  HK (Panasia) Region 3

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
  Japanese (Toho) Region 2

The HK transfer is identical to that on the Japanese DVD, implying that Panasia decided to directly port the Toho disc. In other words, both discs share the same colours, sharpness and brightness balance. However, the HK transfer suffers from pixilation, most likely a case of poor MPEG compression. This is more evident during the night scenes or areas of consistent dark colours, which appear to block up instead producing a smooth colour transition. Thankfully, this issue is not too severe and is only really noticeable in a side by side comparison with the Japanese disc.

Audio


The Toho disc features Japanese audio in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1. The film is predominantly dialogue based so there are not too many opportunities for advanced surround effects. The 2.0 track features dialogue in the forward channels, leaving the rears to take care of any ambient noise. However the Dolby 2.0 offering is dwarfed in comparison with the 5.1 mix, which is a vast improvement in terms of characteristics and execution.

There is instantly more activity in the rears and not just during the busier moments with plenty of background conversations - sections with solo dialogue are given plenty of richness and vitality, providing a thin echo in the surround channels. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the 5.1 mix lies within the score – the instrumentals are carefully separated, recreating an amazing orchestral effect. For instance, the opening ballad pushes piano and strings compositions into the front and rear channels respectively, although traces of the piano notes are still detectable at the back.

The Panasia disc boasts Japanese audio in Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS ES 6.1, as well as a Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo dub. Like the Toho DVD, the audio and score on the Dolby Digital EX mix are dynamically balanced; everything is easily appreciable and resonates elegantly into the living room. Those fortunate enough to take advantage of a rear centre channel can benefit from the EX treatment, although the improvement is not overly extensive, especially considering that the film is primarily dialogue orientated. Similarly with the DTS ES soundtrack - this appears to be slightly softer than the Dolby mix but the difference is negligible. The Cantonese dub is nicely done for anyone who requires it – the lip synching is exceptionally professional. However, as it is a stereo soundtrack, it obviously loses the merits of a 5.1 setup.

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
HK (Panasia) Region 3

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison
Japanese (Toho) Region 2

The Japanese disc offers excellent optional English subtitles that are nicely paced, free of errors and are aesthetically pleasing. The HK disc on the other hand has horrible dual English and Chinese subtitles that take up far too much screen space. Furthermore, the font looks worn and hideous. In terms of grammatical and spelling errors, they are spot on – it seems that Panasia have ported the video, audio and subtitles directly from the Toho disc. What is truly baffling is that the region three DVD offers separate Chinese (traditional and simple) subtitles. Panasia must have assumed that English speaking viewers would be watching the film with their Chinese friends.

Extras


The Toho disc is absolutely splendid in terms of presentation. A two disc digipak is housed inside a study cardboard case and contains a bonus map of locations and production notes (in Japanese). All of the extras are placed on the second disc.

There are two brief deleted scenes. The first is a humorous moment where Aki calls out to Sakutaro from inside a bus and he ends up breaking so hard on his scooter that his passenger falls off. The second really requires English subtitles, as it features consistent dialogue from Aki and Sakutaro whilst they eat ice-cream.

A 23m28s behind the scenes featurette follows next, which contains plenty of interviews with the cast and director. A small chapter is also dedicated towards the book’s phenomenal success. Various locations are visited and on set conversations reveal everybody’s mood and intentions.

What would a Japanese special edition be without a press conference and premier footage? The leading cast members and director discuss their thoughts with the Japanese media in two separate featurettes. This is later followed by individual interviews, each one lasting around three or four minutes.

A photo montage containing images from the film is accompanied by mellow ballads from the soundtrack. On a similar note, there is also a rather lengthy music video of the film’s main theme. This has been quite nicely made, with videos of Masami Nagasawa being projected behind the singer as she begins to interact with him, despite not being there physically.

Lastly, five TV spots finish off the contents of the Japanese DVD. There are no English subtitles for the supplementary materials and the menus are in Japanese only, making the disc rather difficult to navigate.

The HK disc only has a trailer, with optional dual English and Chinese subtitles. The menus are wonderfully animated and are in English, a lot better than the Toho effort. It comes in a single disc keep case that slips into a thin cardboard casing. In retrospect, the absence of English subtitles makes the issue of supplementary materials redundant. The best hope is for a western distributor to provide an admirable attempt with the DVD.

Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu Comparison

Overall


Isao Yukisada paints a sombre masterpiece full of artistry and melancholy. The collision of past and present is highlighted in a tragic tale of pure love, creating one of the most overwhelming dramas of recent years. Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu is another fine export from Japan and a tremendous accomplishment for a rising director.

The Japanese DVD is clearly the more attractive package, especially in the subtitles department. However, the price is remarkably high for a set with supplementary materials that are difficult to appreciate. If only the ugly dual subtitles were not on the HK disc, it would easily make an acceptable substitute. The majority of viewers should be able to tolerate this issue eventually, but the DVD to place money on would be Toho’s release.

Hong Kong Region 3
Japanese Region 2
Film:99
Video:56
Audio:76
Extras:16
Overall:68

The HK and Japanese releases can be bought from Play-Asia and CD Japan respectively.

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