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Because this review is already quite late, this Limited Edition collection is an incredibly substantial time commitment and because I was completely unaware of the work of Kiju Yoshida before I watched these three films, this relatively short review will focus on the technical aspects of the disc, rather than the critical aspects of the films themselves (though, I must say, these are arrestingly beautiful and aesthetically unique movies).
 
Here is the official Arrow byline on the subject:
Quote: The work of Kiju Yoshida is one of Japanese cinema’s obscure pleasures. A contemporary of Nagisa Oshima ( Death by Hanging, In the Realm of the Senses) and Masahiro Shinoda ( Pale Flower, Assassination), Yoshida started out as an assistant to Keisuke Kinoshita before making his directorial debut at age 27. In the decades that followed, he produced more than 20 features and documentaries, yet each and every one has proven difficult to see in the English-speaking world. This collection brings together three works from the late sixties and early seventies, a loose trilogy united by their radical politics and an even more radical shooting style.
 

Eros + Massacre

(1969)
Eros + Massacre tells the parallel stories of early 20th-century anarchist (and free love advocate) Sakae Osugi and a pair of student activists. Their stories interact and intertwine, resulting in a complex, rewarding work that is arguably Yoshida’s masterpiece. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
 
This Combo Pack collection marks the North American and UK Blu-ray DVD debut of all three movies. According to the included booklet, all of the transfers in this three-disc set were supervised and approved by Yoshida himself and supplied to Arrow on master tape via Carlotta Films in France. In addition, two separate cuts of Eros + Massacre have been included – the 169-minute theatrical version and the full-length, bladder-busting 220-minute director’s cut. The quality/condition of the original materials must have been notably different, because the two transfers (each of which is relegated to its own disc) are quite distinct. In both cases, we are dealing with stark black & white photography, presented in 1080p and a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but the director’s cut shows considerably more print damage and much, much higher contrast levels. I’ve included two samples below for comparison, along with three more shots from the theatrical cut disc (you might also note the slightly different framing, as well). Given that both transfers were supervised and approved by the director, I have no idea which is the ‘intended’ look. To my eyes, the more severe qualities of the director’s cut image fit the material better, yet I personally prefer the deeper shadows of the theatrical cut. On the other hand, the theatrical cut’s levels are lower all-around, which makes for weak highlights and a duller dynamic range. Either way, it is obvious that Yoshida and cinematographer Motokichi Hasegawa wanted bright exposure to burn out the more subtle gradations, leaving an austere lack of grey between blacks and whites. Both transfers include the hard edges and tidy separation that such a severe look requires. Note that the optical censoring of pubic regions (a big white circle, in this case) affects both cuts.
 
Both discs include uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono soundtracks in their original Japanese language and there are no notable differences in the audio qualities of the two cuts (outside of the additional sequences, of course). Due to the film’s experimental nature, the mix tends to alternate between unusual stylistic choices – utter silence, narration over silence, straight dialogue scenes, and scenes where limited, but usually particularly loud natural effects overwhelm all other sound. Because of this, the sound quality also varies between somewhat fuzzy, as in the case of most sequences shot using live sound, and the cleaner, rounder sound effects added in post-production. Eros + Massacre was one of only two film scores by composer Toshi Ichiyanagi (the other was Shiki Soku Ze Ku, 1975). He separates the score between the film’s dual eras, using early rock numbers in the ‘modern’ sequences and chamber/traditional Japanese music (with a bit of an ‘edge’) when the story flips to the earlier period. The music tends to be mixed low beneath the dialogue and suffers from a bit of flatness as a result.
 
Extras include:
    Disc One – Theatrical Cut:
    • Yoshida …or: The Explosion of the Story (30:08, HD) – A French-made retrospective featurette on Yoshida and his films (with an emphasis on Eros + Massacre) that includes interviews with the man himself and critics/experts Mathieu Capel & Jean Douchet.
    • Introduction by David Desser (11:21, HD) – The author of Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave (pub: 1988) gives us three reasons why Eros + Massacre is Yoshida’s best film.
    • Eight select scene commentaries by Desser (6:50, 5:25, 4:58, 6:36, 11:26, 5:27, 7:38, 8:46, HD)
  • Disc Two – Director’s Cut:
    • Introduction by Desser (9:05, HD) – The author discusses the various reasons for the edits/changes made to the director’s cut (i.e. it was very long and one of the people it was based on publicly objected to the portrayal) and compares/contrasts the qualities of each version.
    • Nine select scene commentaries by Desser (2:01, 3:11, 2:57, 9:31, 3:16, 9:26, 4:09, 2:43, 14:15, HD)

 
 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism
 

Heroic Purgatory

(1970)
Heroic Purgatory pushes the dazzling cinematic language of Eros + Massacre even further, presenting a bleak but dreamlike investigation into the political discourses taking place in early seventies Japan. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
 
The second film (or third, if you’re counting the two cuts as two movies) shares disc space with Coup D’état, which might have led to a bit of compression, but, given the shorter runtimes, black & white photography, and 1.33:1 aspect ratios, there’s really plenty of room to fit them both. Heroic Purgatory is the visual opposite of Eros + Massacre in that its compositions are dramatically vertical, rather than horizontal, but returning cinematographer Hasegawa’s use of harsh light and deep shadows is quite similar. The highlights have a ‘glowing’ aspect that is well-represented in terms of gradient flow, but this causes minor boosts in snowy grain, as well as edge haloes (I assume they’re actually film artefacts) when whites are aggressively blown-out. The print itself is in pretty good shape, displaying only minor scratches and some darkening around the edges of the frame (which is almost as open-matte as you can get, including some slight rounding in the corners).
 
Heroic Purgatory is again presented in 1.0, LPCM Japanese and is mixed using similarly experimental techniques to Eros + Massacre. Yoshida seems to have utilized more ADR this time, perhaps due to the fact that he shoots so many scenes outdoors and other uncontrolled indoor environments. This makes for a more artificial sound, but it’s also more consistent, with fewer distortion issues. I don’t know who composed the disturbing, yet beautiful score, because the credits are not entirely translated and imdb.com doesn’t have a listing, but it certainly sounds impressive, especially given the single-channel treatment.
 
Extras include:
  • Introduction by Yoshida (6:08, HD) – The director explains the political context surrounding the film in this short intro.
  • Introduction by Desser (9:14, HD) – The author attempts to describe exactly what Heroic Purgatory is about, including further political/historical context.
  • Ten select scene commentaries by Desser (3:04, 1:58, 10:54, 2:51, 2:20, 5:25, 3:45, 4:30, 8:19, 4:08, HD)
  • Trailer

 
 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism
 

Coup D’état

(1973)
Coup D’état returns to the past for a biopic of Ikki Kita, the right-wing extremist who sought to overthrow the government in 1936. Yoshida considered the film to be the culmination of his work, promptly retiring from feature filmmaking following its completion. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
 
Coup D’état takes place in a bygone era – something that Yoshida represents not only with production/costume design, but with softer focus and velvety, diffused lighting schemes. Hasegawa’s photography is generally darker all around, as well. Still, he doesn’t give up on the harsh contrasts of the previous two movies. Indeed, if it weren’t for Yoshida’s modern technique (and soundtrack, see below), it would be pretty easy to convince someone that this film was shot in 1953, instead of 1973. The 1.33:1, 1080p transfer has clarity advantages over the other two movies, especially when it comes to fine details and textures. The pillowy gradations exhibit little noise, there are few print damage artefacts, outside of some pulsy bits, and grain levels appear accurate. My only complaint is that, once again, black levels are never as deep as I’d like them to be. However, to press the contrast any higher would probably result in detail loss.
 
In spite of the period setting and ‘classic’ look, Coup D’état features the most aggressively strange sound design. This and Sei Ichiyanagi’s spacey, dissonant score lend an air of science fiction to an otherwise relatively grounded motion picture – though these unique qualities don’t apply to every single scene. The mix has a slightly muffled quality, but is also the most consistent and undistorted track in the collection. Elemental separation is quite strong, even during moments where dialogue, effects, and music overlap at high volume.
 
Extras include:
  • Introduction by Yoshida (5:22, HD) – The director again describes the historical moments that inspired him to make another highly symbolic/analogous film.
  • Introduction by Desser (8:50, HD) – The author further discusses the historical stories depicted in Coup D’état.
  • Seven select scene commentaries by Desser (9:24, 2:22, 3:20, 1:27, 5:15, 4:54, 9:15, HD)
  • Trailer


 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism

 Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism
 
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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