Carlotta: Coffrets Kenji Mizoguchi

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Michael Kerpan
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Mizoguchi on DVD in France w/English subs

#1 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Jan 24, 2006 4:01 pm

Mizoguchi on DVD in France w/English subs

From Films sans Frontieres --

Two double header sets -- the first with "Crucified Lovers" and
"Sansho", the second with "Princess Yang Kwei Fei" and "Street of
Shame". Both Alapage and FNAC list these -- but Alapage sems to be
cheaper (at the moment).

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Arn777
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#2 Post by Arn777 » Tue Jan 24, 2006 4:17 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:From Films sans Frontieres --

Two double header sets -- the first with "Crucified Lovers" and
"Sansho", the second with "Princess Yang Kwei Fei" and "Street of
Shame". Both Alapage and FNAC list these -- but Alapage sems to be
cheaper (at the moment).
Not a big surprise since I believe there was a fairly bitter battle over rights between Films Sans Frontieres and Opening over the Mizoguchis.

It will be interesting to see if FSF uses the same masters/transfers (based on the fights over rights, maybe not for the transfer to dvd, they use the same masters). FSF is not the best label out there for quality unfortunately, although they did an ok job with the previous Mizo they put out last year.

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#3 Post by Jeff LeVine » Tue Jan 24, 2006 8:34 pm

Arn777 wrote:Not a big surprise since I believe there was a fairly bitter battle over rights between Films Sans Frontieres and Opening over the Mizoguchis.
Apparently this release is limited to 1,000 copies. Difficult to find any hard info on 'em though. I'm not convinced they actually have English subs either. It looks like maybe the first set has been released, but not the second (ships in 2-3 weeks isn't a good sign in my experience).

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#4 Post by Jeff LeVine » Thu Mar 02, 2006 3:29 pm

Jeff LeVine wrote:Apparently this release is limited to 1,000 copies.
I ordered these sets - though only the first actually shipped. There are indeed English subtitles. The transfer quality seemed very good. Most importantly - the films are GREAT.

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#5 Post by shirobamba » Fri Mar 03, 2006 2:53 pm

Arn777 wrote:It will be interesting to see if FSF uses the same masters/transfers (based on the fights over rights, maybe not for the transfer to dvd, they use the same masters). FSF is not the best label out there for quality unfortunately, although they did an ok job with the previous Mizo they put out last year.
Indeed! Are there any reviews online? I searched the French net, but couldn't find anything. Not even for last year's Mizo.
I have the 2 Opening boxsets, and would only doubledip, if FSF would offer upgrades

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#6 Post by Wittsdream » Fri May 05, 2006 10:32 pm

Jeff LeVine wrote:Apparently this release is limited to 1,000 copies.
I just received both of the FSF Mizoguchi boxed sets, and based on brief glimpses of all of the films I would say that they are anywhere from good to outstanding transfers. All of the films have English subtitles. Not sure if the films were transferred progressively or not, but considering Mizoguchi's filmic style, I believe it not to be a factor.

Sansho the Bailiff looks fantastic (as good as anything Criterion could come up with), very sharp elements and exceptional contrast (minimal amount of boosting). The only weak link to the transfers are the subtitles, as they are not as thorough as they should be, i.e., some dialogue passages go untranslated.

All of the other transfers look quite good, too: Yang Kwei Fei, Chikamatsu Monogatari, Street of Shame.

The Chikamatsu set is accompanied by a very handsome 75 page booklet about the history of the film and Mizoguchi's career, though written in French.

These Mizoguchi films are now among the most cherished in my collection, especially the staggeringly beautiful Sansho the Bailiff and Yang Kwei Fei.

If it is true that there were only 1,000 copies of each of these sets produced, I would jump on them if you are even remotely interested in Japanese cinema in general, and Mizoguchi in particular. They are available from either the FNAC.com or Alapage.com websites (I chose Alapage).

Considering what a towering figure Mizoguchi is within cinema history, and how much attention is heaped on the Criterion versions of Ozu, Kurosawa and Suzuki films, I am miffed as to why these very good editions of essential works by one of the greatest filmmakers has not been reviewed by the likes of DVDBeaver.

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#7 Post by david hare » Fri May 05, 2006 11:24 pm

Wittsdream wrote:Considering what a towering figure Mizoguchi is within cinema history, and how much attention is heaped on the Criterion versions of Ozu, Kurosawa and Suzuki films, I am miffed as to why these very good editions of essential works by one of the greatest filmmakers has not been reviewed by the likes of DVDBeaver.
Why dont you email Gary? He did a review of the Chinese, English subbed Ugetsu last year. But didn't review the Opening sets as the subs were only French. Seems policy there only to review English subbed DVDs.

More generally I am assuming these are ports of the Opening titles. Correct Arnaud? No point in double dipping if I dont have to - next Paris visit five weeks away!

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#8 Post by Arn777 » Sat May 06, 2006 4:43 am

Don't know if they are the same as the Opening ones, from what I understand FSF is quite 'cheap', so I doubt they would have invested a lot of cash to do redo existing transfers.

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#9 Post by david hare » Sat May 06, 2006 5:31 am

bien.. alors.

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#10 Post by peerpee » Sun May 07, 2006 8:21 am

Here's a review (in French) of the Sansho set. Looks like a winner!

Anyone know if Sansho is going to be release by Criterion anytime soon?
After the resounding success of CC's UGETSU I would be surprised if they didn't have more coming down the turnpike in the next few months.

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#11 Post by kazantzakis » Sun May 07, 2006 9:00 am

Just out of curiosity Nick, do you happen to know numbers on this? Discs sold, profit margins etc? It would be interesting to see.

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#12 Post by peerpee » Sun May 07, 2006 9:45 am

I don't have any figures for any other companies' sales, no. It's not the sort of thing that companies like to discuss on public fora.

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#13 Post by kinjitsu » Fri May 18, 2007 7:52 pm

Tim wrote:Has anybody noticed this forthcoming collection of Mizoguchi films from the forties?
Michael Kerpan wrote:This seems to be a French port of the films released in Japan by Shochiku.

I think "Five Women Around Utamaro" and "Love of Sumako the Actress" are really excellent. I found "Women of the Night" and "My Love is Burning" pretty disappointing overall (though not lacking in interest). "Famed Sword Bijomaru" is surprisingly bad -- given the good cast it had. "Miyamoto Musashi" would have been a far better pick for the set.
Tommaso wrote:Damn brilliant news! I assume, though, that there will again be only French subs...
davidhare wrote:A friend has just pointed this out, otherwise I would have missed it.

These titles virtually round out the complete post war Mizo, when added to the earlier two volumes from GCTHV (and the forthcoming MoCs?) Not forgetting of course the two Tartan titles from a couple of years ago, Life of Oharu and Lady Musashino (Michael I revise my opinion to nominate this as Mizo's worst post-war movie.)
Last edited by kinjitsu on Fri May 18, 2007 8:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#14 Post by david hare » Fri May 18, 2007 7:59 pm

Merci Kinji! I missed tim's post also!

I guess this new box is technically Vol. 3.

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#15 Post by Awesome Welles » Mon May 28, 2007 6:44 pm

A boxset from France which will be released by Gaumont Columbia on 20th June at 50 euros and contains the films:

The Famous Sword Bijomaru
Five Women Around Utamaro
The Love of Sumako the Actress
Women of the Night
Flame of My Love


Looks like a very interesting selection, I'm not sure of the quality but I'm sure someone can fill us in. Does anyone else have any more information on this set? As far as I can see no English subs the amazon page here does not say, but this page indicates only French (removable) subs, unfortunately. Shame as it looks like a nice set, those French speakers around the world, however, may be interested.

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#16 Post by david hare » Thu Jul 12, 2007 6:51 pm

Here are some caps from 5 Women Around Utamaro from the new French Carlotta Coffret of Mizo Annees 40s:

Image
Image
Image
Image
Image

Plainly visible is the extremely weak print quality (of all titles) - whether this is a given or bloody Shochiku didn't bother to supply Carlotta with anything better I simply don't know. Utamaro has been lavished with a DL transfer - in all likelihood to help cope with the constant frame jitter. The transfers are basically woeful, almost entirely a result of the poor print elements. But for Mizo completists (like me) they are essential. And I can't see Nick or indeed Eclipse picking up these titles, at least not in their present form. I should add the caps look far better than the moving mage.

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#17 Post by ptmd » Thu Jul 12, 2007 11:16 pm

davidhare wrote:Here are some caps from 5 Women Around Utamaro from the new French Carlotta Coffret of Mizo Annees 40s
I think that, in the case of Utamaro at least, there must be something wrong with the source materials. I've seen three separate 35mm prints of this, one from Janus, one at the Museum of Modern Art, and one at the National Film Center in Tokyo, and they all looked more or less like the image in the screen capture. I doubt it will ever look much better than on the Carlotta DVD (the Raro DVD is considerably worse).

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#18 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jul 12, 2007 11:22 pm

I'm afraid that for almost all of the surviving early Mizoguchi films, the source materials are pretty dire.

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#19 Post by david hare » Fri Jul 13, 2007 4:42 am

Mike I guess that's generally true. But for these 40s movies Im very suspicious of the quality of positive prints Shochiku gave Carlotta. For one thing only Women of the Night and Utamaru have the major frame jitter. And I have to say no similar FJ is evident anywhere on my ancient SBS VHS transfer. What the prints do display is quite good contrast and grain but the battering is so edgy I really wonder if there are not better elements around.

Having said all this, I still find the 46-50 period for Mizo his most compromised, as an artist. As a Trope Utamaro should work like a charm but it's laid down flat by the physical limitations of the shoot. Even the soundtrack - at least on this Carlotta DVD and my old VHS - sound like it was recorded in a bathroom. Added to which of course is the endelessly necessary submersion of Japanese Filmmakers into some kind of post war/Occupation compliance in presenting narrative/allegorical/or other stories about Japanese guilt. Im not saying Utamaro falls into this narrative base but other titles do. Most interestingly Bijomaru (which is otherwise fascinating, and is indeed the only title to take on any sort of characteristic Mizoguchian "glamour" or detail in the image quality.)

We've already seen this in stuff like the slightly risible Musashino!

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#20 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jul 13, 2007 10:17 am

Well -- Musashi Miyamoto is an absolutely exquisite little film -- and about 1000% more impressive (as a whole) than "Bijomaru". One of Mizoguchi's best "unknown films".

I doubt we will ever agree on the merits (or demerits) of Utamaro. ;~{

I think Sumako and Madame Yuki are also wonderful films from this period. And Women of the Night has a lot of material that LOOKS great -- even if the story is poorly conceived and presented.

I greatly fear that the prints that were used for the ancient SBS broadcasts have deteriorated irreparably since then.

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#21 Post by david hare » Tue Jul 17, 2007 11:27 pm

I've now had a chance to play right through this set. After the disappointment of the lousy source elements for Utamaro I must say Bijomaru and Actress Sumako are in much MUCH better condition. I have quite a bit of time for Sumako (previously unseen) if only for the highly "theatrical" conceits of the staging. But I was equally impressed with Bijomaru. I need to give both of these several more viewings. Women of the Night's print is also in much better condition the longer you play into the movie, and again I need substantial reviewings. (Certainly this print Plays a lot better than the dreadful old SBS.) My Love has been Burning suffers from more of the execrable frame jitter but is also of considerable interest to me - the only titles in this box I'd previously seen were Utamaro and Women of the Night.

One general observation is the relative modesty of Mizoguchi's mise en scene particularly in regard to tracks, and cranes. Basically there are none, given the budgetary constraints on the productions - at most you get occasional tilt pans but the movies overall are relatively bound up in fairly traditional decoupage. Certainly they are well removed from the lyrically expressive plans sequences that dominate the great 50s period movies. In any case I dare say the titles are nonetheless indespensible to Mizoguchians, but god knows if they will ever see the light of day with English subs.

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#22 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jul 18, 2007 8:59 am

I'm surprised over your enthusiasm for "Bijomaru" -- as I consider it quite inferior to "Genroku chushingura" and ""Musashi Miyamoto".

"Sumako" shows Tanaka at pretty much the top of her form (at least in Mizoguchi)..

Isn't frame jitter due mostly to film shrinkage? If so, the primary source elements could really have degraded a lot in the past few decades. Short of a M-style restoration effort (something Japanese studios won't pay for), is there anything one can do about this?

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#23 Post by david hare » Thu Jul 19, 2007 7:11 pm

Current 30s and 40s Japanese print quality is perhaps the most vexing situation in film history. The trouble for us (or at least me) at my age is I have perfectly good memories of seeing excellent prints of 30s to 50s Mizos throughout the 70s and 80s (things like Oharu and Zangiku Monogatari for instance) but you have to keep reminding yourself this was 30 bloody years ago!

It's like remembering routinely going to screenings of IB Technicolor prints through the 60s and 70s. It was another world.

I have absolutely no explanation for the parlous state of Japanese film preservation.

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#24 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jul 19, 2007 7:19 pm

davidhare wrote:I have absolutely no explanation for the parlous state of Japanese film preservation.
Except, perhaps, for Toho -- it is not clear that Japanese studios knew or cared much about film preservation until fairly recently. Somehow, the film technology orientation of PCL must have had some continuing influence even after they were merged into Toho. The fact that Toho preserved every single film Naruse made for PCL and Toho, many in reasonably good condition (over the course of over 30 years) is astonishing. Especially when one considers that important films made by Ozu and Mizoguchi during this period are lost or incredibly deteriorated.

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#25 Post by david hare » Wed Jul 25, 2007 6:18 am

Love of the Actress Sumako is now a major delight amongst the eighty or so movies I'm trying to catch up on.
As Kerpan says it's Tanaka's movie. But the setup and devolution of the narrative (Yoda as screnwriter, fortunately) is almost deliriously silly, but - well - "bon accord".

Our movie opens with the producer of the new group, Yamamura arguing with the local theatre politburo about the relative worth of Kabuki vs. the liberating influence of "European Democratic Values" for their next season. (Shades of 42nd Street.) Happily he wins and they proceed with a serach for the new Star as Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House. Even more happily Yamamura stumbles (topples really) across Tanaka as a sort of life force, at the local bar and immediately invests her into a rehearsal regime for Nora ("Summer Stock".) Several anguished and Cukoresque scenes later after Preminger like battering from the prod she knocks the house out on opening nite. And it goes from there.

At one point someone says from the wings (A Star is Born) "Une Etoile etait nee."

And it stays at this giddy plane. And I cannot begin to say how enjoyable it all is. Even the impoverished mise en scene is graced with one relatively long track, down the exterior while Yamanoto and Tanaka argue about her performance. There are rare enough moments of outright comedy in Mizo but at this level of self awareness the effect is exhilarating.

This - like all the other Annees 40 Mizo titles carries around the dead weight of Occupation Japan Propaganda but - like many of the others (and not all of them written by Toda) it subsumes the text into a delicious, if minimal package.

I am waiting to get my teeth into the other titles. Rally lots to like here, if not worship in the same way as the great 50s and 30s pictures.

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