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Takuma

Lone Wolf & Cub Coming From Criterion

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So is the general rule that 35mm is superior to blu ray in picture quality? If that's the case then how does it compare to 4K UHD?

Edited by De Ming Li

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7 hours ago, De Ming Li said:

So is the general rule that 35mm is superior to blu ray in picture quality? If that's the case then how does it compare to 4K UHD?

 

General rule? That sort of depends. If you’re watching 35mm prints of Japanese films in USA, you’ll probably come across a lot of beaten prints that look pretty poor. If you’re watching Japanese films in Japan, the situation can be very different with lots of near pristine prints that look amazing (as well as some beaten prints).

If we compare good 35mm prints to home video releases, well, it depends a bit again. I do not claim to know much about the tech side, but basically 35mm prints and digital are both “copies” of the original (35mm) negatives, so the question is how well are you able to preserve the original quality, or restore the original quality in case the negatives are not in such good shape. 35mm (distribution) prints also lose quality for being copies, so at least in terms of resolution if you had enough K’s, I guess you could beat them. However…

…I don’t know why it is, but in my experience even Criterion hasn't been able to match the colours, black levels, grain level etc. of the 35mm prints of films such as Lone Wolf and Cub 1&2, Lady Snowblood, or Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival, which I saw from amazing prints in Tokyo. On the other hand, their Lone Wolf and Cub 5 looks better than the mediocre 35mm print I saw a few years ago.

Then there’s the film vs. digital issue. I much prefer the filmic look of the film prints over the slightly digital look of any digital format. Not everyone minds this, but I do, and I would prefer even a mediocre 35mm print over a superior BD. And I don’t mind a few scratches and a bit of dirt on the print either; that just reminds me that I’m watching the real thing and not some digital encode.

Finally, there’s the movie theatre aspect. 35mm prints are watched in cinema, and if you go to theatres like Tokyo’s Laputa Asagaya, Cinema Vera etc. there’s a very special atmosphere to it. I have for example Akira on BD and it's a great release, but walking into a cinema where the posters are hanging on the wall, the film's music is playing in the lobby, and then the film screens from a fine 35mm print... that was just a mindblowing experience. I can't get that kind of sensation watching films at home, no matter how good the BD.

Edited by Takuma

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I finally got around to the 4th movie this weekend, they do look fantastic. I blew my Japanese friend's mind with "House", been telling him he needs to see these.

 

So what's everyone's favorite movie out of the 6?

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On ‎17‎/‎01‎/‎2017 at 8:05 PM, Karlos said:

Criterion UK edition up for pre-order on Amazon UK (interestingly, it's listed as "region free"):

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lone-Criterion-Collection-Blu-ray-Region/dp/B01N30QO1I/

 

Thanks Karlos. Patience has been rewarded, I'll finally be able to get this set in Region B! I wish Criterion would also release the Zatoichi blu-rays region free.

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Ok, I'm finally through re-watching the whole series. All from BD as well as parts 1, 2 and 5 in 35mm. This is going to be a long post

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (Japan, 1972) [35mm] - 4.5/5
The first (but not the best) film in the series established the unique formula, an assassin with a child. What gets mentioned a bit less often is how well director Kenji Misumi utilizes nature in the series, rooting the fantastical storylines to a living world, and bringing the world to life, in a way that many other movies don't. With Misumi's handling of the nature, as well as the father-son relationship, the series got a director that such exploitative films rarely got to enjoy. Equally important was  Tomisaburo Wakayama, a prolific yakuza film actor and frequent comic relief prone to over-acting, who landed the role of his life with the series that put his silent charisma and impeccable sword handling skills to a full use. The first two sequels would further improve with even better action, pacing and character direction. The first film suffers a tiny bit for being a "beginning story". Lone Wolf and Cub would soon become stuff of the legends, and such mythical heroes are only hurt by too much background exposure.   

lw1a.jpglw1d.jpg

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at River Styx (Japan, 1972) [35mm] - 5/5
The 2nd and best film in the series excels with terrific direction and writing. Especially interesting is the symbiosis between characters and the natural world that is done subtly enough for not every viewer to pay attention to it a on conscious level. The ninja troops move with the wind, the kunoichi women march by the riverside, and the nature heals the injured hero. In the boat scene fire first threatens the protagonist, then water saves him, and few scenes later the climax is set in a desert. There's also a constant feel of thread "in the air", something director Misumi handles amazingly well via top notch use of sound and silence. The atmospheric, near perfect film also comes with memorable characters and amazing action scenes, including a riverside scene that is not only the best scene in the series but one of the finest scenes in any movie. Simply mind blowing. An extra mention must be given to the 4 year old Akihiro Tomikawa who plays Daigoro with amazing silent intensity.

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Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (Japan, 1972) [BD] - 5/5
This was the first movie with the Bohachi Clan, which would later star in their own two films, starting with Teruo Ishii's mind blowing Bohachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight (1973). The villainous yakuza clan's portrayal in this film is far more restrained, yet it happens to be Ogami's encounter with the clan's female leader that is the film's most intense scene. That can once again be attributed to Kenji Misumi. His direction is amazing throughout the film, both in terms of how he handles characters and in how he shows great restraint in proceeding to the fights. There are many great moments where he lets DoP Chikashi Makiura's camera observe, rather than cut right to the action or use music to tell us what is about to happen. This film is a example of the naturalistic approach that Misumi utilized so successfully in his Lone Wolf films, and which created a perfect counterforce for the storylines that were pure samurai pop fantasy. The film's climax marks the first 1 vs. 100 battle in the series, however, it is the duel between Ogami's and a melancholic ronin that follows that is the best fight. The film's last reel also sees - or rather hears - Wakayama performing a wonderful theme song. An amazing film.

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Lone Wolf and Cub: Babycart in Peril (Japan, 1972) [BD] - 4.5/5
Another supremely entertaining, only slightly lesser entry. This one was directed by Buichi Saito, a Nikkatsu action director gone freelance after his former employer went Roman Porno. He was not quite Kenji Misumi's equal, which shows in how he places music where Misumi would've used silence - this applies to both action and drama - and tends to give characters unnecessary amounts of exposure with frequent flashback sequences. That is a bit of a shame as the supporting character of Oyuki, a bare breasted swordswoman beating her opponents with her short sword as well as looks, is great. The film also contains wonderful shots of Ogami travelling in the countryside, a beautifully atmospheric hot springs scene, and a shrine ambush that remains shocking to this day in its graphicness. There's also a cool tattoo sub-theme that reminds of Teruo Ishii's films, as does the casting of Asao Koike. Speaking of casting, Retsudo is played in this film by Toei slime bag Tatsuo Endo rather than Yunosuke Ito like in part 1.

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Lone Wolf and Cub: Babycart in the Land of Demons (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 4.5/5
Kenji Misumi returned to the series with this 5th film without quite reaching the finesse of his finest work. This time Ogami is hired to assassinate a local lord and his entire family. It's a fascinating and morally ambiguous storyline that comes with very strong parts but also some sequences that underline the father-son relationship a bit too much. Daigoro getting in trouble is an example of this. In parts 2 and 3 Misumi was able to achieve similar results more subtly and without words. Another drawback is cinematographer Fujio Morita, whose work lacks the clarity and naturalistic touch of Chikashi Makiura who shot parts 1-3. Ultimately though, these are small flaws in a tremendously entertaining film that comes with loads of wonderful scenes (desert sledge, young lord giving a kill order etc.), fascinating spiritual dimensions and an immersing fantasy world populated by swordsmen, masked clansmen and assassins sailing to a sunset.

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Lone Wolf & Cub: White Heaven in Hell (Japan, 1974) [BD] - 4.5/5
Under-rated 6th film sometimes gets criticized because it doesn't bring the storyline to a conclusion - thankfully so, because legends like this should not have an ending. The film's first third, which follows Retsudo's daughter seeing vengeance, ranks among the most beautiful segments in the series - and concludes with one of the best duels. Immediately after this the film cuts to funky blaxploitation tunes (not unlike Hanzo the Razor) and then takes a wild turn to the supernatural (Ogami vs. undead ghost warriors) before reaching its huge climax at the snowy mountains. Truly a film of opposites. It all works surprisingly well with a cartful of odd scenes not to be found in any other film of its kind. The huge final battle reportedly took 6 weeks to film and was a great way to retire the series. Direction by Yokai Monsters director Yoshiyuki Kuroda is solid, although not on par with Misumi's. The biggest liability is Isao Kimura who makes an uncharismatic villain.

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LW&C Ranking
1. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at River Styx (1972) [part 2]
2. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972) [part 3]
3. Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972) [part 1]
4. Lone Wolf and Cub: Babycart in Peril (1972) [part 4]
5. Lone Wolf & Cub: White Heaven in Hell (1974) [part 6]
6. Lone Wolf and Cub: Babycart in the Land of Demons (1973) [part 5]

LW&C Blu-Rays

I should note that I'm not commenting as someone who know much about tech stuff, but rather as someone who lives in Japan and sees dozens of 60s and 70s Japanese films from near pristine (and sometimes not near pristine) 35mm prints every year. In the past 5 years I've seen about 200 JP films from 60s and 70 in 35mm, including LW&C 1, 2 and 5. Parts 1 and 2 I saw last year from National Film Center's (Tokyo) magnificent 35mm prints; part 5 was from a weaker print in Jimbocho theatre about 2 years ago. (side note: I believe NFC owns all of their prints and they are rarely screened or lent out, so they tend to look almost brand new).

Criterion states the films were scanned from original camera negatives. Assuming everything went fine with the scan and BD production, those negatives must have been in notably worse shape than National Film Center's 35mm prints. The BDs don't look nearly as good as the natural yet very colourful 35mm prints. My apologies for not being able to elaborate in more detail - I'm no tech expect. All I can say is that the colour (a bit pinkish?) and general crispness on the BDs don't look half as good as they did in 35mm.

Somewhat an exception to this rule is White Heaven in Hell BD, which to my eyes looks the best of the 6 transfers. The Criterion transfers actually looks very much like the NFC prints for the first two films. The Criterion BD does lean a bit towards pink, though, unlike the 35mm prints, so it's still not quite on the same level.

I wish Criterion could have accessed the NFC prints so that all of the transfers would look more like part 6. These are stunningly beautiful films and I wish some day we will get BDs that do full justice to them. That being said, these BDs look pretty alright for home viewing and they are certainly no Lady Snowblood disaster. Obviously this is the best the films have looked on home video, but still, parts 1-2 (and assumedly 3-5) 1 are not even close to no matching the theatrical prints.

Edited by Takuma

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I still have the 6th movie I need to finish! My "to watch" pile is growing, I keep buying movies but I'm not watching them :monk_smh:

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