A Wife Confesses (Yasuzo Masumura, 1961)

Eclipse LogoIn this complex and pessimistic melodrama, young Ayako Takigawa (Ayako Wakao) stands trial for the murder of her intolerable husband during a mountaineering accident.  Flashbacks of the incident reveal Ayako suspended between her spouse below and the young man she secretly loves who struggles to hold their safety line from above.  By cutting her husband’s rope, she saves herself and the young man, allows her husband to fall to his death, and breaches her cultural duties as both a climber and a wife.  Wakao beautifully reconciles the competing desires of love, sex, and death within her tortured character, while director Yasuzo Masumura skillfully crafts a noir-infused tale of dark passions and claustrophobic oppression.

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The Wives of Yasuzo Masumura

Eclipse is a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple affordable editions.  Each series is a brief cinematheque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer.

Eclipse LogoBest known for his unsentimental portraits of stubborn individuality bordering on madness, Yasuzo Masumura and his alluring queen Ayako Wakao constructed tales of strong-willed women resisting the repression and abuse of Japanese society.  In these exaggerated tales of obsession and desire set in the restrictive confines of traditional marriage, Masumura explores the tragedy of true love and devotion, the liberating power of eroticism, and the sacrifices demanded by corporate living and Japan’s post-war economic miracle.  Wakao is irresistible in these four films, playing inviolable femme fatales whose sexuality and dedication leave them unmanageable to the culture that surrounds them and cruelly punished for their inability to conform.

The Most Valuable Wife (Saikô shukun fujin)

A formative work between Masumura and Wakao, the Mihara family’s three sons operate a trading company, with the eldest pair already married to daughters of the Nonomiya family, but when the Miharas’ youngest son Saburo (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) and the Nonomiyas’ youngest daughter Kyoko (Wakao) refuse to do the same, they raise the ire of their ambitious siblings.

A Wife Confesses (Tsuma wa kokuhaku suru)

Cited as one of Masumura’s masterpieces and the film that launched Ayako Wakao’s career, Wakao plays a young widow on trial for cutting her uncaring husband’s safety line during a mountaineering holiday and murdering him to pursue the affections of a younger man (Kawaguchi) and collect five million yen from her husband’s life insurance.

Seisaku’s Wife (Seisaku no tsuma)

In this antimilitarist portrait written by Kaneto Shindo and set during the Russo-Japanese war, a sullen woman (Wakao) ostracised in her small farming village falls into a mad, obsessive affair with the town’s favored son (Takahiro Tamura), a relationship that ultimately dooms them both.

The Wife of Seishu Hanaoka (Hanaoka Seishû no tsuma)

This portrayal of true-life physician Hanaoka Seishu (Raizô Ichikawa), the first doctor to use general anesthetic, pits his ardent but suffering wife (Wakao) and his harshly devoted mother (Hideko Takamine) as competitors offering themselves as subjects for his surgical experimentation.

With notes by Jonathan Rosenbaum

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The Game Trilogy (Toru Murakawa, 1978-1979)

JAPAN’S COOLEST HITMAN FINALLY ARRIVES IN THE WEST!

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddTôru Murakawa’s Game Trilogy stars Yûsaku Matsuda (Black Rain) in the role that made him the Japanese king of cool.

Matsuda stars as the indomitable hitman Shohei Narumi, a deadly freelance assassin steeped in outsider appeal.  In The Most Dangerous Game, Narumi is hired to tip the scales in a murderous corporate rivalry, but is forced to watch his own back while protecting the alluring girlfriend of a gangster.  Narumi is enlisted into a gang conflict and is then betrayed in The Killing Game, endangering not just his life but the lives of his friend and of two beautiful women who know Narumi from a previous hit.  In The Execution Game, Narumi is strong-armed into killing another assassin and becomes embroiled in a complex web of mysterious organizations and hidden identities.

The Game Trilogy features Matsuda’s über-cool persona, typified by his lean frame, stylish clothes, and aggressive indifference and supported by beautiful women, desperate action, and the jazzy score of celebrated composer Yuji Ohno, making these action-thrillers a trifecta in funky, macho resolve.

Special Features:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of all 3 films in The Game Trilogy, available in the English speaking world for the first time
  • Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
  • New English subtitle translation of all 3 films
  • New interviews with director Tôru Murakawa, actor-singer Ichirô Araki, and actresses Kaori Takeda and Yutaka Nakajima
  • Soul Red, Osamu Minorikawa’s 2-hour documentary on Yûsaku Matsuda featuring interviews with Andy Garcia and Tadanobu Asano
  • Original trailers for all 3 films
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes

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Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (Michael Winterbottom, 2005)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.

criterion logoTristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is Michael Winterbottom’s unorthodox adaptation of the unfilmable English literary masterpiece The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, written by Laurence Sterne.  Staying true to the manic spirit of the book, the film flips back and forth between the 18th century story and the hapless efforts of the 21st century filmmakers attempting to shoot the classic.  Tristram Shandy (Steve Coogan) narrates the filmed story of his life from conception onward, with numerous digressions and unfinished thoughts, while actor Steve Coogan serves his professional ego behind the scenes against the increasing prominence of his co-star, Rob Brydon.  Crammed with literary jokes and dark humor, and aided by stellar performances by Jeremy Northam, Stephen Fry, and Gillian Anderson, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is a clever, postmodern take on the construction of a film from an intricate, hilariously autobiographical novel.

Disc Features:

  • New, restored 2K digital film transfer, supervised by cinematographer Marcel Zyskind and approved by director Michael Winterbottom, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • A Womb with a View, a new interview with director Michael Winterbottom and actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
  • Audio commentary with Coogan and Brydon
  • Helen Weinstein conversation with Winterbottom and producer Andrew Eaton for Historyworks
  • Extended interview with Steve Coogan conducted by journalist Tony Wilson
  • Deleted and extended scenes
  • Behind-the-scenes footage
  • Premiere footage
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film critic Mark Kermode and cartoonist Martin Rowson

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A Taxing Woman (Juzo Itami, 1987) and A Taxing Woman’s Return (Juzo Itami, 1988)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Taxing Woman and A Taxing Woman’s Return.

criterion logoRyoko is Japan’s hardest working female tax inspector, a ruthlessly diligent investigator whose only match is Gondo, a “love hotel” owner and master tax evader.  Against a backdrop of stake-outs, searches, and a spectacular raid, this taxing woman and her clever prey test their respective skills of detection and deception, stirring their mutual sexual attraction.  Nobuko Miyamoto and Tsutomu Yamazaki give performances in the best tradition of romantic farce, resulting in a hit film for director Jûzô Itami and a darker, edgier sequel, A Taxing Woman’s Returns, that pits the title character against a religious cult leader and a complex conspiracy involving gangsters, politicians, and a prestigious construction project.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restorations, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Introduction with Nobuko Miyamoto, star of the films and wife of filmmaker Jûzô Itami
  • Masayuki Suo’s 108 and 110 minute documentaries on the making of A Taxing Woman and A Taxing Woman’s Return
  • New interview with Jake Adelstein on the films, the Japanese yakuza, and Japan’s National Tax Agency
  • Theatrical trailers and teasers
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum

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It’s Tough Being a Man: The Complete Tora-san

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents It’s Tough Being a Man: The Complete Tora-san.

criterion logoFor more than twenty-five years, writer-director Yoji Yamada and iconic actor Kiyoshi Atsumi entertained Japanese audiences with the exploits of Torajiro Kuruma, better known as Tora-san, a boorish but kind-hearted street peddler unlucky in love.  In each of the forty-eight feature films released between 1969 and 1995, Japan’s loveable loser returned home to Shibamata to upset the lives of his aunt, uncle, and half-sister and ultimately find himself heartbroken over yet another failed infatuation.  This gently sentimental comic series, known domestically as It’s Tough Being a Man, was an iconic part of Japanese culture that combined a nostalgic vision of post-war community with an unusually unreserved protagonist and traced the fortunes of a country through four decades.  This deluxe set features all forty-eight Tora-san films, presenting many of the beloved classics for North American home-viewing for the first time.

Disc Features:

  • New digital restorations of all 48 films, with uncompressed monaural and stereo soundtracks on the Blu-rays
  • Audio commentary by Japanese film scholar Stuart Galbraith IV for the first Tora-san film, It’s Tough Being a Man
  • Atsumi Kiyoshi no Tora-san kinzoku 25 nen, a 1995 documentary on Kiyoshi Atsumi, along with a new interview with director Yoji Yamada and actress Chieko Baisho
  • Tora-san’s Japan, an interactive map tracing Tora-san’s travels across Japan throughout the films
  • Tora-san’s Shibamata, a guided tour of Shibamata with journalist Jake Adelstein
  • Orangina commercials starring Richard Gere as Tora-san, with behind the scenes footage
  • Trailers
  • PLUS: A book featuring essays by Japanese film scholars Stuart Galbraith IV, Kevin Thomas, Alexander Jacoby, Michael Jeck, Donald Richie, Dave Kehr and a message from director Yoji Yamada

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