Shura (Toshio Matsumoto, 1971)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Shura.

Experimental filmmaker and critic Toshio Matsumoto followed up his queer opus, Funeral Parade of Roses, with a “mere” samurai film, yet underneath its seemingly traditional surface lurks just as many subversions. In Shura, a samurai poised to join the famous 47 ronin and avenge the death of his master becomes distracted from his duties by his love for a lowly geisha, who in turn betrays him. Driven mad by his desire for vengeance, the samurai embarks on a bloody path of revenge marked by riveting intensity, a nightmarishly black aesthetic, and an uncertain blurring of fantasy and reality. A Borgesian satire in the guise of samurai horror, this nocturnal masterpiece is one of the darkest films of its era, both visually and politically.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • Security Treaty, a 1959 short film by Toshio Matsumoto
  • For My Crushed Right Eye, a 1969 installation piece by Matsumoto
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays on the film by Matsumoto and Nagisa Oshima, director’s notes, and an essay by Japanese film scholar Hirofumi Sakamoto

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The Wife of Seishu Hanaoka (Yasuzo Masumura, 1967)

Eclipse LogoDomestic rivalry finds unexpected expression in Yasuzo Masumura’s The Wife of Seishu Hanaoka, the true-life story of the Japanese physician who first developed general anesthetic for use in 1804 and the women who competed to be his test subjects.  Hanaoka (Raizð Ichikawa) has little attention for his imperious mother (Hideko Takamine) and his dutiful wife (Ayako Wakao) while he searches for the precise formula for his herbal anesthetic.  Screenwriter Kaneto Shindo and director Yasuzo Masumura step away from the expected conventions of the bio-pic by focusing on the doctor’s spouse Kae, portraying her commitment and sacrifice to her husband’s endeavor as the truly heroic act of this dizzying tale of love and obsession.

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Seisaku’s Wife (Yasuzo Masumura, 1965)

Eclipse LogoIn this riveting examination of mad love and social obligation set at the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, Okane (Ayako Wakao) returns to the small village of her youth where she endures the scorn and rejection of the townsfolk with sullen distemper.  When Seisaku (Takahiro Tamura), the village’s “model youth,” returns from military service, the beloved patriot strikes up an unlikely romance with Okane, marginalizing himself in the process.  Based on a story by Kojiro Yoshida and written by Kaneto Shindo, Seisaku’s Wife is a sensual tale of rebel love and wild obsession standing against the strict military demands of Imperial Japan.

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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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A Fugitive from the Past (Tomu Uchida, 1965)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Fugitive from the Past.

criterion logoTomu Uchida’s allegorical crime epic stands among the masterworks of Japanese cinema and represents the apex of the director’s prestigious career.  A deadly robbery committed during a massive typhoon and a criminal’s flight from the law culminates with a murder 10 years later and a revived police investigation.  Set in 1947 during Japan’s harsh social conditions and the post-war economic miracle that arrived a decade after, Uchida’s film explores Japan’s traumatic past and the karmic penance that refuses to be denied despite newfound prosperity and good intentions.  Mixing the police procedural subgenre, the fugitive-on-the-run plot, and emotional melodrama with mesmerizing, high-grain cinematography and solarized images, A Fugitive from the Past is Uchida’s tragically noir-infused magnum opus.

Disc Features:

  • High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New video interview with critic Tadao Sato
  • New video essay by critic Tony Rayns
  • Trailer
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring new essay by critic Mark Asch

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