The Whale God (Tokuzo Tanaka, 1962)

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

criterion logoA small Japanese village is obsessed with killing a monstrous whale that has decimated its hunting parties. The town’s wealthiest man offers his land, position, and only daughter to the individual who can kill the demon whale. Shaki, a popular young man whose family has been massacred by the beast, steps forward vowing to slay the whale and avenge his relations, but his efforts are complicated by a brutish stranger to the village also intent on killing the monster and collecting on the promised riches. Based on Koichiro Uno’s award-winning novel published the previous year and scripted by visionary writer-director Kaneto Shindo, this loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick captures the madness and danger of whaling and combines it with period drama and kaiju monster effects.

Disc Features:

  • New, high definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with Japanese film critic Tadao Sato
  • New interview with Japanese-literature scholar Jeffrey Angles
  • Theatrical trailer
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by critic, novelist, and musician Chris D.

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The Romance of Transportation in Canada (Colin Low, 1952) and City of Gold (Colin Low and Wolf Koenig, 1957)

NFBIf anything has made my immersion in the NFB worthwhile, it is my newfound appreciation for Colin Low, Wolf Koenig, and Roman Kroitor. These men were prolific contributors to the NFB, working together and apart on seemingly countless productions as directors, animators, producers, and writers and acting as pioneers working in the art of Direct Cinema, developing the IMAX format, and directly influencing the work George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, and Ken Burns. Presented here is Colin Low’s humourous The Romance of Transportation in Canada (1952), animated by Wolf Koenig and Robert Verrall. Romance won the Short Film Palme d’Or and a special BAFTA Award, and holds the distinction of being the NFB’s first Oscar-nominated animated film and the first international nominee in the Animated Short category. Also offered here is Low and Koenig’s City of Gold (1957), winner of the Palme d’Or, recipient of an Oscar nomination as a documentary short, and boasting narration by beloved Canadian historian, journalist, and television personality Pierre Berton. American documentarian Ken Burns has acknowledged City of Gold as a foundational film to his own work, and the debt owed to Low and Koenig’s use of archival photographs is obvious. Low, Koenig, and Kroitor should be widely know in film circles given their contributions to cinema and we’ll have more on them tomorrow and as our tribute to the NFB continues!

As per the NFB:

A light-hearted animated short about how Canada’s vast distances and great obstacles were overcome by settlers. The story is told with a tongue-in-cheek seriousness and takes us from the intrepid trailblazers of long ago to the aircraft of today and tomorrow. A 1953 Cartoon Short Subject Oscar®-nominee.

As per the NFB:

This classic short film Pierre Berton depicts the Klondike gold rush at its peak, when would-be prospectors struggled through harsh conditions to reach the fabled gold fields over 3000 km north of civilization. Using a collection of still photographs, the film juxtaposes the Dawson City at the height of the gold rush with its bustling taverns and dance halls with the more tranquil Dawson City of the present.

Canada Carries On, Twice

NFBWith the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada in 1939, John Grierson, the British documentarian and the NFB’s first commissioner, set upon a project to foster and shape the national identity, and the outbreak of World War II was a timely context for Grierson’s nationalist aims.  One of the NFB’s first efforts was Canada Carries On, a series of theatrical shorts aimed to boost morale during wartime.  Its producer, British documentary filmmaker Stuart Legg, found early success in the endeavour when he received two Oscar nominations for the new documentary short category.  Relying heavily on stock footage and “voice-of-God” commentary, Legg’s Churchill’s Island (1941) and Warclouds in the Pacific (1941) are remarkable documents of their periods.  Churchill’s Island won that first documentary Oscar, but Legg has failed to garner the kind of recognition given to his close colleague Grierson.

As per the NFB:

This film won the NFB its first Oscar® and was also the first documentary to win this coveted award.  It presents the strategy of the Battle of Britain, showing with penetrating clarity the relationships between the various forces made up the island’s defences.  Here is the Royal Air Force in its epic battle with the Luftwaffe, the Navy in its stubborn fight against the raiders of sea and sky, the coastal defences, the mechanized cavalry, the merchant seamen and behind them all, Britain’s tough, unbending civilian army.

As per the NFB:

This short film examines the Japan that emerged at the beginning of the 1900s and was firmly established as an industrialized nation by the outbreak of World War II.  Facing the greatest threat in their history, the democracies of the Pacific took careful stock of this new Japan and its strength, and erected a vast system of defence across the world’s greatest ocean.

Matango (Ishiro Honda, 1963)

A HORROR THAT GROWS ON YOU!

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddAfter a yacht is damaged in a storm and stranded near a deserted island, its passengers – a psychologist, his student, a wealthy businessman, a famous singer, a popular writer, a sailor, and the boat’s skipper – take refuge on a fungus covered ship marooned on the island’s shore.  With food scarce and the ship’s logs warning that the island’s plentiful mushrooms, called “Matango,” are to be avoided, the castaways find their characters tested, leading to private deals, sexual tension, and violence.  But when the hunger of the shipwrecked party becomes too great and its members begin eating the forbidden fungus, the true horror of Matango is revealed, transforming the castaways in mind and body into hideous fungal monsters!

Famed Japanese director Ishiro Honda assembles an all-star cast from his previous sci-fi films and monster movies for Matango, featuring performances by Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Koizumi, and Yoshio Tsuchiya.  Captivating hallucinatory sequences, impressive set designs, and fantastically horrifying special effects by the celebrated Eiji Tsuburaya make this colorful B-movie a little known tokusatsu classic.  Based on the 1907 story “The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson, Matango is one of the strangest, most horrific Toho productions to date and is presented here, for the first time, in high-definition presentations of its original Japanese version and its American cut, Attack of the Mushroom People.

Special Features:

  • New high definition digital transfer of the Japanese cut of Matango and of the 1965 American version Attack of the Mushroom People edited for TV by American International Television
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD Presentation
  • Uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray edition
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Japanese soundtrack
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary by star Akira Kubo
  • Interview with SFX cinematographer Teruyoshi Nakano
  • Spoken word reading by screenwriter Masami Fukushima
  • Vinyl Fungus – Artist Barry Allen Williams on Matango and its collectibles
  • “Voice in the Night,” a 1958 episode of Suspicion based on the same source material as Matango
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Production sketches
  • Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by scholar Richard Pusateri and William Hope Hodgson’s original 1907 story “The Voice in the Night”

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The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin with Evan Johnson, 2015)

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

criterion logoOverwhelmed with narrative and fearful that their brains might explode under its pressure, Canadian cult filmmaker Guy Maddin and his co-creator Evan Johnson offer the ultimate epic phantasmagoria from the ectoplasmic residue of early cinema’s lost films.  Two-Strip Technicolor havoc is created with the assistance of master poet John Ashbery, actor Udo Kier, and a host of French and Québécois stars who filmed on public sets at Paris’ Pompidou Center and Montreal’s Phi Center.  The Forbidden Room is a kaleidoscopic viewing experience borne from cinema’s past, present, and future where flapjacking eating submarine crews, forest bandits, skeleton women, and vampire bananas await!

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital master, with 5.1 digital DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson
  • Interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from the Phi Center shoots
  • Endless Ectoloops
  • Living posters
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Seven-episode series on Guy Maddin’s Seances from the Phi Center
  • New interview with cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke
  • New interview with production designer Galen Johnson on his design of the film’s more than 400 intertitle screens
  • La chambre interdite, French version of The Forbidden Room with French intertitle screens
  • The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin, Yves Montmayeur’s 65-minute documentary on “the Canadian David Lynch”
  • Once a Chicken, a séance with László Moholy-Nagy
  • Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton, Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson’s short film on the making of Paul Gross’s Canadian war film, Hyena Road, with introduction by the filmmakers
  • Footage from the Toronto Film Critics Association’s awards ceremony naming The Forbidden Room 2015’s Best Canadian Film
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by Guy Maddin and film critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Hillary Weston

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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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