The warped world of Judge Gordon Sullivan still isn't recognized.
Our review of Black Sun, published April 16th, 2009, is also available.
"Kurahara's free-form approach to moviemaking was perfectly suited to the radical spirit of the 1960s."
Koreyoshi Kurahara was a Japanese filmmaker who did most of his work in the 1960s and 1970s. As was the case for many Japanese filmmakers, international success came late in his life. In 1983 he was recognized by the Berlin International Film Festival for his Antarctica. A certain amount of American fame followed after his critically-acclaimed miniseries Hiroshima (co-directed with Roger Spottiswoode in 1995). However, if international film festival and Emmy awards make Kurahara sound like a stuffy foreign director of grand films, then they paint the wrong picture. For most of his career Kurahara was a genre-hopper, directing a series of films united by his off-kilter vision and commitment to offbeat material. Kurahara has already made his debut in the Eclipse series (in the Nikkatsu Noir box set), but The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara lives up to its title, providing five examples of Kurahara's strange brand of cinema.
The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara presents five of Kurahara's films, each on their own disc in individual slimline keepcases:
The Warped Ones
I Hate But Love
Thirst For Love
These days "quirky" stands in relation to normal. Those who can't be normal (for whatever reason) seem to decide that instead of being normal they'll do something not-normal specifically to be different. Thus, we get film after film that can't emulate Hollywood so the filmmakers instead try to do something specifically to be different rather than because it's what they want to do. Not so with Koreyoshi Kurahara. He's obviously a director who's undeniably quirky, but also one who has a strange vision that's all his own. Some of that comes down to his particular visual vocabulary, filled with dutch angles and odd closeups. It's also down, though, to a "warped" sensibility that is just as attracted to a crime drama (Intimidation), a juvenile delinquent picture (The Warped Ones), and a melodrama (I Hate But Love).
The best films in this set—easily Intimidation and Thirst for Love—reveal a versatile director willing to jump genres to make a good story. In fact that's what seems to unite Kurahara's best work. When he has a strong story, his films seem to sing with the marriage of visual invention and tight narrative. The lack of a strong story is what seriously hampers the lesser films here: The Warped Ones, I Hate But Love, and Black Sun. Both The Warped Ones and Black Sun take a very loose approach to narrative, meandering through their stories with little in the way of narrative logic or trajectory. This puts them firmly in the contemporary milieu exemplified by the French New Wave. However, unlike Godard's debut, The Warped Ones doesn't seem to have anything to say to go along with its hedonistic approach to cinema. In contrast, I Hate But Love starts with a strong hook but loses steam once the initial set up has been revealed.
What elevates theses films and makes them worthy of a Criterion release is that they are truly "warped" as the set's title suggest. Even the relative failures of Black Sun and The Warped Ones are always compelling, visually or otherwise. They seem to take place in a world that is like our own but several degrees off somehow. This is true of their narrative worlds—putting a black GI on the lam with a Japanese jazz enthusiast makes 48 Hrs. look prosaic—but also true of the world in which the films were made. Kurahara seems to be animated by the same energies that were circulating around the French New Wave, but his work seems to lack the personal stamp of his Gallic counterparts. Similarly, the films seem to demonstrate the political malaise in Japan after World War II, but never explicitly. All this combines to make them interesting to fans of cinema's visual legacy, as well as its international history.
This is an Eclipse release, which means that rather than the usual full-blown Criterion restoration, these films have been minimally treated and are released sans extras. However, for films this old, they all look surprisingly good. The prints used for each of the five films are generally free of the kind of damage films of this age exhibit. The transfers themselves are strong; all of the films but I Hate But Love are in their original black-and-white. These transfers provide pretty consistent contrast, good black levels, and strong detail. There are some hiccups—Black Sun doesn't have the strongest contrast and Intimidation looks a bit soft in places—but these are great-looking transfers for older films. I Hate But Love is the only film in color, and it is slightly picture-boxed (which means black bars on the top and sides for those with widescreen TVs). Its color transfer is nicely saturated, with no compression or other artifacts to mar the presentation. The sound is a little less impressive, but still strong for films of this vintage. All five films are presented in their original mono Japanese incarnations. Dialogue is clear, distortion is generally absent, and hiss only an occasion problem. Much of the film's sounds were dubbed later, so don't expect these to be natural-sounding tracks. Rather, they sound good given the technological limitations of the time.
The set's lone extra is a set of essays by Chuck Stephens included in each individual case. The first one (for Intimidation) runs to two pages, while the rest are printed on the inside cover of each case. They're wonderful short appreciations for the films, providing historical context, reception history, and evaluations. They're well worth reading, and they make it much easier to understand the influences on Koreyoshi Kurahara's "warped world."
Pretty much every Eclipse set is a niche release. This set will likely appeal to fans of mid-century Japanese cinema or those who are already Kurahara fans. Individuals films will almost certainly appeal to fans of the various genres represented here. The set can be had for what amounts to $10 a movie, and for that price the value is pretty strong.
Kurahara's world is warped, but he's not guilty.
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Scales of Justice, Intimidation
Perp Profile, Intimidation
Distinguishing Marks, Intimidation
Scales of Justice, The Warped Ones
Perp Profile, The Warped Ones
Distinguishing Marks, The Warped Ones
Scales of Justice, I Hate But Love
Perp Profile, I Hate But Love
Distinguishing Marks, I Hate But Love
Scales of Justice, Black Sun
Perp Profile, Black Sun
Distinguishing Marks, Black Sun
Scales of Justice, Thirst For Love
Perp Profile, Thirst For Love
Distinguishing Marks, Thirst For Love
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