Smuggler (2011)

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Released 28-Nov-2012

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Featurette-Making Of
Interviews-Cast
Featurette-Ishii at TIFF
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Eastern Eye Trailers x 4
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2011
Running Time 109:48 (Case: 114)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Katsuhito Ishii
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Satoshi Tsumabuki
Masatoshi Nagase
Yasuko Matsuyuki
Hikari Mitsushima
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Toshiro Nakagawa
Tatsuo Yamaguchi


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Kinuta (Satoshi Tsumabuki) has got into trouble with a large gambling debt. To pay it off he joins a group of smugglers including Joe (Masatoshi Nagase) and Gramps (Tatsuya Gashuin), who get jobs from fixer and banker Yamaoka (Yasuko Matsuyuki). Kinuta’s first job with the group is to collect, transport and dispose of the bodies of Yakuza boss Tanuma and some of his henchmen who have been killed by the Chinese super-assassins Vertebrae (Masanobu Ando) and Viscera (Ryushin Tei).

     The remnants of the Tanuma gang, including Tanuma’s wife Chiharu (Hikari Mitsushima), hire Yamaoka to find and capture the assassins and deliver them to the gang for retribution. Viscera is killed, but Vertebrae is captured and Joe, Gramps and Kinuta tasked to drive him to the gang. But on the way Kinuta inadvertently allows Vertebrae to escape, and Joe comes up with a plan that will put Kinuta into mortal danger until Vertebrae can be recaptured. And, of course, most people in this underworld of crime have their own separate agendas.

     Smuggler (original title Sumagura: Omae nomirai o hakoba) is based upon the comic Sumagura by Shohei Manabe, a comic that, as shown in the “making of” included on this DVD, was extensively referenced by director Katsuhito Ishii during the making of this film. Ishii has been around for a while, having been involved in an earlier comic adaption with the interestingly named Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl in 1998, although he is perhaps best known for The Taste of Tea (2004), a film that has won awards at film festivals around the world.

     Smuggler is a strange mixture. Parts of the film are surreal and try for the cerebral with dialogue on the nature of death, and what is life, juxtaposed with graphic cartoonish violence, where blood sprays, fingers break and heads are bent out of shape by the impact of fists or nunchakus. Yet, within this violence, the audience is always kept at a distance by the use of extreme slow motion, or, in one later segment, by a speeded up section where the protagonist jumps up and around the walls and on the ceiling evading bullets. This violence, we are reminded by the camera tricks, is not real. The film also mixes in a brutal and extended torture sequence, although the more extreme tortures take place out of the frame and we only witness the results. It then adds comedic elements, such as the comic sidekick Gramps, or the antics of the yakuza Kawashima (Masahiro Takashima) who, among other things, changes into a number of weird outfits during the torture sequence.

     I have watched a range of Japanese live action films that have been based upon comics and can appreciate, for example, films such as Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, Gantz or even Yakuza Weapon but the juxtaposing in Smuggler of cartoonish violence, graphic brutality, torture and attempted comedy was, for me at least, too much of a stretch. Others think more positively of the film, and it has been called a “wacky and shocking comedy” and “very close to live action cartoon while at the same time retaining a tough, gritty edge . . . (with) an outlandish sense of humour”. It is true that there are far worse films around, and certainly Smuggler is not boring and does have some good, intense action sequences. As well, in Vertebrae and the performance of Masanobu Ando, the film also has one of the most interesting villains and assassins to grace the screen in quite some time.

     While I did appreciate parts of Smuggler I found the mixture the cerebral, cartoonish action, graphic violence, the extended torture sequence and comedy too much of a stretch. That may be just me, however, so if the genre appeals it is worth a look.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Smuggler is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the original theatrical ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced.

     The print is nice and sharp, with good detail in close-ups and faces. Colours are natural if on the muted side although there is no obvious evidence of colour manipulation except in flashback sequences where the colour has been washed out. Blacks and shadow detail are excellent. Brightness and contrast is consistent, skin tones look on the pale side but are fine. Other than occasional slight ghosting I did not notice any film or film to video artefacts.

     English subtitles are in a clear yellow font and are easy to read. I noticed only a couple of minor grammatical errors. Japanese signs are translated in a white text. The film is also divided into chapters, and chapter headings appear on the screen. They are translated in a white text, but a few times, such as Chapter One at 7:16, they flash by far too quickly to read.

     A nice print without technical issues, except for the white subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio is a choice of Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 track at 448 Kbps or Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track at 224 Kbps.

     The 5.1 is quite a front oriented audio track with the surrounds and rears used for little except ambient sound and music, although during some of the intense hand to hand fights there were thumbs and crashes to be heard. Dialogue was clear, the sub-woofer providing limited support to fights and the score.

     Lip synchronisation is fine.

     The music score by Toshiro Nakagawa and Tatsuo Yamaguchi is varied and quite effective, ranging from a piano and orchestra with the opening title sequence to songs and drums. It works well in the context of the film.

     The audio is fine, if nothing to enthuse about.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Making of (17:23)

     This is more an unstructured behind the scenes video diary without linking captions or voiceover. Some interesting footage, including shooting a sequence in the rain, and the sound mix changes half way through. OK but not essential.

Cast Interviews

     Three cast members answer questions posed in text on the screen about the original comic, their character and working with the director. Very much an EPK, the cast members are:

Katsuhito Ishii at TIFF (2:43)

     The director presents the film at the Toronto International Film Festival

Theatrical Trailer (1:35)

Eastern Eye Trailers

     Trailers for other Directors Suite films from Madman: Gantz 1 (1:49), Space Battleship Yamato (1:37), The Raid (1:38) and Outrage (2:05).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     I cannot at this time find another release of Smuggler listed on Region 1 US or Region 2 UK sales sites. YesAsia.com lists two Region 3 Japanese versions, one a 2 DVD Collectors Edition with audio commentaries, a making of, cast interviews, stage events and trailers, but neither version has English subtitles for the feature or extras. The Region 2 HK release has English subtitles but does not appear to have the extras Region 4 does. For English speakers, our Region 4 is the way to go.

Summary

     Smuggler is a strange mixture. Parts of the film are surreal and try for the cerebral, juxtaposed with graphic, bloody cartoonish violence, an extended torture sequence and some comedy.

     The DVD has excellent video, reasonable audio, and some OK extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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