The Idiot (Hakuchi) (1951)

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Released 12-May-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Gallery-Stills
Trailer-Early Summer; An Autumn Afternoon; Seven Samarai
Trailer-Taste Of Cherry; The Wind Will Carry Us
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1951
Running Time 159:35
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (85:14) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Akira Kurosawa
Studio
Distributor
Madman
Madman Entertainment
Starring Setsuko Hara
Masayuki Mori
Toshirô Mifune
Takashi Shimura
Chieko Higashiyama
Chiyoko Fumiya
Eijirô Yanagi
Yoshiko Kuga
Minoru Chiaki
Eiko Miyoshi
Noriko Sengoku
Mitsuyo Akashi
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Fumio Hayasaka


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    The Idiot is Akira Kurosawa's adaptation of the Russian novel of the same name by Dostoevsky. In transferring the novel to film for a Japanese audience, Kurosawa set the story on the snow covered island of Hokkaido, in northern Japan.

    Kameda (Masayuki Mori) was a soldier sentenced to death, completely resigned to his fate in front of a firing squad. The unthinkable happened however; while waiting to be executed he was granted a pardon literally at the last minute. Understandably, the trauma of the experience disturbed him a bit, in fact it made him mentally withdrawn and slow. It is also said that the disturbing event negated his ability to lie. After some time in an asylum, he begins his return home and crosses paths with Akama (Toshiro Mifune), a street-wise brute who is curious about Kameda's mental state. Together they become embroiled with two women; Ayoko, an innocent and pretty girl with a sharp tongue, and Taeko (Setsuko Hara), an attractive ex-concubine who is now on the market, so to speak. Most of Kameda's acquaintances see his simple demeanour as endearing, however such a chap is open to exploitation, which leads to many amusing social situations.

    The two men become smitten by the former concubine, unperturbed by her former occupation, and Kameda forms a deep emotional attachment that causes him to spiral into mental instability once again. Ultimately, a confrontation between the two women sparks a tragedy that will effect both men immeasurably.

    While I wouldn't say this is Kurosawa's greatest work, as a dramatic thriller it is certainly compelling viewing. The performances are simply sublime throughout, Mori in particular, but unfortunately the film's flow is a little confusing at times, as explained below. This film is a must for Kurosawa fans.

    Kurosawa's initial cut of Hakuchi ran for more than 265 minutes, much to the dismay of the studio, who insisted that the runtime be halved. The version we have here was truncated without Kurosawa's involvement and was released theatrically in Japan. It would appear his original cut has been lost, for now.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    For a film that is fifty-five years old, this transfer is as good as one would expect. This is a black and white film and it does show a bit of wear and tear, however this is likely to be the best transfer we'll see.

    The transfer is presented in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame. Obviously, there is no 16x9 enhancement.

    The image contains a decent amount of detail, but is marred by many scratches, water marks and the like. There are also many moments of instability in the image such as during reel changes, fades between scenes and so on. Personally, I didn't find these distracting because this is exactly how I expected the film to look, however others may be more sensitive. As far as MPEG artefacting is concerned, I noticed a few instances of mild pixelation on shaded surfaces, during facial close-ups for example. Otherwise, there aren't any major compression issues to speak of.

    A grey English subtitle stream is activated by default. The text is easy to read but is paced slightly behind the spoken word, which created a few confusing moments when the dialogue picked up speed, or had characters speaking over one another. I also noted a couple of minor errors, probably typos, that made things a bit difficult as well.

    This disc is dual layered (DVD9 formatted), with the layer transition placed during the feature at 85:14. The break was transparent on my system, however it appears to be placed mid-scene and may be an interruption to some.

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

Audio

    There is only one soundtrack accompanying this film on DVD; Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s). This soundtrack is mistakenly labelled on the disc as English.

    The dialogue is generally easy to discern and even though I don't comprehend much Japanese, the spoken word is always dominant. Audio sync seems to be accurate.

    As with the video transfer, the soundtrack also betrays the age of the film. There are many pops, clicks and scratches present and the pitch noticeably wavers at times. There are a few minor dropouts present, but they don't interrupt any passages of dialogue or detract from the experience to a great degree.

    The score by Fumio Hayasaka incorporates some inventive instrumentation, such as the beautiful use of the music box, so delicate and innocent. The film also sported some interesting sound design for its time; gunfire appears in the soundtrack out of nowhere while a character is relating a war story, and bell sounds recur throughout the film to signify prayer.

    The subwoofer and surround channels are obviously not utilised.

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

Extras

Menu

    The menu page contains some subtle animation, accompanied by a clip from the score. None of the disc's content is 16x9 enhanced.

Gallery (1:22)

    This is a simple series of stills, taken from the film and very nicely presented with pans and zooms, all set to music by Fumio Hayasaka.

Madman Trailers (5)

    Trailers include Early Summer, An Autumn Afternoon, Seven Samurai, Taste Of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us.

R4 vs R1

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

    There doesn't appear to be a Region 1 release yet. A Region 2 release exists, with the following additional extras:

    It would appear our Region 4 disc has superior video quality. Judging by some screen shots I have viewed, the Region 2 has poorer image depth and a lower MPEG bitrate.

Summary

    The Idiot is an enchanting dramatic thriller, buoyed by outstanding performances. Kurosawa's original cut would be very interesting to see.

    The transfer is restricted somewhat by the age of the film and the condition of the source material.

    The extras amount to a gallery and some unrelated trailers.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector, Screen Technics Cinemasnap 96" (16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

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