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Customer Review

155 of 167 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Masterworks Edition" DVD is badly botched, October 23, 2003
This review is from: Ran (Masterworks Edition) (DVD)
The "Ran: Masterworks Edition" DVD could have been much better, but was badly botched by the producer (Wellspring Media).
By far the biggest problem is the so-called "digital restoration," which consists of two things: running the whole movie through a miscalibrated digital denoising filter, and increasing the contrast and color saturation to cartoonish levels. The latter change can at least be undone at the playback end, but the former does irreparable damage to the image. Most of the image problems mentioned here by other reviewers are due to this "restoration," not to defects in the new transfer.
The damage from the digital denoising is severe and present throughout the film. It's easily recognized with experience, or when the denoised image is shown next to the pristine original. But since I don't have that luxury here, I'll just mention some of the more easily seen symptoms. Clouds seem slightly unnatural, as if hand-painted, because their delicate wispiness is interpreted as noise and removed (see for example 0:11:45 and 2:18:00). Thin bright lines against dark backgrounds "sparkle" or "twinkle" like stars; this is caused by cross-frame denoising, which misinterprets movement of sharp edges due to frame jitter or camera movement as transient noise (see for example the sunray pattern in the Ichimonji crest beginning at around 0:04:30). Fast-moving objects shrink or disappear completely for brief intervals, again due to cross-frame denoising (see for example Kyoami's legs as he runs, at around 0:09:15).
The new _Metropolis (1927)_ DVD includes a restoration featurette which explains why computerized denoising was not used in the restoration of that film, and shows examples of some of the problems described above. And denoising was only considered for that film because the available prints were badly in need of restoration. _Ran_ does not need restoration, which makes this unnecessary damage all the more tragic.
Many DVDs released by Central Park Media have also been defaced in this way, notably the new two-disc edition of Takahata's _Grave of the Fireflies_. I think the same company is responsible for all of these botched "restorations," since the modus operandi is always the same: moderate to severe denoising artifacts, grossly oversaturated colors, and a "restoration demo" comparing the restored version to a previous video release in a distinctive splitscreen format.
There are many other problems with this DVD, though they are minor in comparison to the above:
The new transfer was apparently made from a theatrical print rather than a higher-fidelity interpositive, since it contains reel change marks (flashing black circles at the upper right corner of the frame). Surely such a beautiful film deserves better than this.
There are several embarrassing mistakes in the subtitles which would have been caught by a human being, but not by a software spelling checker. Apparently the producers of this DVD labor under the delusion that proofreading, like restoration, can be done by computer.
The MPEG-2 encoding was done improperly, with the result that the image switches randomly between progressive (film) and interlaced (video) encodings, instead of remaining film throughout. This causes annoying random blurring and sharpening during playback on many DVD players, noticeable mainly in still scenes. (See for example the long shots of Hidetora starting around 0:50:00; please note that this problem is not visible on all players.) Some players can be reconfigured to mask this problem (on software players choose "bob" rather than "weave" or "automatic"), but this will reduce the playback quality of properly-encoded DVDs.
Technical incompetence aside, this is not a bad disc. The subtitle translation is problematic, but I've seen much worse; I can't complain too much here. What's lost in the translation is probably insignificant compared to cultural details which no translation could hope to explain. A short "production notes" extra fills in a few of those details but neglects others. Two uninteresting trailers for the film are included. The "restoration demo" is good for seething at in impotent anger, and also for seeing how Kurosawa probably intended the film to appear, colorwise, before it was "enhanced" for this DVD.
There are two commentary tracks. One, by Stephen Prince, focuses on narrative technique and is clearly intended for students. It's quite good. The other is by Peter Grilli, who was present on the set during part of the shooting of _Ran_; he talks about his experiences there and his opinions of Kurosawa and his work. Though sometimes interesting, Grilli's comments make no sense as a commentary track since they're wholly unconnected to the action on screen. They should have been printed in a companion booklet.
The film itself is a masterpiece, of course; even the shoddiest technical treatment can't mask its emotional impact. I would have given it five stars but for the problems with the DVD.
This is the first non-Central Park Media DVD that I've seen to use this "digital restoration" process. I'm frightened that it will spread further. I urge anyone concerned by this to write to Wellspring Media and tell them that they could have produced a much better DVD, with less effort, by simply omitting the "restoration" step. If you decide not to buy the disc for this reason, tell them that too.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 9, 2008 9:43:35 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 9, 2008 9:45:20 AM PST
You are of course correct. But it isn't as bad as all that. The detail is not as exact as it could be. The colors look slightly "off" but I would not describe them as cartoonish. Less cartoonish, I would say than a color Hollywood movie from the 1940s or 50s, at least. The Criterion Collection of Henry V -- that was cartoonish color. Probably accurate to the original, too.

Yes, technically on the Masterworks edition the MPEG-2 video should have been completely progressive without interlaced parts. That is inexplicable. Yes, the Criterion is very accurate and clean. Also very expensive compared to the out of print Masterworks edition. And as you say the Masterworks commentaries are good.

It all depends on your level of interest in this film. Personally, I enjoy Kagamusha more than Ran, but Ran is widely acknowledged as the greater picture. I don't argue with that judgment, but I couldn't personally justify a big expense for a personal copy of Ran. The Masterworks edition of Ran is very watchable and enjoyable. If you must have the very best, pony up for the Criterion.

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2009 3:26:51 PM PDT
David Keppel says:
In any case, this reader review (and lower star-rating) is somewhat misleading when posted as a comment on the Criterion edition, since in fact it was a comment on the Masterworks edition. I've noticed that's normal at Amazon: all comments are posted on all editions. Often that is helpful -- for example, someone may have a perceptive review of a book, and the differences between printings are trivial. Here it is misleading. So perhaps Amazon (which in any case moderates posted comments) will learn to distinguish between the two categories.

Posted on Dec 20, 2009 10:11:51 AM PST
R. Walters says:
Dear Mr. Rudiak-Gould, Thank you for your very helpful and instructive review. You provided a much better understanding of what is involved in making a digital transfer.

R. C. Walters

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 23, 2010 12:06:06 PM PDT
Sean Brady says:
Agreed ... this is an excellent, informative review. Could you please review all the movies I want to buy?!

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 29, 2011 9:45:32 PM PDT
Vikki says:
Ditto!!! This is a fantastic review!! I thought the "sparkle" on the dark backgrounds was my player!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 23, 2012 6:14:48 AM PDT
ROBERT W. says:
To be fair, it does say:

"This review is from: Ran (Masterworks Edition) (DVD) "

Albeit in relatively small type.

Posted on Mar 4, 2016 4:05:02 PM PST
M. Macknick says:
Thank you, Mr. Rudiak-Guild. I agree that proofreading cannot be done by a machine. Even a simple first-pass by software would merely conceal serious translation errors.

For another thing, there are many, many "modes" of speech, if you will, in Japanese. The military style splits into a formal, echelon-oriented mode of communication and an "on-the-field of battle", even terser mode. Lord Kurogani's use of this was lost in the subtitles.

The Japanese that samurai-family born women would speak and that which most native-born women would use was recognizable in the the original language, but lost in the translations. Both are very different than that employed by men. What happened?

There is a literary style Kiyoami would have used, a tea-room style and so on. In giving or requesting assistance, there are different ways to speak to one's social superiors or inferiors. There was nearly total absence of an acknowledgement of these differences. This made the subtitles, at times, baroque and barely recognizable as a "translation" and much subtlety and meaning was lost. At other times, according to the translations, people spoke to each other in ways that would have angered 16th century samurai clans.

Finally, how much of the difference between speech of the Warring States period and the current era was lost?

My knowledge of the Japanese language is poor, but even with this handicap, I would have enjoyed a decent translation.

Again, Thank you for pointing out the weakness and poverty of non-human translation. There was no index, but the same difficulties exist and appear in the credits.

I wanted to purchase a copy of Ran, but will wait until a better translation comes out.
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