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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka 'Ninjo kami fusen' or 'Humanity and Paper Balloons')

directed by Sadao Yamanaka
Japan 1937


Widely regarded as Yamanaka's greatest achievement, Humanity and Paper Balloons [Ninjo kami fusen] was, tragically, his last film, and only one of three that survive today. In a short, six year, 22 film career Yamanaka quickly earned a reputation for exceptionally fluid editing and a beautiful visual form likened to the paintings of Japanese masters.

The story develops in the Tokugawa era of the 18th century, in a poor district of Tokyo, where impoverished samurai live from hand to mouth among equally poor people of lower social classes. One such ronin (masterless samurai) Matajuro, spends his day looking for work whilst his wife, Otaki, makes cheap paper balloons at home. One rainy night, Shinza, a barber, and equally penniless, impulsively abducts the daughter of a wealthy merchant, hiding her at Matajuro's home. Their desperate plan has grave consequences when a ransom attempt backfires. The film, which starts and ends with suicide, is deeply pessimistic, insisting that life in feudal Japan was hellish and short for those at the foot of the social ladder.

Humanity and Paper Balloons premiered the day Yamanaka was drafted to the frontline at the start of WWII. He died in Manchuria, 1938, aged just 29. Boasting naturalistic performances and fine ensemble playing (from the left-wing theatre troupe Zenshin-za).



Theatrical Release: January 18th, 2003 - Tokyo

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DVD Review: Eureka (Master of Cinema # 11) - Region 1 - NTSC

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Distribution Eureka (MoC # 11) - Region 2 - PAL
Runtime 1:22:33 
Video 1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.98 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio Japanese (Dolby Digital 1.0) 
Subtitles English, None

Release Information:
Studio: Eureka Video

Aspect Ratio:
Original aspect Ratio 1.33:

Edition Details:

• Production stills gallery
• 24-page booklet with excerpts from Yamanaka's diaries, new essays by Tony Rayns, Shinji Aoyama, Kimitoshi Sato; and a reprint of Yamanaka's will.

DVD Release Date: July 25th, 2005

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Chapters: 16




The image actually looks far better than I anticipated. Eureka used the transfer provided by Toho, and it looks to have been slightly de-saturated (usually done to remove any possibility of chroma or moire-ing). Contrast has possibly been slightly dampened to bring out richer black levels. There is some brightness flickering but it, again, is a function of the film's poor quality negative.  It is obviously hazy but otherwise very acceptable considering the infamous film storage in Japan. This DVD is encoded progressively as we found no evidence of combing. Original audio and excellent optional English subtitles (translated by Tony Rayns). The menus are beautiful.

There probably isn't much hope of this film ever looking any better, and I'm confident that the MoC disc is better than the current Japanese DVD (that has no English subtitles). There really isn't any questions whether this should be part of your cineaste DVD collection. It is tantamount to being imperative.

Gary W. Tooze


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Recommended Reading in Japanese Cinema (CLICK COVERS or TITLES for more information)


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Distribution Eureka (MoC # 11) - Region 2 - PAL


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