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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Makioka Sisters aka Sasame-yuki [Blu-ray]


(Kon Ichikawa, 1983)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Toho Eizo Co.

Video: Criterion Collection - spine # 567



Region: 'A'-locked (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:20:34.801

Disc Size: 42,356,484,723 bytes

Feature Size: 41,217,589,248 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Chapters: 29

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: June 14th, 2011



Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio Japanese 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit



English (SDH), none



• Original theatrical trailer (1:52)
• A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Audie Bock





Description: This lyrical adaptation of the beloved Japanese novel by Junichiro Tanizaki was a late-career triumph for world-class director Kon Ichikawa (The Burmese Harp, Fires on the Plain). Revolving around the changing of the seasons, The Makioka Sisters (Sasame-yuki) follows the lives of four sisters who have taken on their family’s kimono manufacturing business, over the course of a number of years leading up to the Pacific War. The two oldest have been married for some time, but according to tradition, the rebellious youngest sister cannot wed until the third, conservative and terribly shy, finds a husband. This graceful study of a family at a turning point in history is a poignant evocation of changing times and fading customs, shot in rich, vivid colors.



The Film:

It’s like the work of a painter who has perfect control of what color he gives you... Ichikawa is a deadpan sophisticate, with a film technique so masterly that he pulls you into the worlds he creates… At first you’re like an eavesdropper on a fascinating world that you’re ignorant about. But then you find that you’re not just watching this film — you’re coasting on its rhythms, and gliding past the precipitous spots. Ichikawa celebrates the delicate beauty of the Makioka sisters, and at the same time makes you feel that there’s something amusingly perverse in their poise and politesse... There’s a triumphant simplicity about his work here. This venerable director is doing what so many younger directors have claimed to be doing: he’s making visual music.”

 Pauline Kael

A prestige literary adaptation (from Tanizaki's 1948 family saga Sasameyuki, sometimes known as A Light Snowfall) produced by the Toho studio to mark their 50th anniversary, becomes in Ichikawa's hands an imposing tribute to classical Japanese cinema. There's certainly a strong tinge of Ozu in this stately tale, set in 1938 and structured around a series of marriage interviews in which an aristocratic Osaka family research a suitable prospect for the youngest but one of five sisters. The legacy of past scandal, the Makiokas' diminishing status in increasingly industrialised Japan, the sniping for supremacy between the quintet of siblings, and the rumble of approaching conflict, all make for a complex narrative, micro-managed with authority by Ichikawa, who omits the the great Kobe flood that constitutes the novel's key dramatic episode, and instead draws the viewer in through the elliptical release of significant personal detail. The film's visual pleasures meanwhile (exquisite kimonos and cherry blossoms, elegant traditional interiors shimmering in low key lighting), are positively luxuriant, celebrating traditional Japanese aesthetics while recording the passing of a cossetted, gilded world. Pity about the horrid synthesizer score marking the changes. Anyone who dismisses late Ichikawa just isn't paying attention. This is masterly.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Firstly, there was a Japanese DVD of the film available HERE. But it had no subtitles. This is actually the third in a series of films based on the very highly acclaimed novel by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki which is about four aristocratic Japanese sisters in the late 1930s (Shōwa era). Criterion's 1080P transfer picks up the flamboyant use of the pink cherry blossoms or pastel colors of the kimonos. The film's darkness and duller scenes are juxtaposed by this unusual vibrancy. From those who have seen the DVD and film theatrically I gather that the look of The Makioka Sisters is as represented here - very heavy and thick with grain. It is almost as if looking at the presentation through a mist. Criterion have used a dual-layered transfer with a very high bitrate. It is very clean and while I thought I could see some form of banding - it was just my eyes playing tricks on me. There is no gloss at all to the image and contrast is not a prominent factor in raising the detail. From researching about the film and talking to those who have seen it either theatrically or via the SD format I believe this Blu-ray probably looks like The Makioka Sisters and it is most notable in the areas of supporting the grain integrity and the remarkable colors.















Audio :

Criterion use a linear PCM mono track at 1152 kbps. It is faithful to the film's production roots. Aside from the consistent dialogue, there is an unusual score by Shinnosuke Okawa and Toshiyuki Watanabe using, what sounds like synthesizers. The choice dates the production somewhat. Overall, though it is clean and clear (obviously flat) with no discernable flaws. Criterion offer professional subtitle translations and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'A'.


Extras :

Not as much as we are used to from Criterion in the way of supplements - digitally all we get is an original theatrical trailer running less than 2-minutes. While the film could be considered melodramatic - it is also layered with humor and a mixture of emotions that would make a commentary ideal to appreciating the subtleties. Also includes are a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Audie Bock.



The Makioka Sisters could have comparisons to Ozu with both directors gently observing social Japanese rituals while sliding less-comfortably into modern progressiveness. The film follows its own pace but becomes less opaque as Ichikawa progresses through the second half of the film. I went into my viewing with no preconceptions and eventually became very aware of what a potent masterpiece it was. The Criterion Blu-ray supports the film's style and intentions creating a strong presentation bond between the characters and the viewer. I consider this a 'must-see' film with the 1080P being the ultimate method via your home theater. Strongly recommended! 

Gary Tooze

June 3rd, 2011


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze






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