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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Pale Flower (Kawaita hana) (1964)

Muraki: When I stabbed him, it made me feel very much more alive.
Saeko: Were you happy?
Muraki: I suppose so.

- Ryo Ikebe, Mariko Kaga

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: December 17, 2003

Stars: Ryo Ikebe, Mariko Kaga
Other Stars: Chisako Hara, Takashi Fujiki
Director: Masahiro Shinoda

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (gambling, violence, implied sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:35m:53s
Release Date: November 18, 2003
UPC: 037429183328
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Muraki (Ryo Ikebe), a yakuza of the Funada mob, has just been released from three years in prison, as a result of his killing a member of the rival Yasuoka mob. He observes the teeming crowds of Tokyo, meets his old friends in a gambling den, visits his old girlfriend Furuka (Chisako Hara), and concludes that "nothing has changed."

But things have indeed changed. The Funada and Yasuoka mob have combined forces to battle the encroaching Imai mob, and their bosses are best buddies. And Muraki, apparently frustrated with his girlfriend, who refuses to marry him, starts to pursue the mysterious and beautiful Saeko (Mariko Kaga), whom he meets while gambling. The attraction is mutual, and they begin an on-again off-again relationship, with Saeko in pursuit of greater and greater kicks, whether high-stakes gambling, drugs, or dangerous car chases in the Tokyo darkness.

The film is visually stunning, with a wide range in contrast from the darkest blacks to the brightest whites. In keeping with the gangster milieu, much of the film is set at night, and even interiors tend to be very dark. Shinoda, in keeping with many Japanese directors, constantly breaks the classic rule that the camera can't cross the 180° line, and uses these abrupt changes in angle to effectively comment on the characters and their emotions. Toru Takemitsu's typically-atonal score, while intermittent, adds to the general atmosphere of unease.

As Shinoda discusses in the accompanying interview, the defeat of Japan in World War II left him disillusioned with science and with a desire to explore the nature of Japanese identity and its darker side. In Pale Flower, Muraki is presented as aloof and emotionally distant. He makes life-changing decisions with little or no regard to the consequences, because, as he believes, nothing changes. When his mob boss asks for a volunteer to make a hit, Muraki is willing, even though he knows it will lead him straight back to the jail from which he only recently been released. Although he co-wrote the script, it's not clear whether Shinoda is presenting Muraki as an example of the Japanese psyche, but if he is, the implications of such nihilistic beliefs and the behavior they engender would be truly frightening.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a beautiful transfer of a 2.35:1 widescreen image that contains deep blacks, bright whites, and all shades in between, although at times the contrast seems just a little bit high. There are no compression artifacts, and no edge enhancement. Home Vision deserves thanks for delivering such a quality transfer, but due to the darkness of many of the scenes, the film is still best viewed in a darkened room.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japaneseyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital® two-channel mono sound is at all times clear, but with limited range and fidelity, as would be expected from a film of this age.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Filmography of director Masahiro Shinoda
  2. Interview with director Masahiro Shinoda
  3. Four-page printed insert with notes by Chris D.
Extras Review: The full-frame, digital video interview with director Shinoda packs a wealth of information in its brief running time of 10m:13s. In it, he discusses his early disillusionment with science, his early days with fellow New Wave directors Nagisa Oshima and Shohei Imamura, and his search for Japanese identity during the cold war. In regards to Pale Flower, he discusses his interest in portraying the everyday life of a gangster, and problems with the film's screenwriter and release.

The printed notes by American Cinematheque's Chris D. are, as always, informative and interesting, and taken with the interview, add a great deal to one's appreciation of the film.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Masahiro Shinoda's existentialist gangster pic, Pale Flower, portrays a yakuza with little left to lose. The beautiful black-and-white photography is effectively rendered in the excellent transfer.


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