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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Underworld Beauty (1958)

"What a dangerous welcome."
- Miyamoto (Michitaro Mizushima)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: April 21, 2004

Stars: Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki
Other Stars: Hideaki Nitani, Shinsuke Ashida, Hiroshi Kondo, Kaku Takashina, Toru Abe
Director: Seijun Suzuki

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:27m:00s
Release Date: January 20, 2004
UPC: 037429186329
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B+B C-

DVD Review

Underworld Beauty is a wonderfully gritty, shadow-filled piece of Japanese gangster film noir, directed in 1958 by Seijun Suzuki as part of Nikkatsu Studios burgeoning yakuza period that stretched from the early 1950s into the mid-1960s. Western audiences seldom have been given the chance to see Suzuki's work, and thankfully Home Vision has seen fit to issue this title from his prolific career, his seventh film for Nikkatsu.

After being sprung from a three-year stint in the big house for a botched gem heist, gruff man in black Miyamoto (Michitaro Mizushima) returns to his old stomping grounds to retrieve the precious stones he hid prior to his arrest. Miyamoto is a fairly righteous sort, and he's determined to repay a debt to Mihara, a member of his gang that was crippled during the fouled-up robbery, by giving him the stashed loot. The problem is that everyone wants the jewels, including Oyane, the local crime boss. And when Mihara ends up dead with the stones in his belly (don't ask), a cat-and-mouse game ensues with assorted mobsters doing their own thing to get the jewels for themselves, before the police do.

Watch for Mari Shiraki as Akiko, the free-spirited younger sister of diamond-eating Mihara; she is a veritable firecracker, and falls somewhere between helpless victim and femme fatale. That's her on the cover, sporting a tommy gun in her unmentionables, which for whatever reason doesn't appear in the film anywhere. Regardess, she giggles, screams, fights, shovels coal, takes part in a shoot-out and is reduced to nearly nothing after being tortured in a steam room. The character of Akiko is really a direct contrast to the stoic demeanors and shifty-eyed glances of seemingly every male in Suzuki's film (or any noir film for that matter), and when she takes it upon herself to hide some valuables in a very safe spot, she does so where no western female lead at the time could have gotten away with.

Ironically, the same frenetic energy can't be said for Michitaro Mizushima, with his Indiana Jones fedora cocked at a dashing angle; he remains a rather bland main character, choosing to furrow his brow rather than emote. He is properly stern and brooding as required of a noir lead, or supporting characters for that matter, but it was tough to see him as anything but a shadow, and Suzuki never fills in his back story enough to make him more human.

The story unfolds with the expected gun-toting double crosses, and Suzuki's visual acuity picks up the slack for any lapses in the structured narrative of screenwriter Susumu Saji. Suzuki's black-and-white palette contains all of the required components of a typical tough-guys-with-guns genre film, with plumes of cigarette smoke and long shadows a constant. There are some singularly beautiful moments in Underworld Beauty, as when Miyamoto traverses a dark, wet sewer tunnel to retrieve the jewels, and there is admittedly something off-balance about seeing such a stereotypically westernized genre given the Japanese spin. The stylized elements are all in place, and Suzuki consistently uses an appealing blend of smoke, light, and shadow to create a real noir mood that gives this crime saga a 1950s macho veneer.

And it works.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Home Vision has issued Suzuki's gangster drama in a smart 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The source print has a few minor nicks and flaws, but the starkness of the black-and-white cinematography still comes through beautifully. Contrast and black levels are strong, and other than some softness and a slight grain issue, this one looks good.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in the original Japanese mono, with optional English subtitles. The usual flatness of the 1950s mono is present here, with very little in the way of dynamic range for dialogue, making it occasionally difficult to tell who is talking. Naozumi Yamamoto's alternatingly jazzy and somber score fares the best, and somehow seems unaffected by the limitations of mono.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only extra here is a Suzuki filmography, and the disc itself is cut into 18 chapters, with optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Here's some tense Japanese gangster noir from Seijun Suzuki, a beautiful black-and-white film issued in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen from Home Vision.



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