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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Sada (1998)

"My childhood was over before I even knew it."
- Sada (Hitomi Kuroki)

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: August 10, 2004

Stars: Hitomi Kuroki
Other Stars: Tsurutaro Kataoka, Kippei Shena, Toshie Negishi, Noriheo Miki
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sustained sexual situations, language, a scene of rape)
Run Time: 02h:12m:10s
Release Date: August 10, 2004
UPC: 037429197127
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ DCC+ D+

DVD Review

The Orient and the West have strikingly different views of death, which may explain why Sada will not play well with many American and European viewers. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi is attempting to show a bygone era's fascination with ritual murder. The cultural clash between American audiences and the filmmakers that ensues is hardly anyone's fault, but the sloppy storytelling and improper tone make this a pointless film.

The story of Sada Abe is based in fact and has been filmed before, in Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses, and is now a part of Japanese folklore. As a 14-year-old girl, Sada (Hitomi Kuroki) was raped by a college student and, at least according to the real Sada's reports, helped by a medical student named Okada (Kippei Shena). The truth of these claims cannot be factually supported, but Obayashi uses this as the crux of the story.

Unfortunately, the rape scene hits all of the wrong notes. The horror and brutality of rape, captured brilliantly in Bergman's The Virgin Spring and Noe's Irréversible, are completely absent and replaced by an almost sadistic enjoyment of the act on the film's part. As the story progresses, the young Sada displays signs of obsession and is devastated when Okada leaves her. Having lost her virginity, she becomes a geisha for a few years and by 1929 is a full-fledged prostitute.

The film jumps between real and surreal without any well-founded direction, with some of Sada's sexual encounters being shown in a comical manner while others are harrowing. A greater director might be able to pull this off, but the rapid-fire editing and jump cuts come across as mindless, clumsy indulgences. After spending years as a prostitute, Sada takes on a job in a restaurant where she meets Tatsuzo Kikimoto (Tsurutaro Kataoka).

Tatsuzo is her boss, and the two have an affair that starts out passionate, but turns ugly and obsessive, causing his wife to throw him out. The lovers live in cheap hotels, and as their relationship becomes more and more dire, so does the storytelling. The closing 25 minutes, which depict Sada's obsessive jealousy, are heartbreaking to watch. Just when you think Obayashi is completely oblivious to the seriousness of his topic, he comes out of nowhere to make poignant observations.

Regrettably, it's too little, too late. Hitomi Kuroki's performance is touching and powerful, yet her efforts are futile. At 132 minutes, the film is too long and the style is unfitting. Cinematographer Noritaka Sakamoto provides an endless collage of gorgeous images, but the color scheme and inexplicable shifts between black and white and color serve only to disorient the viewer. It's easy to say that Sada is exploitative and it's even easier to claim that it is playing poorly on account of cultural differences. Both statements may be true, but the simple fact is that the film never succeeds in delivering the potential drama and significance of Sada Abe's story for reasons that are solely the blame of director Obayashi.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Home Vision has made a new transfer of Sada for this DVD release. Considering the remarkable success of their efforts, it is unforgivable that they did not present the film in its 1.85:1 original aspect ratio. Other than this fact, however, the image is fantastic. The black-and-white scenes contain striking contrast and solid blacks. Colors come across vibrantly with strong detail and depth, creating a film-like look. Despite the film not being in its OAR, this is still an impressive transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Presented in Japanese mono, Sada sounds about as exciting as a mono track can be. The dialogue is crisp and clear, as is the musical score. Sound effects come across as lifeless, but this is the result of the film's original sound mix. It's not an exhilarating listening experience, but it's an adequate arrangement.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring HVe Zatoichi Series
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:15m:40s

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert—contains an essay by film critic Richard Kadrey and an introduction by director Obayashi.
Extras Review: In terms of extras, this set is pretty meek. There is an insert with an introduction by Nobuhiko Obayashi about his intentions for the film and an essay by film critic Richard Kadrey, which offers a favorable view of Sada. On the disc are selected filmographies of star Hitomi Kuroki and Obayashi. In addition, the original theatrical trailer (01m:08s) is presented in 1.33:1 and mono sound. There also is a trailer for Home Vision's Zatoichi Series series (01m:45s) with 2.0 Dolby surround.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Sada is a missed opportunity. The story contains tremendous potential to be a powerful exploration of obsession, but the filmmaking is maladroit and gratuitous. Home Vision's transfer looks gorgeous, but is sadly in pan and scan. The monaural sound mix is elegant, but will not satisfy home theater enthusiasts. Finally, extra features are slim pickings, which make this a title to pass on.


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