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Synapse Films presents
Budo: The Art of Killing (1982)

"As only the warrior class were privileged to use the sword, the less fortunate had to devise other means of defending themselves from the violence of the sword."
- Narrator Harry J. Quini

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: February 02, 2005

Stars: Harry J. Quini
Director: Masayashi Nemoto

MPAA Rating: PG for (violence, ritual suicide)
Run Time: 01h:30m:15s
Release Date: January 25, 2005
UPC: 654930303993
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ CC-B+ C-

DVD Review

After would-be exploitation huckster Arthur Davis released his faux-mondo picture, Brutes and Savages, he came across this documentary on Japanese martial arts. Although it was fairly staid stuff, Davis saw an opportunity and slapped an exploitative title onto it and began to reap in the dollars again.

The film essentially looks at a series of Japanese martial arts, or Budo, with demonstrations of each and a little bit of background. Among those examined are such familiar arts as judo and karate, and also aikido and the rather esoteric world of sumo. Director Nemoto makes a point of emphasizing the ritualistic aspects of these various arts, particularly the mental preparation in advance of the exercise of the physical skills.

It's all fairly bloodless, other than the pre-credits prologue supposedly depicting a seppuku ritual. There's plenty of footage of the standard cinder block-and-board breaking in karate, and the sumo segments seem to go on forever. On the positive side, unlike Davis' earlier film, there's little faked onscreen here. However, there's not a lot of new information here even for someone with only a casual knowledge of the martial arts, but the narration seems to take the tack that such arts are completely unknown in the West. That might have been true ten years earlier, but by 1982 it certainly wasn't the case, thanks to Bruce Lee and David Carradine.

For some reason, this picture has been raised to cult status, perhaps in large part due to its enticing title (even though almost no killing takes place on screen) and its unavailability for many years; ancient videocassettes regularly traded hands on eBay for significant sums. Or the disco score might increase the camp element. In any event, perhaps this better-than-it-deserves release will dispel a fair amount of this rather pedestrian picture's mystique. Other than the opening, which feels rather slapped on, there's little to titillate the exploitation fan here, and those already interested in martial arts will find this to be fairly elementary going.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture is transferred in a windowboxed format, to help out those with excessive overscan issues. The source print has some mild speckling, which is worse at the beginning but gets progressively better. Minor dot crawl is also visible, and there's occasional flicker, though colors are vivid and quite attractive. The most significant problem is heavy ringing, apparently from excessive edge enhancement, which gives the picture an unpleasant digital feeling.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English track features narrator Harry J. Quini, who does a serviceable job. There's decent range to the music, although on occasions it sounds a little shrill. But it's certainly acceptable for the exploitation fare that this picture aspires to be. Hiss and noise are nominal.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Production Notes
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Presskit and still gallery
Extras Review: The only on-disc supplement is a set of excerpts from the US press kit, plus about half a dozen color stills from the picture. The thorough liner notes give a good grounding for the film, and disclose the surprising fact that the proposed third in Davis' series, on witchcraft, was torpedoed by the disastrous box office of Exorcist II: The Heretic!

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A rather dull little documentary that mysteriously is considered a cult item; for those who have to have it, Synapse provides a pretty good release other than the excessive edge enhancement on the transfer.


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