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Kino on Video presents
Zigeunerweisen (1980)

"Six crabs crawled out of her private parts. They were red all over. They ate her flesh. That's why they were all red."
- Nakasago (Yoshio Harada)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 11, 2006

Stars: Yoshio Harada, Naoko Otari, Kisako Makishi, Michiyo Okusa, Toshiya Fujita
Other Stars: Akaji Maro
Director: Seijun Suzuki

Manufacturer: CineMagnetics
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, thematic material, nudity, violence, gore)
Run Time: 02h:24m:07s
Release Date: March 07, 2006
UPC: 698452203430
Genre: foreign

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

DVD Review

Director Seijun Suzuki is best known for his bizarre yakuza outings such as Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter, where he demonstrated a wild imagination and a definite visual flair. Although widely admired today, such fare was too much for the Nikkatsu studios, which gave him the boot in the late 1960s. Substantially out of work for over a decade (he made one disastrous studio film during the 1970s), Suzuki returned to the screen in 1980 with this cryptic art film, the first of a trilogy concerning the Taisho period of 1912-1926. Unable to find exhibition, Suzuki took the film on the road to be shown in giant inflatable tents, where its odd sensibilities struck a chord. Now one need not find an inflatable tent, but thanks to this DVD it can be puzzled over in the comfort of the living room instead.

The film defies easy synopsis; it follows a professor of German, Toyojiro Aochi (Toshiya Fujita) as he tries to deal with his friend, a former professor turned mad vagabond, Nakasago (Yoshio Harada). After Aochi rescues him from an angry mob and the police who suspect him of the murder of a fisherman's wife, they spend time with geisha O-Ine (Naoko Otari), and they both find themselves strangely attracted to her. Some years later, Aochi visits his friend to find that he has now married Sono, another woman who looks exactly like O-Ine (Otari again). But Nakasago treats her cruelly, and may be responsible for infecting her with the Spanish flu. At the same time, Nakasago expresses an unhealthy interest in Aochi's own wife, Shuko (Michiyo Okusa). Throughout the film, a recording of the virtuoso violin piece Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) performed by the composer, Pablo Sarasate, makes a haunting reappearance as the characters ponder over what Sarasate mumbles at one point on the recording.

It's exceedingly strange and Lynchian, with long periods of langour punctuated by brutal violence and slapstick comedy. Much of the latter is provided by a persistent troupe of blind musicians who sing lewd songs in what feels like dogged pursuit of the central characters. An elderly man, his young wife and their halfwit servant, the blind musicians cavort in various conjugations, until they climactically end up in a comic duel with the two men mostly buried in sand as they club each other over the head, blood gouting everywhere. Triangles are a frequent presence here, as the shifting relations of the musicians parallels the relationships between the two men successively with I-Oke, Sono and Shuko.

At the same time as three-sided polygons are in focus, duality is also important, most notably in Otari's dual role as Nakasago's great loves. Less in the forefront is the duality of the two men, with Nakasago taking the role of Mr. Hyde to Aochi's Dr. Jekyll. Libidinous and happy to express any appetite that comes to him, Nakasago is unbridled id. Yet his portrayal, with hair constantly covering one eye, brings to mind Odin, giving him a shading of wisdom. Aochi, on the other hand is repressed, concerned with morality, appearances and obligations; his mores become conflicted as he has both devotion to his friend and a growing suspicion that he may be responsible for the deaths of at least two women and possibly more.

The film suffers somewhat from its languid pacing, becoming insufferably dull and snooze-inducing for long stretches. It tends to be rather episodic in nature, with large jumps in time set off by brief voiceovers. At times it's hard to follow what's going on (though that's no doubt intentional). Voices from nowhere and odd noises (a hallmark of David Lynch) also have an important presence here. That's particularly true in the last section, which sets up a ghost story that hardly seems in keeping with what has gone before. Despite the slow spots, there are moments of indelible weirdness, most notably a sequence in which Shuko licks Nakasago's eyeballs in a moment of intensely perverse sexuality. Eyes are given an obsessive focus here, as is the question of what color one's bones are, which just underlines the intense strangeness of the film. For all that, the period is captured nicely, with a conflict of 1920s business dress and trappings against more traditional Japanese clothing and life. Suzuki seldom disappoints visually, and proponents of the oddball art film may find things of interest here.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The nonanamorphic widescreen picture actually seems a shade narrower than the 1.66:1 that is billed on the packaging, but it doesn't seem to be noticeably cropped. Black levels are a little weak and shadow detail is a bit plugged up, but colors are vivid and detail and texture are reasonably good for a nonanamorphic presentation. The main serious problem is heavy pixelation on bright reds, such as during the main titles.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono Japanese track sounds fine; the transition from the crackly 78 of Sarasate to the pristine audio of the soundtrack is startling, jarring the viewer from the reproduction to its presentation of life. It's a clever technique to pull the viewer in aurally, and it is reproduced well on this disc. Range and depth sound quite good, with the samisen being rather piercing. Kaname Kawachi contributes a score that is frequently haunting and percussive; the pained howling over drumming during Nakasago's mortification sequence is particularly moving and comes across very well.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Galleries
Extras Review: Kino provides several valuable extras for fans of Suzuki. Foremost is a conversation (25m:59s) in which he recounts the history behind these films and their casting, though he completely refrains from elucidating their meaning. That comes with a set of production notes on the reverse of the keepcase cover. An onscreen bio and filmography for Suzuki are included, as is a full-frame, unsubtitled Japanese trailer for the film. Finally, there are short galleries of the inflatable tent and the pressbook for the picture. Chaptering is quite thin for such a long picture. The English subtitles are burned in (and are not available for the brief segments in English).

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Strange is hardly a sufficient word for this artsy and frequently incomprehensible look back at the early 20th century. The transfer is reasonably good for nonanamorphic widescreen (though the reds are problematic) and there are some worthwhile extras.


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