Ugetsu Monogatari / Oyu-Sama Review
Ugetsu Monogatari and Oyu-sama were released by Masters of Cinema as a double-bill DVD set back in 2008, which was reviewed by John White. Seeing as my views on the films correlate with his own, I have decided to simply provide a link to his review here and continue with just the Blu-ray disc coverage: John White's 2008 Review
PresentationUgetsu Monogatari/Oyu-sama come to Blu-ray in a Dual Format release with both films on a single Blu-ray disc and each film present on a seperate DVD disc. We were not provided with the DVD discs to review, but I presume they are just reprints of the 2008 DVD release and hence you can refer to John's 2008 Review for an examination of those discs.
The literal translation of Ugetsu Monogatari is Tales of the Rain and the Moon, so it is perhaps fitting then that this 1080p 4:3 AVC presentation frequently exhibits a faint rain of white vertical scratches throughout the film. It would appear the original negative has taken a thorough beating over the years, which you can see not only in the amount of scratches present in this transfer, but also in some other minor instabilities that crop up from time to time, but it's good to see that Masters of Cinema have not attempted to smother the image with noise reduction to clean things up; instead opting for an organic, softly detailed, presentation that - for the most part - looks suitably film-like if you're lucky enough to be viewing this on a large projector screen.
Grain is contained as a light-to moderate layer that peppers the transfer and barely makes its presence felt, while contrast and brightness levels are pleasing enough. Note that, as is Masters of Cinema's preference; contrast is a little lower and brightness a little higher than what you'd find from a typical western black & white transfer, but I can't say this has ever bothered me, and shadow detail and black levels vary from scene to scene but generally are satisfying. There are some brightness fluctuations present throughout, most noticeably being a column down the right hand side of the image that is a touch brighter than the surrounding areas of the image, but I assume this is an issue with the original source and not a failing on the part of this BD.
Now, I say blacks and shadow detail is generally satisfying, but there are times when certain shots exhibit what can only be described as horrible banding and poorly rendered black levels (shown below), which as you can see in the screengrab below, can affect the image fairly drastically at times - although I must stress this only affects a few shots and it shouldn't be anywhere near as extreme in motion or if you have your display calibrated to the correct brightness level.
Ordinarily I would put it down to compression issues, especially when you've got two feature length films in 1080p on one disc, but both films have the same average video bitrate of 28Mbps, which has proved adequate for more troublesome transfers than these in the past, so it's a surprise to see such issues arise. It's even more confusing when you look at the other Mizoguchi BD that Masters of Cinema have released alongside this one: Sansho-Dayu, which actually has a fractionally lower average bitrate and yet doesn't suffer from anywhere near as extreme banding. Could this be a problem with the digital masters I wonder? Either way, you might want to adjust your own personal brightness/gamma settings a little to drown out the issue if it proves too distracting.
Oyu-sama is a couple of years older than Ugetsu Monogatari but its negative appears to have been better preserved as there's far less scratchy damage on display, with just a moderate amount permeating throughout, although image instabilities crop up a little in scene transitions still. Other aspects aren't quite as consistent has Ugetsu though, most notably the image detail can vary widely from scene-to-scene presumably because of a combination of the way the film was shot and also its age, but often one scene will look remarkably crisp and then the next so soft it's almost blurry, but this AVC 1080p transfer is certainly not to blame for that.
Contrast and brightness levels are pretty naturalistic, yes there are brightness fluctuations and times when you wish black levels could be a bit deeper but again this comes down to the preference of Masters of Cinema in what I assume is an attempt to not tinker with the original masters too much. In fact there are no obvious signs of any digital manipulation in any aspect of the image, with a light layer of reasonably sharp grain present throughout. Sadly Oyu-sama also suffers from banding/black level issues, albeit not to the extent of Ugetsu Monogatari, but you can clearly see the problem in the screenshot below:
A sole audio option for Ugetsu Monogatari comes in the form of a Japanese DTS-HD 2.0 Mono presentation that certainly has none of the drawbacks of the transfer. A little hiss and speckle pervades, treble is a touch shrill and bass a little blown out and faded but overall it's a pleasantly clear and dynamic soundtrack that brings the eerie score satisfyingly to life and maintiains audible dialogue throughout. Oyu-sama too comes in Japanese DTS-HD 2.0 Mono and in comparison the audio is a little more muted, the dialogue more muffled and hiss a touch louder but bass and treble sound ok, the score is still expressive and you shouldn't have troble following the dialogue (if you're fluent in Japanese of course!).
Optional English subtitles are present on both feature films, with no spelling or grammatical errors I can recall.
ExtrasIf you're upgrading from the 2008 DVDs then there is nothing new for you here because the extras have been brought over from that release (and hence are in standard definition). There's the Original Japanese Trailer and a Spanish trailer for Ugetsu Monogatari the latter of which focusing more on the attention the film has received at European film festivals, and a couple of intriductions to each film on the disc from Tony Rayns.
Entitled Tony Rayns on Ugetsu Monogatari and Tony Rayns on Oyu-sama and presented in 4:3 black-and-white with no subtitles, these introductions act as a primer on the history of each film's production, their literary sources, and what Mizoguchi came to feel about each project after completion. Some fascinating info in here, but at around 8mins and 13mins respectively, you really wish for more!
Also present is an illustrated booklet, which presumably is once again lifted from the 2008 DVD release, but sadly a copy was not provided with our check disc and so I cannot comment on its contents here.
OverallUgetsu Monogatari is rightly hailed as one of the greatest Japanese horror classics, and as such deserves the best possible presentation within any medium it is presented, which is why it's such a shame that the transfers of both this and Oyu-sama exhibit some banding issues that might prove distracting to pickier viewers.