Please note the Region 1 DVD release on test below is now out of print, having been superceded by the Lions Gate DVD release which is reviewed here.
This is a purely technical look at the Region 1 DVD release of Audition. For those of you that would like to read my thoughts on the film may I please refer you to my review of the German R0 release that I shall be comparing this disc with. My review of the Rapid Eye Movies (REM) German DVD release of Takashi Miike's Audition can be found here.
The Region 1 DVD release from Ventura Distribution was released on the 4th June 2002 in the United States. I must stress that both 'R' Rated and 'Not Rated' cuts of this DVD are available with the 'Not Rated' release being the option of choice as it presents the movie fully uncut (like both the German REM release and the UK Tartan release), so please be careful when purchasing.
In this review I will be comparing the R1 disc with the readily available German REM R0 release (review here) and to a lesser extent, the UK Tartan R0 release (review here).
When this new Region 1 DVD release was first announced it soon became a much anticipated disc due to the promise of an all new Anamorphic Transfer, Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an impressive set of extra features and while Ventura Distribution have delivered to a certain extent on the latter two points they have sadly let us down with the promise of a restored Anamorphic Widescreen transfer. Instead what we have here is a Non-Anamorphic 1.85:1 Widescreen transfer that maintains the films original aspect ratio but sadly lacks many of the merits found on the REM release. Before I focus on the detractors though I have to say that despite the lack of Anamorphic Enhancement the transfer is not a bad effort and even manages to look fairly presentable when zoomed in on a Widescreen TV (although there is one problem with this that I will explain very soon). The print sourced appears to be relatively free of scratches and dirt (although you will notice the occasional spot of dust here and there) while the level of film grain present is acceptable and around equal to that found on the REM disc, both are much better than the Tartan effort in this respect. Detail levels are respectable though slightly below that offered by the REM disc, while the aliasing problem on Aoyama’s office blinds can now be confirmed as present across all three releases.
This transfer offers a contrast level somewhere between that of the REM and Tartan discs. While not as overly dark and devoid of detail as the Tartan effort the transfer on this disc still suffers from certain sequences that are lacking in detail due to an overly contrasted image. For me the REM release still offers what is by far the best overall presentation in this respect as it treats both brightly lit daytime sequences and dark night time sequences with equal respect and garners the best detail from both. In this area the R1 is far superior to the Tartan offering but like that release it still lacks shadow detail in places due to its generally darker transfer. The following shots highlight this issue…
Other minor problems include a picture that looks overly soft on some occasions and quite the opposite in others as we see flesh tones go from looking quite natural to sequences where they take on a sunburnt appearance (to be fair this is mainly restricted to the films opening sequence). Finally you will also spot some very slight Edge Enhancement that was not present on the generally superior REM offering that provides us with a preferable Anamorphic Transfer that brings with it increased detail levels, much better colour reproduction and shadow detail thanks to well balanced black levels.
Compared to the Tartan release that although sporting an Anamorphic Transfer is generally quite risible, this R1 offering brings with it a superior picture that benefits from greater detail and more optimal colour levels and of course the lack of burnt in subtitles is a bonus but this is also where the Region 1 disc trips up if you are a Widescreen TV owner. The optional subtitles are well presented using an easy to read yellow font and offer a very similar translation to that found on the REM and Tartan releases, but the problem lies with the size and positioning of the subtitles that means anyone looking to zoom in the picture will lose most of the translation as a result.
Below is a three-way comparison of screen grabs between the R1 Ventura Distribution, R0 Rapid Eye Movies and R0 Tartan releases...strangely enough (and this could be down to the contrast of the REM images) I would say that the R1 disc in some pictures looks sharper than the REM offering when compared like this, although this was certainly not the case when viewing the discs on my Widescreen Television.
At the time of writing (and to the best of my knowledge) the R1 DVD for Audition is the only version with English subtitles currently available to offer a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix track of the original Japanese language. Remix's are often a hit and miss process, especially with foreign film titles, but fortunately this is for the most part a decent remix with only the occasional fault to spoil your enjoyment of the feature presentation. The DD5.1 track does a fine job when it comes to projecting the elegant score and the various sound effects around the room while dialogue is also handled with relative ease, but this is where the mix does exhibit some minor annoyances. On occasion dialogue is rather irritatingly output via all 5 speakers, which creates an echo effect that quite simply does not sound right, and for the periods in the film where it is blatantly obvious (the opening sequences mainly) it can be especially vexing. Fortunately this is only noticeable on a handful of occasions and should not bother the majority of listeners who will be too impressed by key sequences such as Asami waiting on a telephone call, and when it rings the sound is pleasingly sharp and piercing and brings that added bit of life to the films already eerie proceedings. Likewise there is some pleasing use of your subwoofer in the films latter half that helps to pile on the tension.
The inclusion of the original Japanese Language track in DD2.0 Stereo should have made this disc the best choice in terms of audio but sadly the Stereo track found on this R1 release a major letdown. This means that for anyone who is displeased with the 5.1 remix and is looking for an alternative then all you will find is a very poor rendition of the original DD2.0 Stereo track that is badly muted and totalling lacking in clarity and stereo separation when compared to the German offering, and even that found on the Tartan UK release.
In terms of extra features this Region 1 offering from Ventura Distribution is leaps and bounds ahead of its competition. The first bonus is found in the well-produced gatefold packaging that includes a fine set of liner notes from Chris D, author of "Guns and Swords: An Encyclopedia of Japanese Gangster Films 1956-1980".
Moving onto the disc itself we find an Audio Commentary with Takashi Miike that is different right from the very offset as it only covers the final 32-minutes of the film. Despite this lack of time Miike does not exactly pack those 32-minutes with interesting facts and stories, instead he offers his personal thoughts on the characters and their actions in this late stage of the proceedings, and probably of most interest he compares the films finale with that of the book it is based upon. The rest of the time is made up of some occasionally interesting observations and some facts on the actors and why they were chosen but is for the most part somewhat of a let down, although maybe I should never have expected much given the previous interviews I had seen with Miike who comes off as a very dry character.
Another boon for this release is the inclusion of a 24-minute interview with Miike who again, in his rather dry manner, answers questions that cover many areas relating to the production of Audition. These include the screenplay adaptation, the casting process for the leads, and the cinematography. In the latter part of the interview the questions move on to explore key themes in Miike's films before finally ending with a brief discussion on his output and influences. This makes for a far more interesting interview than that found on the Tartan disc, although its presentation is maybe not quite as good, the reason for why I shall now explain.
The two extra features that see Miike discuss this and other films (the Audio Commentary and Interview) were recorded with Miike speaking in his native language, Japanese. Sadly, rather than subtitle these sections Ventura Distribution have instead decided to provide us with an English voiceover. Now for myself this is hugely disappointing and I suspect it will be for the films key audience as you lose any sense of expression that Miike might have output via his language. This decision is certainly not enough to make me condemn this disc but it does appear to be an ill-informed choice with the only saving grace being the person offering the voiceover is pleasant enough to listen too.
Delving further into the disc you will also find a Photo Gallery offering 15 stills from the film that are presented through the 'viewfinder' of a camcorder in the menu system. As these are simply still images from the film you are quite simply better off utilising the 'pause' button that Ventura Distribution (and sadly so many other DVD producers) are apparently unaware of. Another static screen based extra feature comes in the form of a Takeshi Miike Biography & Filmography that consists of a brief look at the work of Miike and a comprehensive Filmography.
The Trailers section of the disc showcases the Original Japanese and International Theatrical Trailers for Audition (making these the only extra feature consistent across all three discs compared) as well as Theatrical Trailers (and previews for future Ventura Distribution releases) for two other Miike titles, The Happiness of the Katakuris and City of the Lost Souls. The above trailers are all presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen and sadly are devoid of English subtitles. You will also find Trailers for Blackmail is my Life and Mansion of the Black Rose, films from Battle Royale director Kinji Fukasaku. These trailers are also presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen but this time do feature English subtitles.
The final extra on the disc is a small 8-minute featurette entitled History of the Egyptian Theatre. This was the cinema where Audition received its US Premiere and as such Ventura Distribution have include a slightly tacky featurette that consists of a promotional and historical look at this Theatre.
Comparing this fine set of extra features to those found on the alternative REM and Tartan release is almost an exercise in futility. The only extra features of note on the REM release is a selection of Poster Artwork and Behind-the-scenes photographs while the Tartan release also contains a selection of Poster Artwork and a 14-minute interview with Miike that although subtitled (unlike the effort found on this Ventura Distribution offering) is a shallow affair that is no match for the interview found on this release.
As much as I would have liked this R1 release of Audition to be the ultimate release it sadly falls way short of expectations. The transfer is acceptable, the audio is good, while the extra features are interesting if somewhat of a watch one affair. In comparison the REM R0 release has an excellent transfer, decent audio and a poor set of extra features. The Tartan effort is barely worth considering as it has a poor transfer, weak audio and only slightly better extra features than the REM disc.
So then, the final verdict: The Rapid Eye Movies R0 release is by far the disc for those who want the best in terms of audio/visual presentation and is an absolute must for those of you with large widescreen television sets – this is the disc I personally have in my collection. However, for anyone that is loathe to pay the high price tag of the REM release (and you preferably have an average sized 4:3 Television set) then the R1 release is a decent alternative when you take the entire package into consideration.