Sansho Dayu / Gion Bayashi Review

Sansho Dayu and Gion Bayashi were released by Masters of Cinema as a double-bill DVD set back in 2007, 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 2007 Film/DVD Review

Presentation

Sansho Dayu/Gion Bayashi 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 2007 DVD Review for an examination of those discs.

Sansho DayuGion Bayashi

If you've read my review of MoC's BD release of Ugetsu Monogatari out on the same day as Sansho Dayu, then you will have learnt about certain reservations I had about that transfer, but for Sansho Dayu I'm happy to report that there are no major reservations on how this looks in High Definition. Sansho Dayu may only be a year younger than Ugetsu Monogatari, but the difference in print damage is night and day with Sansho only exhibiting what I would consider minor amounts of scratch, speckle and instabilities for a film that's nearly 60yrs old now. Grain levels are a little heavier with a thick but sharp layer blanketing the image, but there are no signs of digital manipulation and image detail is pretty strong and stable regardless - obviously this transfer isn't going to wow anyone with its clarity, but it looks good enough for me on a big projector screen! Contrast levels as ever for Masters of Cinema are perhaps a little low and brightness maybe a touch too high at times, with minor brightness fluctuations and black levels taking a hit in some scenes, but shadow detail is consistently good.

Now on to the pleasantly strange part: The transfers on the Ugetsu Monogatari/Oyu-Sama BD exhibited some ugly banding issues, with black regions looking blown out to a dull grey and clear contours in the image, but Sansho-Dayu has almost none of these problems despite the video coming in with an average bit-rate that is a fraction lower at 27Mbps. Sure there's a little banding present, but if your display's brightness levels are calibrated correctly then you may never notice it at all!

Sadly, I cannot say the same about Gion Bayashi, which has the same bitrate as Ugetsu Monogatari/Oyu-Sama at 28Mbps and similar issues with banding and black levels, although not as omnipresent as in the other release, the issue this time manifests mainly as a persistent vertical band of murky grey down the right-hand edge of the screen (shown in the grab below). Otherwise the 1080p 4:3 transfer is on par with Sansho-Dayu, exhibiting only moderate print damage, solid detail and a thick layer of sharp grain. Contrast too is about on par, but brightness levels are even higher and many scenes exhibit rather poor black levels as a result. My advice would be to take your display's brightness down a few notches or tinker with the gamma settings a little until the banding isn't apparent and maybe then the contrast/brightness of the image will be a little more balanced.

Click to Enlarge to Full Size.
Gion Bayashi banding issue

Both films come with a Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono audio track, both of which sound remarkably clean for their ages with only a little hiss and speckle present througout. Treble is perhaps a touch sharp on Sansho Dayu, leading to some shrill dialogue when voices are raised, but mostly the audio is smooth and balanced, and dialogue is very clear and audible throughout. Gion Bayashi, if anything sounds a touch cleaner than its counterpart.

Optional English subtitles are present on both feature films, with no spelling or grammatical errors I can recall.

Extras

Once again we have extra materials lifted straight from Masters of Cinema's prior DVD release of these films, but I'll list each individually as there's slightly more substantial extra footage here in comparison to the Ugetsu Monogatari BD:

Tony Rayns on Sansho Dayu (10m:12s, 4:3 480i MPEG-2, English DD2.0)
Rayns offers some insight into the origins of Sansho Dayu and the production itself in a fascinating black-and-white discussion that also includes a few production stills.

Tony Rayns on Mizoguchi, Sansho Dayu, and Gion Bayashi (28m:03s, 4:3 480i MPEG-2, English DD2.0)
This is a much more extensive discussion that kicks off as a very insightful overview of Mizoguchi's career, directing style, collaborators and the constraints of post-war filmmaking in Japan, before settling into the usual topic of each film's production. This is an excellent feature that really sets the context for each film quite nicely.

Original Teaser & Original Trailer for Gion Bayashi (05m:34s, 4:3 480i MPEG-2, Japanese DD2.0, Eng subs)
The Original Trailer isn't particularly noteworthy, but the Teaser is actually quite interesting because it merges fact and fiction with the actors in full costume interacting with the film's crew, including Mizoguchi himself.

Also present is an illustrated booklet, which presumably is once again lifted from the 2007 DVD release, but sadly a copy was not provided with our check disc and so I cannot comment on its contents here.

Overall

Although perhaps a touch bleak for some, Sansho Dayu is an engrossing elegy that holds a very sharp mirror up to human nature, whereas Gion Bayashi seeks to expose the decline of the Geisha in contemporary society. Both earn their place within Kenji Mizoguchi's lauded oeuvre, and it's a relief to see Sansho Dayu in high-definition with a higher standard of presentation than the sister release of Ugetsu Monogatari.

Ugetsu MonogatariOyu-sama

Film
8 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
6 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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