Plot: What’s it about?
Jihei (Kichiemon Nakamura) finds himself in a difficult situation, as he is forced to choose between his emotions and his obligations. Although he is married and has a couple children, Jihei has fallen in love with someone else, which is what puts him into this hard place. He has taken an intense interest in Koharu (Shima Iwashita), a courtesan. So the two have developed a strong bond and love each other, but that just isn’t enough to make their relationship work. As the rules of their culture dictate, there simply isn’t a path the two can take together in life, no matter how sincere and deep their love is. So in a desperate effort to bring them together, Jihei suggests a double suicide, which is the only chance the two have to be together forever. But when Koharu is hesitant to the idea, it sends Jihei into a personal spiral and he leaves her side. Can these two ever be together, despite the inherent rules and years of tradition that stand in their path?
I liked this movie enough to recommend this release, but the disc is a whole different issue. As you should know, most of Criterion’s releases are placed in two price tiers, with the higher priced titles usually having more supplements. On the flip side of that, the lower priced titles (MSRP 29.99) usually have little in terms of supplements, though some exceptions do exist. This disc is among the lower priced ones, but has no bonus materials of any kind, which is not cool for such a high asking price. I dislike Paramount’s price scheme for the same reason, so even if Criterion offers obscure flicks, I still think the same criticism should be applied here. I do think this movie needs some supplements also, whether a historian’s commentary track or some extended notes on the background of the bunraku style, just something to enhance the film and add value to this release. I liked Double Suicide and I think fans of unique foreign cinema will as well, which is what makes this bare bones disc such a shame. So while I think this film deserves to be seen, I simply can’t recommend the disc at this price, so I think a rental is in order.
At the helm of Double Suicide is Masahiro Shinoda, who also served as writer and performed well on both ends. This film has a storyline of course, but Shinoda’s choice in style makes this much less about traditional narrative, which seems to work well. We still watch as a story unfolds as usual, but it seems like you’re taken in by the visuals so much in the process. But don’t think the story is shoved aside, as it isn’t, it just seems to flow along, as the visuals and style paddle us through the waters of the film. Of course, Shinoda’s direction is not without flaw, but I think his work here is more than solid and he delivers a very potent picture. Other films directed by Shinoda include Under The Cherry Blossoms, Clouds At Sunset, Samurai Spy, The Petrified Forest, The Dancer, and Moonlight Serenade. The cast of Double Suicide includes Tokie Hidara (Sleeping Man, Getting Any?), Shima Iwashita (Red Lion, The Empty Table), Hosei Komatsu (Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41), Kichiemon Nakamura (The Black Cat, Gateway to Glory), and Kamatari Fujiwara (Kagemusha, Yojimbo).
Video: How does it look?
Double Suicide is presented in a full frame transfer, which preserves the film’s intended aspect ratio. I am very pleased with this presentation on the whole, though some minor flaws do surface. A few scenes show some edge enhancement and while it isn’t extreme, it should be mentioned in this review. The source print looks clean throughout, with only minimal specks and other issues present. A couple scenes look below the standard of the others, but in the end, this is a very nice visual transfer. I saw no problems with the contrast either, which ensures this black & white image looks well detailed and sharp at all times. This is a very nice effort here and while a few small spots could be better, I don’t think anyone will be let down here.
Audio: How does it sound?
The film’s original Japanese language is used and since this is a dialogue reliant picture, the included mono track is more than adequate. I simply love this movie’s musical score, which really meshes with the material and in this mix, it sounds as rich and full as mono allows. Not much to talk about in terms of sound effects, but the ones present here sound good, which is all you can ask of a simple mix like this. The dialogue is the main focus here and thanks to this mix, it comes off in fine form, no complaints in the least. This disc also includes English subtitles, in case you’ll need them.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc contains the usual color bars to fine tune your television, but no bonus materials were included.