Its August 18th release date may still be a couple of weeks into the future, but the first reviews of Criterion’s new Blu-ray Kagemusha release have begun to appear.
The most important question for us, of course, is how the Blu-ray transfer compares to Criterion’s earlier DVD release. The short answer is probably not unexpected: the Blu-ray is better.
In his Examiner review, Bryan Young notes the following:
The Blu-ray blew all of my expectations out of the water. Though there was a lot of film noise and grain, the level of detail and the depth of the color were far superior [to the DVD]. This is a very good reason to jump onto the Blu-ray bandwagon with your Kurosawa pictures. And as someone who has bought every Kurosawa release Criterion has had to offer since the advent of DVD, I can tell you, I was looking for any excuse I could find NOT to re-purchase all of my Kurosawa films.
But I really couldn’t find one.
You can decide for yourself how much of that hype is influenced by the fact that the review ends with an affiliate link to Amazon by looking at the DVD Beaver comparison between the DVD and Blu-ray. While the transfer is obviously sharper, the colours also seem a touch less intensive. Based on DVD Beaver’s captures, I must say that the Blu-ray looks better to me.
In more technical terms, the Blu-ray.com review notes that:
I did a few random comparisons between the old SDVD release and this new Blu-ray release and can comfortably state that detail is improved dramatically. Contrast, especially during the daylight scenes, is also stronger. The most notable upgrade, however, is in the area of color reproduction. Reds, yellows, greens, browns, blues, blacks and whites are far more impressive on the Blu-ray transfer. This being said, a few of the nighttime scenes seem a bit soft, at times even pale. I believe this is a side effect related to the manner in which the film was shot (the low lighting has certainly contributed to it). The print reveals plenty of natural film grain. As expected, DNR has not been applied. Finally, neither edge-enhancement nor macroblocking plague the Blu-ray release of Kagemusha. To sum it all up, I have absolutely no doubts that this is the best Akira Kurosawa’s award-winning film could look at the moment.
Interestingly, Chris Galloway in his CriterionForum.org review does not seem to agree with the above observations, instead writing that “I can’t say colours have been improved upon … colours actually look about the same, both presenting bright, vibrant colours, all wonderfully saturated.”
Reviewers have spent much less time concentrating on the quality of the audio transfer, but Chris Galloway does note that it is a “clear improvement over the DVD”. We will just have to take his word for it, I suppose.
As for the supplements, like I have reported earlier, they are pretty much the same as what the DVD had, just presented in 1080i. The only major difference in terms of content is with the booklet, which no longer has Donald Ritchie’s essay, but now includes the 1981 interview Kurosawa did with Tony Rays (the one reprinted in Bert Cardullo), as well as an essay by Peter Grilli. Some minor changes have also been made to the layout of the booklet, and a few errors have been corrected.