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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.66:1 Widescreen
  • Spanish DTS-HD 2.0 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New conversation between Carlos Reygadas and filmmaker Amat Escalante
  • Video diary shot by actor Alejandro Ferretis during the film’s production
  • Adulte, a short film directed by Reygadas in 1998
  • Deleted scene
  • Trailer
  • A new essay by novelist Valeria Luiselli

Japon

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Carlos Reygadas
2002 | 134 Minutes | Licensor: Janus Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #968
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: March 26, 2019
Review Date: March 24, 2019

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SYNOPSIS

In this preternaturally assured feature debut by Carlos Reygadas, a man (Alejandro Ferretis) travels from Mexico City to an isolated village to commit suicide; once there, however, he meets a pious elderly woman (Magdalena Flores) whose quiet humanity incites a reawakening of his desires. Recruiting a cast of nonactors and filming in sublime 16 mm CinemaScope, Reygadas explores the harsh beauty of the Mexican countryside with earthy tactility, conjuring a psychic landscape where religion mingles with sex, life coexists with death, and the animal and spiritual sides of human experience become indistinguishable. A work of soaring ambition and startling visual poetry, Japón is an existential journey through uncharted cinematic territory that established the singular voice of its director.


PICTURE

Carlos Reygadas’ Japón receives a Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc in the odd aspect ratio of 2.88:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a new 2K restoration, scanned from both the 16mm original camera negative and a 35mm blow-up.

Reygadas had a special anamorphic lens made for the film to use with a 16mm camera and this all lends the film a very unique look. Getting past the incredibly wide aspect ratio (which has rounded corners) the film is very grainy, has dull looking colours, can be blown out in brighter scenes, and flat with weak, muddy blacks in darker scenes. Yet despite all of this the Blu-ray handles it incredibly well and even if it looks like a rough film it still, at the very least, looks like a film. Despite the odd aspect ratio and the limitations of 16mm film, details are still very strong, especially impressive on close-ups, and film grain looks superb, rendered perfectly, no digital problems to speak of.

Most impressive, though, is the fact that I don’t recall any severe damage; despite its graininess it’s a very clean looking image. The aforementioned weaknesses that are still there (the blown out look, weak colours, muddy blacks in darker shots) all appear to be a byproduct of filming and all of it appears to be intentional. Again, it looks rough, but it’s supposed to. The restoration and encode at least don’t present any new problems and deliver a sharp looking filmic image.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The sound design for this film is rather shocking. Delivered in DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround, the track is incredibly aggressive and rich. Reygadas talks about his sound design (he mentions the track sequence in Stalker specifically at one point) and his horrors at compressed sound. He likes a lot of power and range and that’s exactly what you get here. Right off the film’s music fills the environment, with sharp, distinct effects, all of which just caught me off guard. Then in the countryside the sound mix is no less aggressive: you get the wind, insects and birds chirping, footsteps, etc. And all of it is spread wonderfully between the speakers. Fidelity is absolutely superb, loud when it needs to be, and it all puts you right in the middle of it. It’s almost a shame this wasn’t given a 5.1 remix because the added direction would have just given it a nice little nudge. As it is, though, it’s still a great sounding audio presentation and I’d even say it’s demo worthy.

9/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion throws in a few supplements starting with a 41-minute interview with Reygadas by filmmaker Amat Escalante. Escalante was taken by the film when he was finally able to see it and he asks him a number of questions around it, including what is referred to as the “sexual situation” and working with his “actors” on it. Reygadas talks in great detail about how he plans his films (with storyboard and drawing examples shown) and how this film in particular came to be, while also getting into how he went from being a lawyer to a filmmaker. He also gets very technical, getting into lenses, talking about sound, and then how he came up with the closing shot. He seems to be a bit of a character but he’s incredibly passionate and all the more infectious because of it, making it a very breezy and fascinating discussion.

In that interview Reygadas talks about editing the film and changing the ending. Criterion includes a deleted scene, which is an additional scene that appears before the final shot. I won’t spoil it, but it shows exactly what happens to some characters before the final moments. It lasts about 2-minutes. In the interview it sounds like 15-minutes total had been cut from the film after showing at a film festival, but the rest of the material doesn’t appear here.

Following this is 100-minutes’ worth of behind-the-scenes footage (cut from over 20-hours’ worth) shot by actor Alejandro Ferretis with an Hi8 camera. It shows a much younger Reygadas setting up shots, working with his cast, and members of his crew goofing around every so often. We also get to see side effects from the grueling location shoot.

Reygadas’ 7-minute short Adulte is also included, with a director’s note explaining the purpose behind the film: it was a quick way for him to learn. The film’s original trailer closes off the disc. Criterion then includes a booklet featuring a short but insightful essay on the film by writer Valeria Luiselli. This is followed by some production photos and then a small sampling of Reygadas’ storyboards and designs for the film, which he described in his interview as a very important element in his planning.

A nice selection of supplements offering a great look into the making of the film and Reygadas’ development as a filmmaker.

7/10

CLOSING

It’s not an easy film on any level but Criterion’s presentation is superb (the audio being especially impressive) and the disc offer a nice smattering of supplements that look at the film, its production, and its director.


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