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The Asterisk War: Limited Edition Blu-ray Vol. 4 (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The fourth volume of “The Asterisk War” is action-packed and entertaining as we get two different types of episode arcs, one full of action as Ayato and Julis make it into the finals of the Phoenix Festa, Saya and Kirin must save Flora from her kidnappers and the final episodes featuring Ayato, Julis and friends visiting Julis’ home country, Lieseltania and more trouble stands in their way. If you have commited yourself to watching this series, “The Asterisk War: Limited Edition Blu-ray Vol. 4” is recommended!

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Image courtesy of © 2017 FlyingDog, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Asterisk War: Limited Edition Blu-ray Vol. 4

ANIME SERIES AIR DATE: 2015

DURATION: (Episodes 19-24) 150 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16:9), English and Japanese Linear PCM Stereo 2.0, English and Spanish Subtitles

COMPANY: Aniplex of America Inc.

Release Date: February 21, 2017


Originally created by Yuu Miyazaki

Original Character Design by okiura

Chief Direction by Manabu Ono

Directed by Kenji Sato

Script by Munemasa Nakamoto, Yuki Sugawara, Yukito Kizawa

Music by Rasmus Faber

Character Design by Tetsuya Kawakami

Art Director: Yukihiro Watanabe

Chief Animation Director: Tetsuya Kawakami

Anime Production: A-1 Pictures


Featuring the following voice talent:

Ai Kakuma/Kira Buckland as Julis-Alexia von Riessfelt

Atsushi Tamaru/Erik Scott Kimerer as Ayato Amagiri

Ari Ozawa/Brianna Knickerbocker as Kirin Todo

Ayana Taketatsu/Cherami Leigh as Pham Thi Tram (Fan Xinglou)

Chinatsu Akasaki/Cassandra Morris as Ernesta Kuhne

Haruka Chisuga as Sylvia Lyyneheym

Haruka Yoshimura as RM-C (Rimsy)

Juri Nagatsuma as Priscilla Urzaiz

Mai Nakahara/Michelle Ruff as Haruka Amagiri

Mutsumi Tamura/Cristina Vee as Camilla Pareto

Nao Tōyama/Erika Harlacher as Claudia Enfield

Nobuo Tobita/Lucien Dodge as Shuma Sakon


Based on the hit light novel by Yuu Miyazaki and directed by Manabu Ono (The irregular at magic high school), the Phoenix Festa is reaching its final climax!

During the search for Flora, Ayato runs into a mysterious girl who later turns out to be the student council president of Queenvail Girls’ Academy – Sylvia Lyyneheym. With Sylvia’s help, Ayato and Julis can now face AR-D and RM-C in the Phoenix Festa final match with all their strength. After the Festa, Julis invites Ayato and the crew to her hometown of Lieseltania, where Ayato learns a shocking truth.


The tournament’s final matchup between Ayato and Julis vs. AR-D and RM-C. Who will be the victors?

Meanwhile, Saya and Kirin try to rescue Flora from her kidnappers.

In the final episodes, what happens when Ayato, Julis, Claudia, saya and Kirin travel to Lieseltania for winter break?  But what is this fighting tournament, Gryps Festa all about?

What is “The Asterisk War” about?

In 2012, writer Yuu Miyazaki and illustrator okiura created the Japanese light novel series “The Asterisk War” (Gakusen Toshi Asutarisuku).

Published by Media factory, a two-volume manga adaptation was then created for Media Factory’s “Monthly Comic Alive”.

In 2015, A-1 Pictures would create an anime TV series adaptation with two seasons having now been completed.

And now, the anime series will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Aniplex of America Inc. With volume 3, this limited edition box set features the first episodes of the second season (episodes 13-18).

The anime is set in the 20th century and an event called Invertia has destroyed many cities on Earth. Because of the collapsing economy, the Integrated Enterprise Foundation has become the leader of the world.

A parallel city of Rikka, known as Asterisk is the the main setting of this anime series.

Asterisk has six academies which hold tournaments, known as “Festas” in which humans and people with super abilities called Genestella participate in battle against each other.

Seidoukan Academy is ranked fifth in Asterik and the series focuses on main protagonist Ayato Amagiri, a Genestella, who is investigating the disappearance of his sister Haruka.

On his first day of school, he meets a student (who happens to be a Lieseltanian princess) named Julis-Alexia von Riessfeld. And due to circumstances because he is new at the academy (which make him seem like a pervert), he is challenged to a duel against her.

The two get into battle and she is amazed by Ayato’s fighting ability and superpowers but the battle is ended when someone tries to send a spike towards Julis-Alexia and she is saved by Ayato (who, unfortunately lands on top of her and his hand on top of her chest).

The battle is ended early by Seidoukan Academy’s Student Council President Claudia Enfield because the match was not legal.

And who is this Kirin Todou that Ayato meets for the first time? And why is her uncle abusive towards her and how will Ayato make an impact on her life?

Meanwhile, the Phoenix Festa featuring a battle between duos and Ayato and Julis and their friends Saya and Kirin will face the strongest fighters from the other five schools.

For the second half of season two (episodes 19-24), Ayato and Julis must take on the powerful, devastating robotic duo, AR-D and RM-C.

Meanwhile, someone has kidnapped Flora and as Ayato and Julis must complete in the Phoenix Festa, this leaves Saya and Kirin to go after Flora.

Also, Ayato, Julis, Claudia, Saya and Kirin travel to Liseltania but what they discover is something quite sinister.

Enter…Ophelia and Gustave and also what is Gryps Festa?


“The Asterisk War” features the following characters:

  • Ayato Amagiri – A Seidoukan Academy student who transfers to the school to investigate his sister’s disappearance. He shows great power but can only control it for several minutes. He wants to protect Julis-Alexia von Riessfelt.
  • Julis-Alexia von Riessfelt – The fifth ranking student of Seidokan Academy and happens to be the First Princess of Lieseltania in the western Czech Republic. She is quite distant to everyone at the school but when Ayato tries to get close with her and wanting to protect her, she eventually starts to warm up to him.
  • Claudia Enfield – The blonde, buxom, second highest ranking student of Seidoukan Academy and also the Student council President. She tries her best to seduce Ayato.
  • Saya Sasamiya – A childhood friend of Ayato who moved abroad. She is an airhead at times and bad with directions. She is great with weapons and artillery and often gets Julis riled up as Saya prefers Ayato to spend time with her.
  • Kirin Toudou – The top ranking student of Seidoukan Academy. Because Ayato shows kindness to her all the time, she becomes a friend of his. But as she vies for Ayato’s attention, she deals with a demanding and abusive uncle.

VIDEO:

“The Asterisk War” is presented in 1080p High Definition (16:9). There is a lot of detail featured in the art backgrounds, a lot of characters featured and these characters have great detail and shadowing. Colors are absolutely vibrant. There is slight softness, but that is expected with anime TV series. But overall, wonderful animation especially during the action sequences by A-1 Pictures.

I found no compression artifacts or any problematic issues with this Blu-ray release.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Asterisk War” is presented in English and Japanese Linear PCM Stereo 2.0. Both soundtracks are well-acted and are crystal clear through the front channels.

Subtitles are in English and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Asterisk War vol. 4” features the following special features:

  • Bonus Preview Episodes – Bonus preview episodes.
  • Web Previews
  • Textless Opening and Ending Song

EXTRAS:

“The Asterisk War: Limited Edition Blu-ray Vol. 4” comes with a slipcase with package illustration by Tetsuya Kawakami, clear cases with 2-side wraps, six collectible pinup cards, a 40-page deluxe booklet about the characters, sketches and more. Also, a bonus disc (CD included, Duration: 22 minutes) featuring “The Asterisk War Soundtrack – Expanded Universe #4” featuring one music track.


With the final half of the second season of “The Asterisk War” in vol. 4, the tournament concludes as Ayato and Julis must take on the robotic duo, AR-D and RM-C in the finals. And because Flora has been kidnapped and Ayato and Julis are preoccupied, Saya and Kirin must try to save Flora from her kidnappers.

With this fourth volume, we also find out what has happened to Ayato’s missng sister, Haruka.

And a new storyline begins with Ayato, Julis, Claudia, Saya and Kirin travel to Listeltania for winter break.  But as they arrive, Claudia asks if they can form a team of five for the upcoming Gryps Festa.

Meanwhile, Julis has her own reasons for returning to Lieseltania.

While vol. 4 is more of a tournament-driven, action-packed volume, the final three episodes become more dramatic and story-driven as it centers around Julis’ return to her hometown of Lieseltania.

Which leaves fans of the anime series hoping that a season three will be coming soon.

As for the animation, as always, A-1 Pictures does a magnificent job with character designs, action sequences and for the most part, background art and lighting effects are well-done.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is very good for a TV series and features a good stereo solid lossless soundtrack. Which are well-acted for both Japanese soundtracks and the English dub. Special features are your typical previews and opening and ending theme. But you do get slipcase, six collectible pin up cards, a third CD with a 22-minute soundtrack and 34-page deluxe booklet. So, there is quite a bit of swag included with “The Asterisk War: Limited Edition Blu-ray Vol. 4”.

Overall, the fourth volume of “The Asterisk War” is action-packed and entertaining as we get two different types of episode arcs, one full of action as Ayato and Julis make it into the finals of the Phoenix Festa, Saya and Kirin must save Flora from her kidnappers and the final episodes featuring Ayato, Julis and friends visiting Julis’ home country, Lieseltania and more trouble stands in their way.

If you have commited yourself to watching this series, “The Asterisk War: Limited Edition Blu-ray Vol. 4” is recommended!

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Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (a J!-ENT 4K Ultra HD Review)

May 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I did enjoy “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” for its action, its visual effects and make-up (for its many mutated zombies) and its storyline is a fitting conclusion to the film series featuring the film’s protagonist Alice. But if you are a “Resident Evil” fan of the video games or film, you may feel that the “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” was lacking and could have been better.  While I doubt this may be the end of the film series, considering how much money the film and video game series makes, there is still potential to explore other storylines of characters that are not featured in “The Final Chapter”.  Still an entertaining popcorn action film that fans of the film series will enjoy.

Images courtesy of © 2016 Constantin Film Production. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: 107 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 2160p Ultra High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio), English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible), Czech, English – Audio Description Track, French, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish (Castillan and Latin American), Thai, Turkish 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, SUBTITLES: English, English SDH, French, Arabic, Cantonese, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Greek, Italian, Korean, Spanish (Latin American), Swedish, Thai, Turkish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R (Sequences of Violence Throughout)

RELEASE DATE: May 16, 2017


Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Written by Paul W.S. Anderson

Producer: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Samuel Hadida, Robert Kulzer

Associate Producer: Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Bernhard Thur

Executive Producer: Victor Hadida, Martin Moszkowicz

Music by Paul Haslinger

Cinematography by Glen MacPherson

Edited by Doobie White

Casting by Suzanne Smith

Production Design by Edward Thomas

Art Direction by Guy Potgieter, Lusa Van Velden

Set Decoration by Anneke Botha

Costume Design by Reza Levy


Starring:

Milla Jovovich as Alice/Alicia Marcus

Iain Glen as Dr. Isaacs

Ali Larter as Claire Redfield

Shawn Roberts as Wesker

Eoin Macken as Doc

Fraser James as Razor

Ruby Rose as Abigail

William Levy as Christian

Rola as Cobalt

Ever Anders as Young Alicia/Red Queen

Mark Simpson as James Marcus

Joon-Gi Lee as Commander Chu


Picking up after Resident Evil: Retribution, Alice (Milla Jovovich) is the only survivor of what was meant to be humanity’s final stand against the undead. Now, she must return to where the nightmare began – The Hive in Raccoon City, where the Umbrella Corporation is gathering its forces for a final strike against the only remaining survivors of the apocalypse.


In 2002, the sci-fi action horror film “Resident Evil”, which was inspired from the popular Capcom video game series, was released in theaters.

And since then, more films that revolve around the main character Alice were created.

“Resident Evil: Apocalypse” in 2004, “Resident Evil: Extinction” in 2007, “Resident Evil: Afterlife” in 2010, “Resident Evil: Retribution” in 2012 and “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” in 2016.

The latest film which grossed over $312 million worldwide, was the highest grossing film in the franchise, and with the series in whole, the “Resident Evil” film series is the highest-grossing film series to be based on video games , having grossed over $1.233 billion worldwide.

The film marks the return of director/writer Paul W.S. Anderson (“Death Race”, “AVP: Alien vs. Predator”) and the return of the main protagonist of the series, Alice portrayed by Mila Jovovich (“The Fifth Element”, “Zoolander 2”, “The Three Musketeers”).

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” also stars Iain Glen (“Game of Thrones”, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”), Ali Larter (“Heroes”, “Final Destination” films, “Legends”), Shawn Roberts (“Edge of Darkness”, “X-Men”), Eoin Macken (“The Night Shift”, “The Forest”, “Centurion”), Fraser James (“Sometimes in April”, “Shopping”, “Wing Commander”), Ruby Rose (“Orange is the New Black”, “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”, “John Wick: Chapter 2”), William Levy (“Addicted”, “The Single Moms Club”), Japanese model Rola, young actress Ever Anderson and Joon-Gi Lee (“Virgin Snow”, “The King and the Clown”, “Iljimae”).

And now the “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” will be available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD in May 2017.

The film begins with a narration from Alice (portrayed by Milla Jovovich) and we see how Dr. James Marcus, the original founder of the Umbrella Corporation had a daughter who was dying of premature aging.

Wanting to save her, he discovered the T-virus but unfortunately, the virus had a side effect and that was sudden and uncontrollable mutation.

The first major incident took place in Raccoon City, as a young boy in a cable car with his family started convulsing and dying but then all of a sudden reawakening.  This led to the mutated boy biting his father and then starting the chain reaction.

Dr. James Marcus tries to have the program shut down but his colleague Dr. Alexander Isaacs (portrayed by Iaian Glen) refuses and he has Albert Wesker (portrayed by Shawn Roberts) kill the Dr. Marcus.

The film then shifts to events that took place after “Resident Evil: Retribution” and showing us that the White House has since been destroyed.  Alice searches for survivors but then is contacted by the Red Queen (portrayed by Ever Anderson) who tells he that she must return to Raccoon City within 48 hours and return to the Hive, as Umbrella Corporation has developed an airborne antivirus, which will kill every organism infected by the T-virus.  Fail to get there and humankind will be wiped out.  The Red Queen also tells Alice that she will answer her question of why she is trying to help Alice.

So, Alice leaves to go to Raccoon City and when she arrives, she is attacked by Isaacs (whom she thought she killed, but learns she killed a clone).  While  Isaacs tires her up to the back of his vehicle with hordes of mutated zombies chase after her, she manages to best Isaacs and his team and escape.

While making it into Raccoon City she encounters a group of survivors which includes her friend Claire Redfield (portrayed by Ali Larter), Abigail (portrayed by Ruby Rose), Doc (portrayed by Eoin Macken), Cobalt (portrayed by Rola), Christian (portrayed by William Levy) and Razor (portrayed by Fraser James).

Alice tells them that she needs to get to the hive as an antidote for the T-Virus is out there in the Hive.  Claire feels it could be a trap since the Red Queen was the one that gave her the information but she is also worried since Alice also has the T-Virus in her and that she could be killed by the antidote.  But for Alice, the opportunity to save the world is too great and so, she and the others are willing to put their lives in hopes to assist Claire in her mission.

But coming their way is Isaacs and thousands of mutated zombies.   With the time running out, can Alice get to the antidote in time?  And what awaits her in the Hive?


VIDEO:

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” is presented in 2160p High Definition (2:40:1). The film is presented in 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray.

Picture quality is fantastic as closeups show amazing detail and makeup and overall CG to show the mass horde of mutated zombies and also huge monsters and flying behemoths were done very well.  If anything, the visual effects were top notch for this film! Black levels are nice and deep and for the most part, the film looks great in 4K Ultra HD!

IMPORTANT TO KNOW: To watch 4K Ultra HD, you will need a 4K UHD TV with HDR and an Ultra HD Blu-ray Player + a high-speed HDMI 2.0A Cable.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” is presented in English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible), Czech, English – Audio Description Track, French, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish (Castillan and Latin American), Thai, Turkish 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital.

I was so pleased with this soundtrack and just hearing constant immersive audio coming from front channels and also the surround channels for the many action scenes throughout the film. The music soundtrack also is utilized for the surround channels as well. Also, great use of LFE.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Arabic, Cantonese, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Greek, Italian, Korean, Spanish (Latin American), Swedish, Thai, Turkish

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter ” comes with the following special features on the Blu-ray disc:

  • Retaliation Mode – Only on the Blu-ray, Retaliation Mode delivers scene specific behind the scenes video and commentary with director/writer Paul W.S. Anderson and actress Milla Jovovich.
  • Stunts & Weaponry – (8:55) A featurette about the variety of weaponry and great action stunts in the film.
  • Explore the Hive – (4:15) A featurette about remaking “The Hive” and showing it in a different way with sets and visual imagery.
  • The Bad Ass Trinity & The Women of Resident Evil – (6:32) A featurette about featuring strong women and how women play a big role in the “Resident Evil” film series especially with “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter”.
  • Sneak Peek: Resident Evil: Vendetta – (4:22) A featurette showcasing scenes from the upcoming “Resident Evil” CG animated film, “Resident Evil: Vendetta”.

EXTRAS:

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” comes with a slipcover, both the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray disc and an UltraViolet Digital HD code.


It has been 15-years since the original “Resident Evil” film was released in theaters.  While the original film was much different from the video game and my feelings towards the original film was a bit of a disappointment because it was too different from the original film, I kept an open mind in seeing how the films would progress in terms of storyline and character.

And I can definitely say that despite not canon with the video game series, the film series has managed to hold its own with certain elements from the video game incorporated and giving the character of Alice and actress Milla Jovovich to shine but also to show that this female action character is strong, smart and can be impressive onscreen and can hold up to other male action stars and literally kick a lot of butt.

There is no doubt that for now, the character of Alice is the only female protagonists to star in an action film for 15-years, for multiple films and her character has remained consistent throughout the years.

And here we are with “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” and I despite the “Final” in the film’s title, there is probably a chance that the character of Alice can return in another film, considering how much was made for this film and the entire film series alone.  The “Resident Evil” films have made over a billion dollars worldwide.  And as the video games continue, I can only imagine the films will as well.

Similar to previous “Resident Evil” films, there is a ton of action and if anything, one can see this film as ultimate popcorn action film.  There is a story, a simple one that revolves around Alice needing to head back to where it all began, Raccoon City and make it down into the Hive to get the antidote to kill the T-Virus.  She’s joined by a familiar face, Claire Redfield and her antagonists are also familiar faces, as Dr. Isaacs and Albert Wesker are back.

But while the film remains consistent in that front, it fails to address other issues that I’m sure fans have been wanting to know what happened. One of the biggest question marks is the character Jill Valentine, not only a major character in the video game series but actress Sienna Guillory’s character was seen being captured by umbrella, brainwashed and programmed to go after Alice.

The film also didn’t bring back Kmart, Ada Wong, Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield which was a little disappointment.  But whether this opens things up for other films remains to be seen.  But  wouldn’t it be great if the survivors were this group that would team up with Alice in the end?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that way.  But I’m hoping that we see Leon, Ada and Chris including Jill in another possible “Resident Evil” film?  A side-story/one shot or a new starting point and separate chapter to Alice’s quest.

But “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” does answer a lot of questions and it is a fitting conclusion, if the film proves to be the final live-action “Resident Evil” film.  But as a fan of the video games and also the film series, I see potential in a new RE film but with the other characters.

As for the 4K Ultra HD, this film looks fantastic in 4K HD.  The apocalyptic setting, the monsters and mutated humans to flying behemoths look fantastic.  The lossless soundtrack is equally impressive considering the amount of action throughout the film.  As for special features, you get a few including a sneak peek of “Resident Evil: Vendetta”.  And once you watch the film in 4K Ultra HD, you will want to watch the “Retaliation Mode” on Blu-ray as it reveals moments from the franchise and features director Paul W.S. Anderson and actress Milla Jojovich.

Overall, “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” is straight-up popcorn action from beginning to end.  High adrenaline action that will please fans who have enjoyd the previous films.  While you get answers of how the T-Virus had spread and why?  Supporting characters are like fodder, previous characters aside from Claire Redfield and the antagonists are nowhere to be seen and the storyline is not the best of the film series.

Still, I did enjoy “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” for its action, its visual effects and make-up (for its many mutated zombies) and its storyline is a fitting conclusion to the film series featuring the film’s protagonist Alice. But if you are a “Resident Evil” fan of the video games or film, you may feel that the “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” was lacking and could have been better.  While I doubt this may be the end of the film series, considering how much money the film and video game series makes, there is still potential to explore other storylines of characters that are not featured in “The Final Chapter”.  Still an entertaining popcorn action film that fans of the film series will enjoy.

 

 

Anatahan (A J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Josef von Sternberg’s “Anatahan” is his personal and also his final film that looks amazing with the new 2K remaster.  If you are a fan of Josef von Sternberg’s cinematic works, you will no doubt enjoy “Anatahan”.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1976 Meri von Sternberg. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Anatahan

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1953 & 1958 (uncensored version)

DURATION: 91 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1:33:1, Monaraul English with optional English SDH Subtitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: PG

RELEASE DATE: April 25, 2017


Based on the Novel by Michiro Maruyama and translated by Younghill Kang

Directed by Josef von Sternberg

Screenplay by Tatsuo Asano, Josef von Sternberg

Produced by Kazuo Takimura

Executive Producer: Nagamasa Kawakita, Yoshio Osawa, Josef von Sternberg

Music by Akira Ifukube

Cinematography by Kozo Okazaki and Josef von Sternberg

Art Direction by Takashi Kono


Starring:

Akemi Negishi as Keiko Kusakabe, the “Queen Bee”

Tadashi Suganuma as Kusakabe, Husband of Keiko

Kisaburo Sawamura as Kuroda

Shoji Nakayama as Nishi

Jun Fujikawa as Yoshisato

Hiroshi Kondo as Yanaginuma

Shozo Miyashita as Sennami

Tsuruemon as Bando

Kikuji Onoe as Kaneda

Rokuriro Kineya as Marui

Daijiro Tamura as Kanzaki

Chizuru Kitagawa

Takeshi Suzuki Takahashi

Shiro Amikura

Narrator: Josef von Sternberg


Inspired by actual events, ANATAHAN explores the conflicting personalities of a dozen Japanese sailors stranded on a remote island in the Pacific during the waning days of World War II. For a time, they maintain their military discipline, but when they discover a young woman (Akemi Negishi) living on the island, the paradisal island becomes a nest of jealousy, violence, and desire. Filmed in Japan on elaborately constructed sets, with non-English-speaking actors, ANATAHAN was a deeply personal project for director Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel, Morocco, The Scarlet Empress), and provided a thoroughly unique capstone to his extraordinary career.


Anatahan.  An inhabited island in the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean due to its active and violent volcano and frequent typhoons.  But was used for coconut plantations in the 1800’s for the production of copra.

But the island was also the control of the Empire of Japan during World War I and in June 1944 during World War II, 30 survivors from three Japanese shipwrecks reached Anatahan.  But after the surrender of Japan, many of the castaways refused to believe the war had ended and fled to the interior of the island as Japanese holdouts.

But by 1950, it was realized that the holdouts were led by Kazuko Higa, the only woman left on the island and was discovered to live with a harem of five men, eleven who did of unknown circumstances until each surrendered in 1951.

The story of the holdouts inspired the film “Anatahan” (or “The Saga of Anatahan”) in 1953 by filmmaker Josef von Sternberg (“The Blue Angel”, “Dishonored”, “The Last Command”, “Shanghai Express”).

The film would receive an uncensored version, which is Sternberg’s preferred cut of the film.  Both were remastered in 2K and the 1958 version is mastered from film elements preserved by the Library of Congress and Cinematheque Francais.

The film begins in 1974 when a Japanese ship is sunk by enemy aircraft.  Survivors who swam from the Mariana’s Trench were able to find an island thought deserted.  One of the survivors found a village and when the survivors go to the village, they meet Kusakabe (portrayed by Tadashi Suganuma), a farmer of the coconut plantation.  While Kusakabe is not thrilled by seeing the men on Anatahan, he first tells them that he is alone.  But out of his home comes the beautiful Keiko (portrayed by Akemi Negishi) and immediately all the men become smitten that a beautiful woman is living on the island.

In truth, Kusakabe has a wife and son and Keiko had a husband, but everyone had evacuated on a boat during the war to Saipan four years earlier and the two were the only ones left alone and became a common law couple.

But as men try to get close to Keiko, she eventually gets close to one of the young survivors.  Kusakabe ends up beating on Keiko and warns the men to not go near his wife.

As the survivors are expecting to be rescued on the island, time goes on longer and longer and what becomes days, becomes months and eventually years.

And as time goes on, each of the men start to feel lustful towards Keiko and wanting her to belong to them.  And eventually, men succumb to savagery as they vie for her.

Will any of them be rescued or will they want to be rescued?


VIDEO:

“Anatahan” is presented in 1080p (1:33:1 aspect ratio). Presented in black and white, the film looks magnificent.  Clarity and sharpness are noticeable, blacks are nice and deep, while the contrast between white and gray levels look fantastic.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Anatahan” is presented in English Dolby Digital Monaural. Dialogue and music are crystal clear through the center channel, I didn’t notice any pops or clicks considering the age of the film. The monaural lossless soundtrack is very good.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Anatahan” comes with the following special features:

  • 1953 Theatrical Version – The original censored version of the film without any nudity.
  • Saga: The Making of Anatahan – (15:34) Interview with Nichgolas von Sternberg about his family living in Japan during the filming of “Anatahan”.
  • Visual Essay by Tag Gallagher – (16:16) Tag Gallagher’s visual essay.
  • Outtake Footage– (2:54) Featuring unused (nude) footage shot for the 1958 version of the film.
  • U.S. Navy Footage – (7:52) Actual video footage of the real Japanese holdouts who have surrendered and went home.
  • Comparison of the 1953 and 1958 versions – (8:16) A comparison of scenes and the differences between the 1953 and 1958 version of the film.

When I was younger, I would often hear stories from my family about Japanese soldiers who were still hiding in remote areas and didn’t know World War II had ended.

My parents would talk about the soldier (who turned out to be Hiroo Onda) found 30-years later in the jungles of the Philippines had refused to believe the war was over until his former commanding officer traveled to the Philippines to meet with him.

I have read about Japanese holdouts, those who refused to believe that Japan would surrender.  And that would lead me to read about Kazuko Higa and the group of sailors who were shipwrecked and found their way to the island of Anatahan, which was left uninhabited due to a vicious volcano and terrible typhoons.

The real life story of how these survivors were taken in by the real Kikuichiro Higa (who ran a coconut plantation) and his live-in wife Kazuko.

What is known is that the survivors had lived with Kazuko, a few died and stories came out that the men died as they submitted to savagery for their love for Kazuko.

Needless to say, this story which was big news in the media worldwide and also a novel based on actual events written by one of the survivors, Michiro Maruyana, translated by Younghill Kang, became an inspiration for filmmaker Josef von Sternberg to create a movie based on the true story.

With the Sternberg family living in Japan and having enjoyed their time in the country, Sternberg was able to get funding from Japanese producers and he would create his final film, “Anatahan” in 1953.  While the film did well in Japan, due to anti-Japanese sentiment (as the film was released a few years after World War II), the film didn’t do well in America.

The film was a deeply personal project for Sternberg, as he created the film for his love of Japanese culture but also wanted to create a film that had an anti-war message.  Also, a film that he was involved in ever facet down to directing, writing a screenplay, the set design, camera and more.

And the fact that all actors were Japanese and had no knowledge of English, led Sternberg to find ways to communicate with his actors of what he wanted to achieve through storyboards and creative planning.

While the film was released in 1953, a preferred uncensored cut of the film was released in 1958.  And many decades later, both versions of the film had been remastered in 2K from film elements preserved by the Library of Congress and Cinematheque Francaise.  And this remastered version is what is available in the 2017 Blu-ray release of “Anatahan” from Kino Lorber.

Watching this film, it’s not a surprise to see many lonely men being attracted to the only woman on the island with them.  In the film, Keiko Kusakabe (portrayed by actress Akemi Negishi) is attractive and sexual.  She is a common-law wife of Kusakabe, because their own loved ones had evacuated to Saipan during the outbreak of the war and the two were left behind to watch over the plantation on the island of Anatahan.

Not having heard from their loved ones, they had only each other for the next four years.  And eventually, a dozen of shipwrecked sailors now living with them and how it would become a problematic situation for Kusakabe, as he knows nearly every man wants his wife and if anything, she is the person who keeps them all going.

But as days turn to months and months turn to years, these men eventually start to think about whoever has the power (weapons) would be the leader and have the right to be with Keiko.  And this would lead certain men to challenge other men to be with Keiko.

While messages are broadcasted towards the island that Japan has surrendered, none of the soldiers believe it and think that it’s their enemies lying to them.

But while Sternberg made sure to let viewers know that the stories were from one and that actual situations can’t be verified, the story of what happened in Anatahan still remain a mystery.  Fortunately, in 1998, the story was revived by Japanese author, Kaoru Ohno who researched and interviewed a few people who survived or were rescuers and the new information became Ohno’s novel, “Cage on the Sea”.

And the more people read about the story, the real story especially what happened to the “Queen Bee”, Kazuko Hige, was just as tragic.  But many wonder how many people were killed just to be with her?  News reports have it at six.

While there are survivors who know what happened but to respect the dead, will not ever speak about how certain people were murdered.

Kazuko Hige had said that only two died because of her.  One was shot and the other was stabbed to death.  The man who was shot was the man she lived with for three years after her husband died at sea.  She lived with one man, which lasted for 20 days.  And he happened to die while fishing.  She lived with another man for two years but didn’t love him.  So, she was with a fourth man, who was responsible for stabbing man #3.  And she and man #4 lived together until they surrendered to the Americans and had said in an interview, she would go on stage to clear her name and what happened.

But the real life of Kazuko Higa after returning back to Okinawa is that she fell into prostitution and poverty, worked as a garbage collector and died at the age of 51.

Needless to say, this story is quite captivating and it’s no surprise considering the tragedies that transpired and how a lone woman was pinpointed as the person responsible.  May it be unfair, especially for media of portraying the woman they call “Queen Bee” as a tramp.  There is more to this story that we may never know what truly transpired.

But for Josef von Sternberg’s film, he was able to create a film to capture the loss of war, loyalty to one’s country, lust, passion, abuse, anger, happiness, you name it.  With two version of the film presented, I found the 1958 film to be the definitive version and it’s what Sternberg had preferred.  The main difference is that the 1958 had nudity, the 1953 film didn’t.

The 1958 version of the film featured Keiko as a woman who knew that the men are entertained by her.  She enjoyed the attention and these men wanted to see more of her.  May it be her smiling, dancing, happy and sometimes catch her nude.  She was not happy with the men she had been with in the island, he was an abuser, he had control over her and having these other men who made her happy and gave her attention, changed her life on the island.  But her naivety was somewhat of her undoing, not knowing that men would go so low to fight and kill each other for her.  In essence, a few of these men became just as bad as the man she lived with.  They wanted power and with that power, they wanted to control her.

As for the Blu-ray release, this 2K remaster looks magnificent.  The film looks sharp, clarity is much better and amazing contrast within the grays and whites of the film.  While you can hear the Japanese dialogue, the majority of the film is narrated by Josef von Sternberg who narrates over the Japanese dialogue.  But the English narration is crystal clear.  And last, you get a good number of special features included such as the interview with Nicholas von Sternberg (Josef’s son), a visual essay by Tag Gallagher, U.S. Navy footage of the actual survivors from Anatahan and a comparison between both 1953 and 1958 films.

While Josef von Sternberg may be known for his earlier films in his oeuvre such as “The Salvation Hunters” (considered to be the first American independent film), his German film “The Blue Angel” which would lead to six U.S. collaborations with actress Marlene Dietrich.  “Anatahan” should be looked at his final, personal film which he wrote, narrated, photographed and directed.  Sure, it had a limited release and was a financial failure due to anti-Japanese sentiment not long after World War II, but I do feel that many who are discovering the film today thanks to Kino Lorber’s remastered Blu-ray release will be captivated by the story.  Considering it was inspired on a real-life story.

Overall, Josef von Sternberg’s “Anatahan” is his personal and also his final film that looks amazing with the new 2K remaster.  If you are a fan of Josef von Sternberg’s cinematic works, you will no doubt enjoy “Anatahan”.  Recommended!

 

Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam – Live from Sin City (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

May 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam – Live from Sin City” may not be for everyone, but for those who are entertained by vulgar, profane and not overly sensitive, then definitely give this latest DVD a chance! You may enjoy it!

Images courtesy of © 2017 Lions Gate Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


DVD TITLE: Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam – Live from Sin City

YEAR OF FILM: 2017

DURATION: 91 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 1:78:1 Presentation, 16×9 Widescreen, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: Spanish

COMPANY: Lionsgate

RATED: Not Rated

AVAILABLE ON: May 23, 2017


Executive Produced by Shaquille O’Neal, Mike Parris, Quincy Newell, Jeff Clanagan

Producers: Anthony C. Hall, Tamra Goins, Leslie Small

Produced by: Valarie Benning Barney

Edited by Julian Gooden, Leslie Small


Starring:

Shaquille O’Neal

Lavell Crawford

K-Dubb

Cocoa Brown

Donnell Rawlings

Earthquake


Shaquille O’Neal presents host Lavell Crawford (”Breaking Bad,” MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES, and AMERICAN ULTRA) with special guests K-Dubb, Cocoa Brown, Donnell Rawlings, and Earthquake to deliver one of the funniest nights of comedy yet. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL’S ALL-STAR COMEDY JAM: LIVE FROM SIN CITY was filmed live at the Penn & Teller Theater in Las Vegas.


From the ’80s “Kings of Comedy” to the ’90s of “Def Comedy Jam” and in recent years of Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy”, each have provided a venue to see up-and-coming or established African American comedians.

With “Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy – Live in Sin City”, Lavell Crawford (“Breaking Bad”, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”, “American Ultra”) now takes the stage as the host and joining him are comedians K-Dubb, Cocoa Brown, Donnell Rawlings and Earthquake.

Filmed live at the Penn & Teller Theater in Las Vegas.


VIDEO & AUDIO:

Picture quality is presented in 1:78:1 and English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio with Spanish subtitles.

Picture quality is good as it can get on DVD and overall soundtrack is crystal clear.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy – Live in Sin City” comes with no special features.


For those who grew up watching “Def Comedy Jam”, “Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam” takes the similar path of featuring established or up-and-coming African American comedians and letting them go full-force in unabashed rawness and profanity.

Sure, there are those who may have a problem with some of the comedy content, may it be too adult in content (ie. discussion of sex) and there are some who feel that the comedy may be demeaning to people who are African American, but this debate has gone long and for some performers, comedy is an outlet to express themselves and how they grew up.

For “Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam – Live from Sin City – Live in Sin City”, the host is a much slimmer Lavell Crawford.  Discussing everything from growing up with a cranky grandma, Black Lives matter, the killing of Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo, the light-skinned Golden State Warriors and more.

K-Dubb’s comedy routine talks about relationship, Cocoa Brown tears it up with her comedy about an ex-boyfriend, getting back into dating, men and female body parts and more.

Comedian Donnell Rawlings talks about ISIS, wanting to be light-skinned, reading out loud in school and more.

The show ends with Earthquake talking about Lamar Odom, Bill Cosby his love for women.

The latest offering of “Shaquille O’Neal Presents” is no doubt humorous, but at the same time, I know that there has been a growing resistance towards this form of adult comedy and it’s the same arguments that existed when “Def Jam Comedy” was often profiled in media.

Is “Shaquille O’Neal Presents” vulgar?  Yes.  Are people going to find the comedy routines to be insensitive.  I’m sure there are people that are.  But it all depends on the people watching it.  If you don’t like this type of comedy, then don’t watch.

One thing that I did notice watching this latest “Live from Sin City” is seeing audience reactions.  There are those who are laughing hard and you’ll see someone barely laughing, almost like they didn’t get the joke or didn’t care for it.  This is how comedy is and there are those who dig it and some who don’t.

Overall, “Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam – Live from Sin City” may not be for everyone, but for those who are entertained by vulgar, profane and not overly sensitive, then definitely give this latest DVD a chance! You may enjoy it!


 

Ultimate Otaku Teacher Part 2 (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you enjoy anime that is set in high school and focuses on a hardcore otaku teacher trying to help his students through unusual ways, will no doubt want to give “Ultimate Otaku Teacher Part 2” a try!

Image courtesy of © 2016 Funimation. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Ultimate Otaku Teacher Part Two

ANIME SERIES AIR DATE: 2015

DURATION: (Episodes 13-14) 300 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16:9), English and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English Subtitles

COMPANY: Funimation

Release Date: February 1, 2017


Originally created by Takeshi Azuma

Directed by Masato Sato

Series Composition by Atsushi Maekawa

Music by Ryuuichi Takada

Character Design by Isao Sugimoto

Art Director: Daiki Kuribayashi

Art Design by Iho Narita

Anime Production by A-1 Pictures


Featuring the following voice talent:

Hiroshi Kamiya/Anthony Bowling as Jun’ichirō Kagami

Rena Matsui/Mikaela Krantz as Suzune Kagami

Aki Toyosaki/Tia Ballard as Kōtarō Araki

Aya Hirano as Yamato Tōne

Ayahi Takagaki as Tim Berners Lynn

Ayane Sakura as Kisaki Tenjōin/Sachiko Tanaka

Azusa Tadokoro/Dawn M. Bennett as Kiriko Shikishima

Daisuke Namikawa/Eric Vale as Hell Gates

Kana Hanazawa/Lindsay Seidel as Reiko Mukyō

M.A.O/Alexis Tipton as Madoka Kuramachi

Rina Hidaka/Monica Rial as Kanon Chinami

Risa Taneda/Kristi Yang as Matome Nishikujō

Risae Matsuda/Felecia Angelle as Taki Komiya

Saori Ōnishi/Caitlin Glass as Makina Momozono

Satsumi Matsuda/Bryn Apprill as Nagaru Komiya

Shiina Natsukawa/Leah Clark as Moemi Kushinada

Sora Amamiya/Sarah Wiedenheft as Minako Kanō

Suzuko Mimori/Jad Saxton as Koyomi Hiiragi

Tomoko Tsuzuki/Terri Doty as Kazuya Momozono


The ultimate otaku teacher, Junichiro Kagami, is back with his unique group of students. But as the school year goes on, things start to get…spooky! When tasked to clean out the old dorms, Kagami and his students stumble upon the ghost of a former classmate. All she wants to do is pass on to the next life but is having a little trouble. Are they up for this spiritual lesson?

Things heat up when conflict arises between a gang leader and pop idol. Are street smarts more important than school smarts? Once things start to calm down, even Kagami’s most troubled students start settling into better lives. Realizing that he’s neglected things he used to care about like his blog, figurines, and anime, Kagami begins to question if teaching is where he truly belongs. When the opportunity to work on his Anywhere Door arises, he’ll have to make a tough choice.

What does Kagami really yearn to do: teach or research?


In 2011, mangaka Takeshi Azuma created the manga series “Denpa Kyoshi” (which translates to “electromagnetic-wave teacher”).

As the series is still ongoing in Japan, an anime adaptation was produced by A-1 Pictures in 2015 and the anime has now be released in two parts on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Funimation.

The anime series is directed by Masato Sato (“Explorer Woman Ray”, “Silent Mobius”, “Montana Jones”), script by Atsushi Maekawa (“Digimon Adventure”, “Bakugan Battle Brawlers”, “Dragon Ball Z”), music by Ryuuichi Takada (“Idolm@ster”, “Dusk maiden of Amnesia”), character design by Isao Sugimoto (“Bakuon!!”, “Kemeko Deluxe!”, “Maze”) and background art by Daiki Kuribayashi (“Show By Rock!!”, “Code: Breaker”, “Chaos;Child”).

The anime series introduces us to Jun’ichiro Kagami, a 24-year-old mega-otaku who rather work on his anime blog. But while a big otaku, Jun’ichiro was once an intelligent physics major who published a paper that would make headwaves in the scientific world when he was 17. And Jun’ichiro was scouted to work at one of the most important research centers in the world. But when he wanted to create the “Anywhere Door” that allows teleportation, he became ridiculed by academics and so far, his efforts to dispute his critics have failed and he hasn’t developed the technology to create it.

So, Jun’ichiro decudes that he suffers from “YD” and only wants to work that he yearns to do and not do anything else. And that is be a hardcore otaku.

But his younger sister Suzune is tired of him staying at home and not making a living, and because she is responsible for the family finances, she forces her brother to get a job. Or else she will beat him up.

So, Jun’ichiro takes up a job to become a teacher at Hiiragi Academy and help students and teach students his own way. So, he can balance his teaching job (doing things his way) and also focus on his otaku lifestyle. But can he teach these students with his otaku style?

In the second part of “Ultimate Otaku Teacher”, new characters are introduced such as Tim Bernards Lynn, the head scientist at CERM Particle Physics Laboratory; Madoka Kuramachi, the student council treasurer; Joe Odawara, a student of Jun’ichiro who wants to confess his love to Makina; gang leader Taki Komiya and childlike intern, Reiko Mukyo.

Also, what happens when Jun’ichiro challenges Hell Gates, the CEO of Activision Frigate and a computer game world champion. If Jun’ichiro wins, Hell Gates must takeover KMC. If Hell Gates wins, Jun’ichiro can never play any computer game ever again.

And what is the results of Jun’ichiro teaching at the academy? Does he pass or fail?


VIDEO:

“Ultimate Otaku Teacher” is presented in 1080p High Definition (16:9). There is a lot of detail featured in the art backgrounds, a lot of characters featured and these characters have great detail and shadowing. A vibrant anime series from A-1 Pictures.

I found no compression artifacts or any problematic issues with this Blu-ray release.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Ultimate Otaku Teacher” is presented in English Dolby TrueHD and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0. The series for the most part features crystal clear dialogue and music and is front-channel driven.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Ultimate Otaku Teacher Part 2” features the following special features:

  • Episode 15 Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by ADR Director Kyle Phillips, Alexis Tipson (voice of Madoka Kuramachi) and Colleen Clinkenbeard (voice of Tim Berners Lynn) and script writer and voice actor, Clifford Chapin (voice of Joe Odawara).
  • Episode 21 Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by ADR Director Kyle Phillips and voice talents Felecia Angelle (voice of Taki Komiya), Mallorie Rodak (voice of Yamato Toune) and Bryn Apprill (voice of Nagare Komiya)
  • Textless Opening and Closing Song
  • U.S. Trailer – Funimation trailer for “Ultimate Otaku Teacher”.

EXTRAS:

“Ultimate Otaku Teacher” comes with a Blu-ray and DVD version of the series plus a slipcover.


What happens when you get a former intelligent academic student turned hardcore otaku and make him a teacher and allow him to teach his students with his otaku style?

This is the story of Jun’ichiro Kagami, a hardcore otaku who has kept away from working professionally because he wants a job which he can be himself.

Unfortunately, not many jobs are open to that until Koyomi Hiiragi, chairman of Icho Academy who wants Japan to be a more amusing place. Having spied and followed Jun’ichiro, she feels that his teaching methods, no matter how absurd they may be, can teach the students at the Academy.

Each episode features how Jun’ichiro helps out a student. In Part 2, for example, Jun’ichiro wants to save student council treasurer, Madoka Kuramachi. Madoka’s family owns the KMC company who makes a video game that Jun’ichiro plays. And the company is about to be take over by Activision Frigate, a rival company and she is being forced to marry the rival company’s CEO, Hells Gate.

Another episode has Jun’ichiro trying to help a ghost who is a big fan of “Kisaki Tenjoin” and wants to know how the manga ended before author Sachiko could complete it. And the ghost wants desperately to know how the manga would have ended.

And how will Jun’ichiro help Taki Komiya, a gang leader named Taki, whose twin sister happens to be to be idol singer, Komi-Ryu.

And the series culminates as we learn the results of Jun’ichiro being at teacher. Will he succeed?

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is vibrant and colorful, while lossless audio for both Japanese and English soundtracks are 2.0 DTS-HD MA. For special features, you get two audio commentary.

Overall, “Ultimate Otaku Teacher Part 2” is an anime series that may be compared to “Assassination Classroom”, teachers who have their own way of teaching their own students, students who are truant or have major problems at school. Where “Assassination Classroom” is more action-packed and driven by the fact the students must grow in order to assassinate their alien teacher who plans to destroy the planet, “Ultimate Otaku Teacher” is about an otaku teacher who loves his anime, video games and figurines.

While he is obsessed with otaku duties, the fact that he is given an opportunity to teach at an Academy and be himself is a major plus to him. So, using his love for video games, anime, etc. allows him to reach out to these troubled students.

The series has elements of what people tend to enjoy in an anime series. From having an otaku protagonist, a tsundere sister and students who are helped by Jun’ichiro’s otaku ways, may it be through video games or something really weird or awkward, he manages to get the job done.

Overall, if you enjoy anime that is set in high school and focuses on a hardcore otaku teacher trying to help his students through unusual ways, will no doubt want to give “Ultimate Otaku Teacher Part 2” a try!

 

Wolf’s Rain: The Complete Series (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

 I can’t recommend “Wolf’s Rain” enough for those wanting a deep, captivating story with wonderful animation.  It’s a classic anime series for sure!  Yes, it may not be perfect but it’s still one of the shining gems from the early 2000’s worth owning on Blu-ray!  Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2017 FUNimation. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Wolf’s Rain: The Complete Series

YEAR: 2003

DURATION: Episodes 1-30 (750 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 4:3, Dolby TrueHD English 5.1, Dolby TrueHD Japanese 2.0, English Subtitles

COMPANY: FUNimation

RATED: TV 14

Release Date: February 7, 2017


Originally Creator: Keiko Nobumoto

Directed by Tensai Okamura

Script by Keiko Nobumoto

Music by Yoko Kanno

Character Design by Toshiro Kawamoto

Art Director: Atsushi Morikawa

Mechanical Design by Shinji Aramaki

Anime Production by BONES


Featuring the following voice talent:

Akio Suyama/Joshua Seth as Hige

Hiroki Shimowada/Mona Marshall as Toboe

Kaho Kouda/Kari Wahlgren as Cher Degre

Kenta Miyake/Crispin Freeman as Tsume

Mamoru Miyano/Johnny Yong Bosch as Kiba

Arisa Ogasawara/Sherry Lynn as Cheza

Atsuko Tanaka/Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as Jagura

Mayumi Asano/Jessica Straus as Blue

Mitsuru Miyamoto/Robert Buchholz as Hubb Lebowski

Takaya Kuroda/Steven Jay Blum as Darcia

Unshō Ishizuka/Tom Wyner as Quent Yaiden


Paradise-a legend, a myth, and a hopeless dream in a world that has become a wasteland. It is not meant for everyone, only the wolves thought to be extinct yet still roam the lands. When the Flower Maiden awakens, the path to the end will open.

Kiba, a lone white wolf, wanders into a poverty stricken city on a quest. The scent of Lunar Flowers and the will to find Paradise is all he has. Along the way, he runs into other outcast wolves: Tsume, Hige, and Toboe, each with their own story and troubles. Fate bringing them together, and together they seek out the Flower Maiden, Cheza, and their way to Paradise. But, doing so is no simple matter.

Up against a world that fears them and a man with mysterious abilities, their journey is overrun with challenges and worse-sacrifices. With limited time, they must fight to protect Cheza against everyone who seeks her and discover the hidden path to their destiny. This group of broken souls will form a pack and take their journey to the doors of Paradise. But is it worth the end of the world?


Back in 2003, BONES anime studio released the 26-episode + 4 OAV anime series “Wolf’s Rain” on Fuji TV.  The series would receive a short two-volume manga retelling by Keiko Nobumoto and Toshitsugu Iida (illustrations) and serialized in “Magazine Z”.

The anime series was done well in Japan but when the anime series was released on Adult Swim, needless to say, it would attract many America viewers.  So popular that the DVD release sold well in North America .  And now 15-years later, the series will be released on Blu-ray as a complete series courtesy of FUNimation.

The series begins with a telling of an old legend that when the end of the world is coming, Paradise will appear.  But only wolves can find Paradise.

While wolves have been extinct on Earth for nearly 200-years, they still exist, but now casting illusions onto themselves to make them appear human to the public.

The anime series first introduces us to an injured lone white wolf who is going to Freeze City (where the majority of people are living in poverty).

As Kiba, the lone white arctic wolf is going to Freeze City following the scent of the Lunar Flower, Kiba is in search for this flower as it is a key to open Paradise but most of all, to protect Cheza, the flower maiden.

Kiba is rescued by a Mexican wolf named Hige, who loves to eat and talk to women.  While he feels comfortable living in human society, he decides to join Kiba in his mission to find Paradise.

Toboe is a red wolf and the youngest of the group.  He is considered the runt of the group and was raised by an old woman who found him outside the city and wears bracelets that she gave him.  He is friendly and protective towards most humans and he was saved by the rash Tsume.  He is not much of a fighter and is quite naive.

Tsume is a grey wolf with a X scar across his chest.  He is a strong fighter, rash, rude and seems as if he is mad at the world.  After his human gang leaves him, he decides to join Kiba, Tsume and Hige in their quest of paradise, even though he is skeptical that it exists.

Meanwhile, an ex-sheriff named Quent Yaiden is on the hunt for wolves, whom he blames for killing his wife and son.  Quent has developed a pure hatred towards wolves and despite hunting them, humans don’t believe that wolves exist but Quent has suspicions that wolves are disguising themselves as humans after he comes across Toboe.

He is approached by a police detective named Hubb Lebowski, who is investigating that wolves are involved, despite being skeptical.

His ex-wife Cher Degre is a scientist studying Cheza and her dedication of learning about Cheza has taken over her life, and thus her divorcing her husband.  But when Cher disappears, Hubb tries to find her.

When Hubb discovers the banned book “Book of the Moon” in Cher’s apartment, he joins forces with Quent in hopes it would lead him to his ex-wife, who he still loves.

Will any of these four wolves searching for Paradise find what they are looking for?


VIDEO:

“Wolf’s Rain: The Complete Series” is presented in 1080p High Definition. With this being an older anime series, it’s important to note that this is an SD Remaster.  While colors are vibrant, there is softness as one could expect for a TV series.  But for the most part, this classic anime series features wonderful animation and art backgrounds and watching it nearly 15-years later, you can’t help but feel that BONES did a marvelous job with this anime series.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Wolf’s Rain: The Complete Series” is presented in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Japanese Dolby TrueHD stereo. Both soundtracks are well-acted but I felt the English dialogue had the advantage of the use of the surround channels when it comes to lossless audio utilization.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Wolf’s Rain: The Complete Series” comes with the following special features:

  • Cast Interview 1 – (6:57) Featuring an interview with Japanese voice actors: Mamoru Miyano (voice of Kiba), Kenta Miyake (voice of Tsume) and Hiroki Shimowada (voice of Toboe).
  • Cast Interview 2 – (8:18) Featuring an interview with Unshou Ishizuka (voice of Quent Yaiden), Takaya Kuroda (voice of Darcia), Kaho Kouda (voice of Cher Degre), Mitsuru Miyamoto (voice of Hubb Lebowski), Arisa Ogasawara (voice of Cheza).
  • Staff Interview – (6:08) Behind-the-scenes recording with the producers and staff about the creation of “Wolf’s Rain”.
  • Pilot Film – (2:18) Japanese pilot film for “Wolf’s Rain”.
  • Promo Film 1 & 2 – Japanese promotional videos for “Wolf’s Rain”.
  • 15-Second Promos
  • Textless Opening and Closing Songs

EXTRAS:

“Wolf’s Rain: The Complete Series” comes with a Blu-ray and DVD version of the series.


Back in 2004, “Wolf’s Rain” was no doubt a hit anime series that captivated not just Japanese audiences but also American audiences.

An anime series that managed to have wonderful, dark visuals plus fascinating characters and a lot of action, I enjoyed “Wolf’s Rain” for its originality and also how the series ended.

Similar to feudal Akira Kurosawa series, where you never know if the protagonists are going to survive to the end, “Wolf’s Rain” is a series that shows that in this dismal world, these wolves that dream of paradise have made the decision to move forward, whether or not paradise exists or not.

All I can say is have the tissue box nearby, you’ll be shedding a few tears watching this anime series.

As much as I enjoyed this series, as most people who followed the series back then are aware that “Wolf’s Rain” did suffer production problems.  And episodes 15-18 were recap episodes told from the perspective of Tsume, Toboe, Hige and Hubb expanding the series to 30 episodes.

With the release of “Wolf’s Rain: The Complete Series” on Blu-ray/DVD you get the full series for a lower price.  Back in 2004-2005, people had to purchase all seven volumes to watch the entire series until the limited edition box set was released in late 2005 and a Perfect Collection (Anime Legends) release came out in 2009.

This release is essentially the Perfect Collection but with an SD Remaster onto Blu-ray.  So, for those wanting the better picture quality and lossless soundtrack will want to opt for this version.

Overall, I can’t recommend “Wolf’s Rain” enough for those wanting a deep, captivating story with wonderful animation.  It’s a classic anime series for sure!  Yes, it may not be perfect but it’s still one of the shining gems from the early 2000’s worth owning on Blu-ray!  Recommended!

 

Sailor Moon R: The Movie (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

There is no doubt that “Sailor Moon R: The Movie” was ahead of its time. A classic, dramatic “Sailor Moon” film that manages to balance drama and action very well. If you are a big fan of the film, definitely own this film on Blu-ray, it’s the definitive version worth purchasing! Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1993 TOEI ANIMATION. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Sailor Moon R: The Movie

ORIGINAL THEATRICAL DATE: 1993

DURATION: 90 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English and Japanese 2.0 Stereo, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Viz Media

RATED: TV 14

Release Date: April 18, 2017


Originally Created by Naoko Takeuchi

Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara

Screenplay: Sukehiro Tomita

Character Design by Kazuko Tadano

Music by Akiko Kosaka, Takanori Arisawa, Tetsuya Komuro

Art Design by Junichi Taniguchi

Animation Director: Kazuko Tadano

Anime Production: Toei Animation/TV Asahi


Featuring the following voice talent:

Aya Hisakawa/Kate Higgins as Ami Mizuno/Sailor Mercury

Emi Shinohara/Amanda C. Miller as Makoto Kino/Sailor Jupiter

Kotono Mitsuishi/Stephanie Sheh as Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon

Michie Tomizawa/Cristina Vee as Rei Hino/Sailor Mars

Rica Fukami/Stephanie Morgenstern as Minako Aino/Sailor Venus

Kae Araki/Sandy Fox as Chibi Usa

Keiko Han/Jill Frappier as Luna

Tohru Furuya/Robbie Daymond as Mamoru Chiba/Tuxedo Kamen

Yasuhiro Takato/Ron Rubin as Artemis

Hikaru Midorikawa/Ben Diskin as Fiore

Hiromi Nishikawa as Campanula

Mahito Ohba as Newscaster

Megumi Ogata as Mamoru Chiba (as a child)

Tomoko Maruo as Fiore (as a child)

Wakana Yamazaki as Flower Youma Gurishina

Yumi Touma as Kisenian


Long before Mamoru found his destiny with Usagi, he gave a single rose in thanks to a lonely boy who helped him recover from the crash that claimed his parents. This long-forgotten friend, Fiore, has been searching the galaxy for a flower worthy of that sweet gesture long ago. This Xenian flower is beautiful, but has a dark side- it has the power to take over planets! To make matters worse, the strange plant is tied to an asteroid hurling towards Earth! Faced with an enemy blooming out of control, It’s up to Sailor Moon and the Sailor Guardians to band together, stop the impending destruction and save Mamoru!


Back in 1991, mangaka Naoko Takeuchi would create her shojo manga series “Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon”.

Serialized in “Nakayoshi” (from 1991-1997) with a total of 18 tankobon (graphic novel) versions published, the series would reach enormous popularity with over 35 million copies sold worldwide and the release of the anime series would further the popularity worldwide with 200 episodes created (1992-1997), three animated films, a live-action TV series, musicals, video games and more.

In 2016, Viz Media showcased “Sailor Moon R: The Movie” at Anime Expo featuring a new English dub, uncut for the first time in American theaters.

The original film was released in theaters back in 1993 and was directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara and written by Sukehiro Tomita and takes place after the original “Sailor Moon R” series.

And now, “Sailor Moon R: The Movie” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Viz Media.

The film begins with Usagi, Mamoru, Chiba-Usa and friends taking a trip to the Jindai Botanical Garden.

Meanwhile, we see a flashback of a young Mamoru giving a rose to a mysterious boy and the boy promising to return to bring Mamoru many flowers.

As Mamoru steps outside after the other Sailor Senshi are caught spying on the two as they are about to kiss, the mysterious boy, now a man comes to give Mamoru flowers and holds his hand.

Usagi sees the man’s affections towards Mamoru and Usagi tells him that Mamoru is her boyfriend and the mysterious man knocks her down and vows that no one will prevent him from keeping his promise and he disappears.

As the Sailor Senshi are talking among others, they talk about how Mamoru is not only popular with the women but also probably towards men.  Meanwhile, a ball of light is seen floating and buries itself to the ground and a flower grows.

The following morning, Rei meanwhile senses an evil aura and she and the other Sailor Senshi follow Rei and find many of the local city people all fallen to the ground.  When they go to check on them, the people awaken (like zombies) with plants controlling them and they try to attack them.

They find that the person responsible is a flower monster named Glycina and it drains energy from people. As the Sailor Senshi tries to fight her, Fiore appears and uses a flower called Xenian to hurt them.

As Mamoru shoes up to talk to Fiore and prevent him from fighting the Sailor Senshis, he learns that the Xenian is controlling his mind.  As Fiore tries to attack Usagi, Mamoru saves her just in time but is hurt.  Fiore manages to take the injured Mamoru away from Earth to an asteroid and plans to revive him in a crystal.

What is this connection between Fiore and Mamoru?  And can Usagi and friends save Mamoru and defeat Fiore?  And why is Fiore so angry?


VIDEO:

“Sailor Moon R: The Movie” is presented in 1080p High Definition and one must remember that this is an old school anime film and created with cels not digitally as anime is made today.  And handling of anime series were done differently back then and so you may see some occasional spotting in certain frames.

With that being said, this HD version is no doubt the best version I have seen of this film to date.  Having had the original Pioneer DVD, this Blu-ray release from Viz Media is much better in terms of color vibrance and sharpness.  I didn’t notice any major artifacts or banding during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Sailor Moon R: The Movie” is presented in Japanese and English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Both soundtracks are done quite well and dialogue and music are both crystal clear through the front channels.  It’s important to note that this animated film on Blu-ray features the current cast featured on the Viz Media releases and not the English dub from the 2000 Pioneer DVD release.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Sailor Moon R: The Movie” comes with the following special features:

  • Make Up! Sailor Guardians Featurette – (16:32) A special feature about the Sailor Guardians, a recap that was shown originally before the animated film in Japan in theaters (presented in Japanese and English).
  • Theatrical Intro with English Cast – (10:46) Featuring the English dub voice talent: Stephanie Sheh, Robbie Daymond and Ben Diskin being interviewed about the film.
  • 2017 Los Angeles Premiere – (34:29) Featuring a post-panel with Voice Director – Suzanne Goldish, the English voice talent of “Sailor Moon R” (from the Los Angeles Premiere) and cosplayers.
  • Gallery – “Sailor Moon R” image gallery
  • Trailer – “Sailor Moon R” theatrical trailer

Back in 1993, “Sailor Moon R: The Movie” was released in Japanese theaters and for many fans of the animated series, this was anticipated holiday movie release during the Christmas time in Japan.

At the time, Toei Animation really did a lot of promotion for the film, going so far to have a special “Sailor Moon and X’mas” event in Ginza limited to several hundred people.

One of the earlier personal anime-driven websites in the early ’90s owned by Hitoshi Doi, said of the movie, “It was a great movie.  Maybe my favorite movie of all time”.

Meanwhile, on anime BBS, there was a lot of discussion about the content and possible homosexual storyline about love between two boys.  A topic that was debated at the time and while not super controversial, it was enough for Pioneer Entertainment to release it in 1999 on VHS edited and in Japanese only with English subtitles.

But for the bilingual DVD release back in 2000, Pioneer Entertainment released it uncut but also an edited version of the VHS dub as it was censored for content.

Needless to say, with the release of “Sailor Moon R: The Movie”, the goal was to release this film, with the new English voice cast that have been used for Viz releases.  But most importantly, to feature a storyline that is not censored but to accept what the original Japanese story had been about and not changing the story to reflect that two young male characters that do care about each other.

So, with the changing of the times, we have a new Blu-ray release of “Sailor Moon R: The Movie” that gets things right by not deviating from the story’s original intention.

I actually wrote back when the original DVD was released, “The movie is actually pretty good.  Touching in some areas and it’ll maybe make you want to cry.  When people buy this, they may think they can just buy this for their kids but if you want to explain to your children about homosexuality references and so forth, then go ahead and buy it.”

Watching this film nearly 25-years later and 17-years after the DVD was released, I look back and see Hitoshi Doi’s 1993 post and in Japan, they don’t make any references about two boys liking each other, in fact, fans loved it because of its dramatic storyline of sacrifice and love.  In addition to the action sequences involved as well.

It’s a shame that back then, companies had to censor the film and it was unfortunate, that I felt the need to warn parents because of the references.  Things have changed so much in terms of what can be accepted in film or pop culture in terms of references to LGBT.  If anything, there is no warning that should be needed.  Children watching this may think friendship, while its the parents who may be doing most of the questioning, hopefully people can watch this film and not make such a big deal of the references made between Mamoru and Fiore.

The story revolves around a young Mamoru and a boy named Fiore.  Mamoru gives Fiore a rose and a young Fiore made a promise to bring a flower back to Mamoru.  So, Fiore made it his life duty to fulfill that promise by searching for a flower across the galaxy just for Mamoru.

And when Fiore comes back as an adult to Mamoru to give him the flower he had found and showing his true affections that he has long had for Mamoru, Usagi tells Fiore that Mamoru is her boyfriend.

Needless to say, that doesn’t suit well for Fiore and to make things worse, since Fiore is possessed by the Xenian flower, he uses the power of the flower-monster Glycina to feed on people’s energy and uses it against Sailor Moon and friends.

But it’s a battle for Mamoru’s affections…who will win?  Usagi or Fiore?

No doubt the ending is quite predictable but the film features a strong dramatic storyline that shows how deep Usagi’s love for Mamoru and her friends.  And how far she will go to sacrifice her life for those who are important to her.

As for the Blu-ray release, “Sailor Moon R: The Movie” looks very good in HD.  One must remember that this is an old school anime film and created with cels not digitally as anime is made today.  And handling of anime series were done differently back then and so you may see some occasional spotting in certain frames.  But colors and sharpness are wonderful and this is the best version I have seen of the film to date.

And for lossless audio, we get a lossless audio stereo track that sounds great in HD!

And this release also comes with the original Make Up! Sailor Guardians Featurette, which was shown prior to the film’s screening in Japan, to get fans and also non-fans up to speed about each character and where the story is heading at that point of time. Plus, you get interviews with the English cast and the post-screeening of the film panel shown at the film premiere in Los Angeles.

Overall, there is no doubt that “Sailor Moon R: The Movie” was ahead of its time. A classic, dramatic “Sailor Moon” film that manages to balance drama and action very well.  If you are a big fan of the film, definitely own this film on Blu-ray, it’s the definitive version worth purchasing!

Recommended!

 

The Red Turtle (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Red Turtle” was an ambitious collaboration, the first for Studio Ghibli with a company and director overseas.  Filmmaker Michael Dudok de With and co-writer Pascale Ferran have truly created a film that is magical and captivating.  I really love this film and I can’t highly recommend it enough.  “The Red Turtle” is magnificent!

Image courtesy of © 2016 Studio Ghibli. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Red Turtle

YEAR OF FILM: 2016

DURATION: 81 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Portuguese and Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG (Some Thematic Elements and Peril)

RELEASE DATE: May 2, 2017


Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit

Story by Michael Dudok de Wit

Screenplay by Pascale Ferran and Michael Dudok de Wit

Producer: Pascal Caucheteux, Vincent Maraval, Gregoire Soriat, Toshio Suzuki

Co-Producer: Remi Burah, Leon Perahia, Olivier Pere

Artistic Producer/Producer: Isao Takahata

Equity Provider: Serge Hayat

Line Producer: Christophe Jankovic

Music by Laurent Perez Del Mar

Edited by Celine Kalepikis


Featuring the Voices of:

Emmanuel Garijo as The Father

Tom Hudson as the Son (young adult)

Baptiste Goy as The Son (child)

Axel Devillers as The Baby (voice)

Barbara Beretta as The Mother (voice)


Marking the much-anticipated return of Studio Ghibli, this masterfully animated fantasy film tells the story of a man shipwrecked at sea who becomes stranded on a beautiful but desolate island. He learns to live in isolation, seemingly tormented in his efforts to escape the island by a giant red turtle. Miraculously, he soon comes upon a young woman also lost at sea and they create a family together.


Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit had worked on numerous animated shorts.  From “The Monk and the Fish”, “Father and Daughter” and “The Aroma of Tea”.

The touching 2000 animated short “Father and Daughter” made an impression on legendary Japanese animation filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki with the intent for Studio Ghibli to co-produce a film with Wild Bunch but with Michael Dudok de Wit to be part of the project.

Wild Bunch met with Dudok de Wit and it didn’t take long for him to say yes, as he is a huge fan of Studio Ghibli animated films.  And together with writer Pascale Ferran, she and Dudok de Wit would create “The Red Turtle”.

Studio Ghibli giving Dudok de Wit input but for the most part, giving him the creative freedom for this animated project.

Making its premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the film would receive applause and eventually critical acclaim.

The film would be nominated for “Best Animated Feature” for the Academy Awards and now “The Red Turtle” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“The Red Turtle” is a film that has no dialogue but yet manages to captivate one’s attention with wonderful storytelling through actions of the characters and their surrounding environment.

The film begins with a man caught in a storm in the ocean and wakes up on a deserted island.

The man tries to leave the island by making a raft made of bamboo but unfortunately, his raft is destroyed when it hits an animal in the ocean.

The man tries to leave again with another raft that he had built, but once again, something in the ocean has prevented him from leaving.

When the man tries for a third time to leave the island with the raft, once again his attempts are foiled but this time, the man finds out that what is preventing him from leaving and it is a red turtle.

When the man spots the red turtle walking inland, the man gets his revenge by hitting the turtle on the head, turning the turtle on its back and jumping on him.

As the man tries to leave the island again with a raft, he feels guilty about what he had done to the turtle and catches a fish to feed it.  But it’s too late, the red turtle had died and the man is racked with guilt for what he had done.

Overnight, while sleeping with the dead turtle, he wakes up when he hears the turtles shell crack open through the center.  When the man looks out to the ocean and turns his head back to the turtle, to his shock and surprise, the turtle is gone and a woman is inside the shell and she is alive.

And when the man tries to take care of the woman and try to revive her, what will happen on the deserted island?


VIDEO:

“The Red Turtle” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1). While the film is not a Studio Ghibli film in terms of animation style, the film features simple but yet well-drawn characters (which includes wonderful animated movements such as people running, swimming, etc.) and beautifully drawn environments, may it be the bamboo forests, water reflections, lighting effects, reflections on water, or even ocean water moving towards the shore, the film looks great.   There is no banding issues or artifacts.  Daylight animated scenes are vibrant and overall picture quality is great.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “The Red Turtle” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA and Englsh Audio Description 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

While there is no dialogue throughout the film, there is great use of ambiance of life living in a deserted island and a wonderful musical score by Laurent Perez Del Mar.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Portuguese and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Red Turtle” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director and co-writer Michael Dudok De Wit.
  • The Birth of the Red Turtle – (56:34) A featurette on the birth and making of “The Red Turtle”.
  • The Secrets of the Red Turtle – (17:44) Featuring director/co-writer Michael Dudok de Wit showing the secrets to sketching the film and tracing for setting up a frame and more.
  • The Red Turtle at AFI Fest Q&A – (20:44) Featuring a Q&A with director/co-writer Michael Dudok de Wit.
  • Theatrical Trailer

I have to admit that I was a little standoffish about a collaboration of Studio Ghibli with another company and director outside of Japan.

Having grown up with Studio Ghibli films, especially with Hayao Miyazaki films, there is part of you that will never forget classics such as “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, “Laputa: Castle in the Sky”, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”, “Howl’s Moving Castle”, to name a few.

Films that go beyond wonderful animation but stories that touch your soul.  Symbolization through actions that mirror the world, messages in a film that make you think twice and so much included in a film that you discover new things each time you view them.

That is the power of a Studio Ghibli film.  But when I read that Hayao Miyazaki was the person that wanted director Michael Dudok de Wit to be involved in a collaboration project, you can’t just say “why?”.  You have to put your trust that Studio Ghibli wanted Dudok de Wit for a reason.

I personally have not see any of Michael Dudok de Wit’s films, so I didn’t know what to expect with “The Red Turtle”.

When I started to watch the film, I noticed how different it was from the Japanese film productions of Studio Ghibli, but Wild Bunch and Dudok de Wit’s storytelling are strong, the symbolism is strong but most importantly, like Studio Ghibli films before it, this film left me with an emotional impact.  I discovered new things each time I have watched the film (which have been multiple times already).

While character designs may seem simple, the movements and the actions of the characters are what capture your attention.  The environments compliment the characters with reflections to water visual effects but it’s the humanity of the film that you are captivated from beginning to end.

A man who is stuck in a deserted island, feeling isolated, feeling guilty for killing an animal and to see it transform to a beautiful woman.  And where marriage, we know of the words “‘Til Death Do Us Part”, this film is about love between a couple, a love between a family, the joys of growing with your family but also the heartbreak of enduring near tragedy and of course, the process of life of growing old the one you love.

This is a magical love story that needs no words to tell the story.  It’s simple yet complex and it’s a Studio Ghibli, that may be visually different but yet the storyline captures your attention.

I absolutely love this film.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is vibrant, the lossless soundtrack is primarily outdoor ambiance and ocean sounds but the musical soundtrack by Laurent Perez Del Mar is emotionally moving.  Also, there are numerous, lengthy special features that admirers of the film will enjoy watching or listening to.

Overall, “The Red Turtle” was an ambitious collaboration, the first for Studio Ghibli with a company and director overseas.  Filmmaker Michael Dudok de With and co-writer Pascale Ferran have truly created a film that is magical and captivating.  I really love this film and I can’t highly recommend it enough.  “The Red Turtle” is magnificent!

 

Sailor Moon Crystal Set 2 (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Entertaining and quite enjoyable, if you are a fan of Sailor Moon and friends, “Sailor Moon Crystal Set 2” is definitely recommended!

Image courtesy of © Naoko Takeuchi / PNP / KODANSHA / TOEI ANIMATION. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Sailor Moon Crystal Set 2

DURATION: Episodes 15-26 (276 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English and Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Viz Media

RATED: TV 14

Release Date: February 28, 2017


Originally Created by Naoko Takeuchi

Director: Chiaki Kon

Series Composition: Yuji Kobayashi

Character Design by Akira Takahashi

Music by Yasuharu Takanashi

Art Design by Takashi Kurahashi

Anime Production: Toei Animation


Featuring the following voice talent:

Kotono Mitsuishi/Stephanie Sheh as Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon

Rina Satou/Cristina Vee as Rei Hino/Sailor Mars

Ami Koshimizu/Amanda C. Miller as Makoto Kino/Sailor Jupiter

Hisako Kanemoto/Kate Higgins as Ami Mizuno/Sailor Mercury

Shizuka Itou/Cherami Leigh as Minako Aino/Sailor Venus

Sayaka Ohara/Veronica Taylor as Michiru Kaiō/Sailor Neptune

Kenji Nojima/Robbie Daymond as Mamoru Chiba/Tuxedo Kamen

Misato Fukuen/Sandy Fox as Chibi-usa/Sailor Chibi Moon

Ryou Hirohashi/Michelle Ruff as Luna

Youhei Oobayashi/Johnny Yong Bosch as Artemis

Shoko Nakagawa/Debi Derryberry as Diana


The next set in the brand new anime series, Sailor Moon Crystal!

Usagi Tsukino is a little clumsy and a crybaby, but she’s also one spirited eighth grader. One day she meets Luna, a black cat with a crescent moon mark on her forehead, and transforms into the pretty guardian of love and justice in a sailor suit, Sailor Moon! As a chosen guardian of justice, Usagi apparently has a mission to protect a princess, and to find her fellow Guardians and the phantom Silver Crystal. Meanwhile, Queen Beryl of the Dark Kingdom sends her subordinates to the town where Usagi lives. They cause strange events to occur there, all in an effort to acquire the tremendously powerful Silver Crystal… Can Sailor Moon and the other Guardians successfully find the phantom crystal, and protect the princess…!?


Back in 1991, mangaka Naoko Takeuchi would create her shojo manga series “Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon”.

Serialized in “Nakayoshi” (from 1991-1997) with a total of 18 tankobon (graphic novel) versions published, the series would reach enormous popularity with over 35 million copies sold worldwide and the release of the anime series would further the popularity worldwide with 200 episodes created (1992-1997), three animated films, a live-action TV series, musicals, video games and more.

In 2014, Toei Animation did a reboot of the anime series titled “Sailor Moon Crystal” to celebrate the 20th Anniversary but instead of releasing the anime on television, the series was released online on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

The anime series would feature voice actress Kotono Mitsuichi reprising her role as Sailor Moon in Japan while in America, the series would feature an all new English cast.

There first arc titled “Dark Kingdom” was featured in episodes 1-14, while the second arc “Black Moon” is featured in episodes 15-26.  A third season “Death Busters” aired in Japan on April 2016 and a sequel/fourth season was announced in January 2017.

And now the second arc (“Sailor Moon Crystal Set 2”) will be released on Blu-ray/DVD as a normal and a limited edition courtesy of Viz Media.

In the second arc, while Usagi and Mamoru are alone, a pink-haired girl falls from the sky.  She immediately points a gun towards Usagi and demands that Usagi give her the Legendary Silver crystal.

As Mamoru goes to the pink-haired girl, he finds out it is a fake gun and because her name is also Usagi, she is called “Chibi-usa”.  When they take Chibi-usa back to Usagi’s home, she immediately hypnotizes Usagi’s parents and they allow her to stay with them.

As for the others, Rei and Minako are looking into incidents of people being abducted and spontaneously combusting.

Meanwhile, the Black Moon Clan is after the Legendary Silver Crystal and with the Spectre Sisters, Rubeus and Prince Demande after the Crystal, they start to go after each of the Sailor Senshi’s and try to kidnap them in order to lure Sailor Moon.

But who can Usagi and Mamoru turn to for help?  Perhaps King Endymion and Neo Queen Serenity?


VIDEO:

“Sailor Moon Crystal” is presented in 1080p High Definition and the animation from Toei Animation is vibrant and colorful.

While the first series of “Sailor Moon Crystal” received a lot of flack with its earlier animation (which had to be redone for the Blu-ray and DVD release), this second series features much better character design and animation, as well as background art.  Better shadowing and for the most part, the series looks much better!

Picture quality is great and I didn’t notice any major artifacts or banding issues.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Sailor Moon Crystal” is presented in Japanese and English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Both soundtracks are done quite well and dialogue and music are both crystal clear through the front channels.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Sailor Moon Crystal Set 2” comes with the following special features:

  • Interview with the band Momoiro Clover Z Part 2 – (9:58) Featuring footage from Momoiro Clover Z’s appearance at Anime Expo and an interview with the group about their feelings of “Sailor Moon Crystal” and the characters.
  • Art Gallery
  • Clean Opening
  • Clean Ending

As a person who watched the anime series as it was airing in Japan and also reviewing it when the DVD’s were first released in the United States, “Sailor Moon Crystal” is no doubt an entertaining, action-packed, dramatic reboot without the filler episodes.

Back in the ’90s and even with today’s popular anime adaptation of successful manga, filler episodes are important to not just to allow for a mangaka to continue their work on a manga series and further the story, so the manga doesn’t catch up too quickly.

The caveat, as some have seen for series such as “Dragon Ball Z”, “Bleach”, “Naruto” and even “One Piece”, filler episodes can drag on for a long time.  But for companies banking on the successful anime to produce merchandise for years, filler episodes have become part of anime culture.

The same was the case with the original “Sailor Moon” series, as much was focused on to give various members their own identity through many character building episodes, establishing friendships, quarrels and such, and adding so many episodes that in the process, not only was there a ton of merchandising but the character was popular enough to get fans or parents to purchase the merchandise for their daughters.

In America, fans were purchasing soundtracks and video games for the 3DO and the original PSX back in the ’90s and every year since Sailor Moon appeared in Japan, conventions have always had someone sporting an outfit from the series.  It was a popular series and eventually, “Sailor Moon” was released in America.  So popular that even American band Barenaked Ladies featured the mention of “Sailor Moon” in their 1998 hit song “One Week”.

So, “Sailor Moon Crystal” as an ONA (Original Net Animation) versus being shown on television would seem like a big surprise but there was no doubt that Toei Animation was already banking on the series popularity that people would turn into the series online and for the most part, their gamble paid off as people were watching, people responded (especially about the animation in the first arc) and while opinion was mixed, “Sailor Moon” merchandise not just for children but also for adults have become popular in Japan.

But with “Sailor Moon Crystal”, no filler, it’s a series straight-up trying to complete various arcs within 12-14 episodes.  No long seasons and as I grow less patient with anime filler episodes, so thrilled that “Sailor Moon Crystal” arcs manages to achieve completion quickly and not test my or others who are low on patience.

And here we are with the “Black Moon Arc”, the second series featuring episodes 15-26.  Now featuring better character designs and animation, the storyline now introduces Chibi-Usa, as well as an appearance of Sailor Pluto.

While there are not too much of an emphasis on the other Sailor Senshi, there are a few episodes where we get to see each character put up a fight against the servants of Black Moon.

This latest arc primarily focuses on Chibi-Usa and the connection she has with Usagi and Mamoru and how she entered the present-time and left the future and what had happen to everyone, but also the origins of the Black Moon.

There is no doubt an emphasis on emotional drama especially between Usagi and Mamoru but also the two and their relationship with Chibi-Usa but this latest features a focus on the emotional ties that bond these three forever.

As for the Blu-ray release, animation is no doubt better with better shading and detail, while colors are vibrant and the series looks great in HD, part of the benefit with watching this series on Blu-ray is to find out how wonderful the acting is for both the Japanese and English dub.

It was awesome to have Kotono Mitsuishi return to voice Usagi/Sailor Moon for the Japanese dialogue and the Japanese voice acting by everyone else is great.  But with the English dub, I just felt that Stephanie Sheh did an amazing job as Usagi.  Both voice actresses were able to nail the emotional scenes with efficacy and also big kudos to Sandy Fox as Chibi-Usa.

Also on the Blu-ray release, the included interview with Momoiro Clover Z was also fantastic and it was great to see them discuss Sailor Moon and their opinion of the characters and hearing about their favorite character in the series.

Overall, “Sailor Moon Crystal Set 2” features the entire “Black Moon Arc” and features a great balance of humor, drama and action.  The voice acting in Japanese and the English dub was superb and the animation is much better.

Entertaining and quite enjoyable, if you are a fan of Sailor Moon and friends, “Sailor Moon Crystal Set 2” is definitely recommended!

 

 

Punching Henry (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Punching Henry” is no doubt a smart and hilarious comedy film that gives a glimpse of the life of a musical comedian.

Images courtesy of © 2017 Still Punching LLC. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Punching Henry

FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: 95 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16:9 Widescreen), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: April 18, 2017


Directed by Gregori Viens

Written by Henry Phillips, Gregori Viens

Produced by Jim Hart, Arun Kumar, David Permut, Henry Phillips, Matt Ratner, Rick Rosenthal, Gregori Viens

Co-Producer: Ian Coyne, Nalit Patel

Executive Producer: Howard Barish, David P. Beitchman, Adam Brawer, Luca Costa, Luke Daniels, Robert J. Harley, Brandon K. Hogan, Bert Kern, Atif Malik, Chris Mangao, Sean McEwen, Nick Morton, Alan Pao, Deborah Ratner

Cinematography by Bryce Fortner

Edited by Michael R. Miller, Gregori Viens

Casting by Eyde Belasco

Production Design by Jodi Ginnever

Set Decoration by Laurie McDaniel

Costume Design by Sarah Trost


Starring:

Henry Phillips as Henry Phillips

Tig Notaro as Julian

J.K. Simmons as Jay Warren

Mark Cohen as Stupid Joe

Sarah Silverman as Sharon Levine

Ellen Ratner as Ellen Pinksy

Mike Judge as Ed

Jim Jefferies as Charlie

Stephanie Allynne as Zoe

Michaela Watkins as Mara

Ashley Johnson as Danielle


In this hyper-intelligent comedy, a journeyman comedian is lured to L.A. by a TV producer (J.K. Simmons, Whiplash) who wants to make him a reality star. As reality sets in, he must decide whether his legacy will be to tell jokes for a living or become the butt of them. With an all-star cast including Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Jim Jefferies, Doug Stanhope, and more, PUNCHING HENRY is a hilarious and heartwarming glimpse behind the curtain at the weird world of comedy.


From musical comedian Henry Phillips and director/co-writer Gregori Viens comes “Punching Henry”, a comedy which premiered at South by Southwest in March 2016.

The film stars Henry Phillips as himself, actress Tig Notaro (“In a World”, “One Mississippi”) and wife Stephanie Allynne (“All Nighter”, “In a World”, “One Mississippi”), J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man” films, “Whiplash”), Mark Cohen (“The Aristocrats”, “Funny People”), Sarah Silverman (“School of Rock”, “Wreck-it Ralph”, “There’s Something About Mary”), comedian Jim Jefferies, Michaela Watkins (“The Back-Up Plan”, “Enough Said”, “Wanderlust”).

The film is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.

“Punching Henry” is a film that is based on the comedy of Henry Phillips standup routine which is playing a classic loser, hapless with women and unsuccessful in show business.

Henry Phillips is a music comedian trying to make a living traveling to various locations and trying to entertain audiences (some who get him, some who don’t).

His agent Ellen Pinsky (portrayed by Ellen Ratner) calls Henry to let him know that producer Jay Warren (produced by J.K. Simmons) wants to meet with him in Los Angeles.

For Henry, returning to Los Angeles is difficult ever since the media crucified him for being a white supremacist, which was a misunderstanding that got blown out of proportion.

And a lot of his adventures are often discussed in his friend Sharon Levine’s (portrayed by Sarah Silverman) radio show.  And his feelings of going to Los Angeles and not wanting people to take advantage of him.

As Henry goes to Los Angeles to stay with his friend Jillian (portrayed by Tig Notaro) and her wife Zoe (portrayed by Stephanie Allynne).  His first day doesn’t go all that well as his car has been stolen and he has to endure a heckler during his comedy performance which producer Jay Warren has come to observe.

As Henry goes to meet with Jay, he finds out that showrunner Mara (portrayed by Michaela Watkins) wants to create a television show based on his life as a loser.  Mara and other showrunners thinks that Henry’s experiences were part of his comedy routine but they are genuine experiences from his life.

But can Henry’s time in Los Angeles get any worse?  And how does Henry feel about a show being based on his life and how people perceive him due to social media?


VIDEO:

“Punching Henry” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio). The film features wonderful detail during closeup scenes and outdoor scenes. I didn’t notice any problems with artifacts or banding issues during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Punching Henry” is presented in English  DTS-HD Master Audio. The film is primarily dialogue and ambiance-driven. The surround channels do a good job of showcasing the crowds at venues but for the most part, the film is dialogue-driven and focused on the front and center channels.

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Punching Henry” comes with the following special features:

  • Deleted Scenes – Featuring two deleted scenes.
  • Brendon Walsh suffers – (1:31) Behind-the-scenes on Brendon Walsh’s painful scene.
  • Stupid Joe – (1:45) Improvisation of Mark Cohen’s comedy character Stupid Joe.

For those who have watched Henry Phillips’ comedy routine on “Comedy Central” or watched his hilariously awkward “Henry’s Kitchen” cooking shows on YouTube or his various musical comedy routines, you know that Phillip’s tends to play a character who is often a loner or loser and nothing really goes well for him.

And what if Henry the comedian and his routines were wrapped all in one.  That’s the storyline for “Punching Henry”, a story of how comedy musician Henry Phillips is given the opportunity to have a television show based on his life.

And as everyone in the entertainment world thinks this is part of Phillips’ comedy routine, the fact is that bad luck accompanies him wherever he goes and nothing goes right for him.

Starring many fellow comedians and actress Tig Notaro and J.K. Simmons, for those who enjoy Henry Phillips’ comedy will enjoy this film because it’s literally a film extension of his comedy routine.

From Henry going to Los Angeles and his car stolen within minutes of arriving, getting heckled at a venue, to his lesbian friends asking him to impregnate one of them (so they can have children) and he somehow manages to mess that one up.

But for Henry, now having this opportunity of having his life as a TV series and execs thinking how good of an idea to create a series based on a loser’s loser, for Henry those are painful things in his life that occur frequently, how will he deal with the opportunity and newfound fame thanks to a mishap onstage which becomes popular on social media.

Featuring appearances by many comedians and a solid performance from Henry Phillips, “Punching Henry” is no doubt a smart and hilarious comedy film that gives a glimpse of the life of a musical comedian.

 

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