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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Charisma
Charisma
Home Vision Entertainment // Unrated // May 17, 2005
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Todd Brown | posted May 27, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie
The tagline on the face of the DVD cover labels Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Charisma 'an enigmatic thriller'. That's certainly one way of putting it. Having seen the film a handful of times and finding it undeniably compelling I was nonetheless encouraged to hear writer / director Kurosawa confess in the on-disc interview that he himself doesn't really know what sort of film this is or if it entirely works.

After many longs years scrabbling to make a living in the direct-to-video market Kurosawa finally had a major break through with his troubling, possibly supernatural, serial killer thriller Cure in 1997. Based on the success of that film Kurosawa turned out a trio of films in 1999, two of which (License To Live and Barren Illusion) have never been available outside Japan and the third of which is Charisma.

Kurosawa here casts his favorite actor, and admitted alter-ego, Koji Yakusho as a humiliated police officer with a troubled family who simply opts to check out of his life. He has a colleague drive him out to some remote woods at random, planning to catch a bus to who-knows-where and when it becomes obvious that no buses run through these woods he simply wanders off through the trees where he becomes embroiled in a multi-fronted struggle revolving around a rare and dying tree. Yes, this is a film about a tree and the people who want control of it. There's the strange, violent young man living in a crumbling abandoned hotel in the middle of the forest; there's the attractive university professor; the environmental activist, and the forest rangers who seem mostly interesting in finding wild magic mushrooms. It's a rare tree, true, but why all the fuss?

Kurosawa has said that with Charisma he set out to make a film that complete defied genre and on that count he has completely succeeded. There simply is no easy way to categorize this thing. I've seen people read it as a sly joke, poking fun at Princess Mononoke. I've seen it read as some massive environmental allegory. I've seen it read as a supernatural thriller. But me? I see the points to all of those arguments but I'm simply baffled. Baffled in a good way, but baffled nonetheless.

The DVD
Video
Video quality on this one is passable, but not up to the job HVE did on their release of Cure. It is presented in a 1.85:1 letterbox ratio and while the transfer is clean it is a little soft. There are moments that appear to be a little too dark but as the film was shot entirely on natural locations with minimal lighting this is possibly a consequence of the shooting style and not the transfer itself.

Audio
As is the case with their simultaneous release of Kurosawa's Séance the audio track here is the original Japanese 2.0 stereo track, with optional English subtitles provided. The subtitles are excellent and easy to read and the soundtrack, while lacking in flash, certainly does the job the way Kurosawa intended.

Extras
A basic but solid set of extras. There are the trailers for all three Kurosawa release from HVE as well as a brief interview with the director and a half hour making of featurette. The making of is significantly shorter than the one included on Palm's release of Kurosawa's Bright Future but Kurosawa again proves himself to be very open about his shooting style, allowing the making of camera very intimate access to the filming process. It may not have the same kind of gloss as the big EPK productions that show up on most major western films but I love the chance to see a true master at work and this feature amply provides that.

Final Thoughts
As I've already pointed out this film is well-nigh impossible to sum up, so I won't even try. Many will find it incredibly frustrating or just simply boring. Many others will find it compelling stuff. How to tell which you are? Start somewhere else. Charisma is certainly well deserving of a domestic DVD release but it is clearly not the place to begin with Kurosawa. If you have history with the man and are a fan you've likely already sought this one out. If not I'd recommend starting with Cure or Bright Future, both of which are easily accessible. If those strike a chord then move on to Charisma.
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