Kino Video has opted to release famed Japanese director Seijun Suzuki's Taisho Trilogy - comprised of three films: Zigeunerweisen, Kagero-Za, and Yumeji - as either individual releases or collected into a boxed set. The only exclusive to the set is the box that the three discs come housed in, otherwise the discs and keepcase packaging are exactly the same as the single disc options.
Yumeji, the third and final film in the trilogy, shot in 1991, effectively combines the more mysterious elements that dominated the first film with the more erotic elements of the second film and blends them together into a fascinating mish-mash of sexy supernatural weirdness, and this time it's loosely based on a real life subject, interestingly enough.
Yumeji Takehisa (played here by former rock star Kenji Sawada of Shinya Tsukomoto's bizarre monster movie, Hiruko The Goblin and later of Suzuki's own Pistol Opera) is, like the characters in the two films in the trilogy that came before this one, an obsessive type. His two main focuses in life are finding the very model of perfect beauty, and worrying about and trying to prevent his own death. Aside from that, he spends a lot of time painting and writing poetry but also manages to take the time to bed a woman or two when the opportunity presents itself. Yumeji never seems to be able to get past physical infatuation with the fairer sex, however. He has no problem getting women in bed but getting past anything other than casual encounters proves to be tough for him. Likewise, he's constantly plagued by a few annoying characters from his past who he's always able to outwit but never able to completely get rid of.
In the opening scenes of the film we follow Yumeji on a trip to Kanazawa where he plans to have a romantic rendezvous with his current lady-friend, Hikono (Masumi Miyazaki of the Bee-Bop Highschool movies). When he arrives at his destination, however, his baser instincts kick in and rather than sit around and wait for Hikono to show up he is soon distracted by a lovely widow named Tokoyo Wakiya (Tomoko Mariya). Her husband, Wakiya (Yoshio Harada of Ronin-Gai and ), was recently killed by Onimatsu (Kazuhiko Hasegawa), an exceptionally jealous and rather dangerous fellow.
As Yumeji and Tokoyo start to hit it off, as luck would have it, Wakiya comes back from the dead and is none too happy at all to find his once beloved wife romping about with this painter. To make matters even more complicated for him, Onimatsu still pines for Tokoyo's love and if he's killed once, what's to stop him from doing it again? There's also the matter of all the strange ghosts, spirits and specters in the area to make the situation even less enjoyable for our lead, but he's bound and determined to make Tokoyo his own and find the love he so desperately wants in her arms.
At times both bizarre and undeniably romantic, Yumeji probably isn't all that accurate a representation of the life and times of Yumeji Takehisa, who lived from 1884 until his death in 1934 but it certainly is an entertaining take on his story. As can be expected from Suzuki's films, Yumeji boasts a fantastic color pallet, plenty of interesting and unusual camera work and some off the wall editing techniques that give the movie a very distinct look and feel. In terms of the narrative it shouldn't surprise anyone to find that this one jumps around a little bit from time to time but if you pay attention it isn't the least bit difficult to follow despite the strange inclusion of supernatural elements in the last half of the movie. As absurd as some of the ideas put forth in this film might seem, Suzuki manages to make it work and play it completely straight, a testament to his skill as a filmmaker.
Kenji Sawada is quite good in the lead and while we're not always sympathetic to his cause based on some of his actions and because of the way he interacts with some of the women in his life (he is, in short, a bit of a womanizer) he's an intriguing man which means we want to know how it all works out for him. Seeing him opposite the completely charming and rather mysterious Tomoko Mariya makes for an interesting contrast in characters and their doomed romance becomes more engrossing because of it.
Astute viewers might notice that sections of the score for this film, composed by Shigeru Umebayashi, were borrowed by Hong Kong wunderkid Wong Kar-Wai for use in his 2000 Golden Palm nominated masterpiece, In The Mood For Love, which starred Tony Leung.
The 1.66.1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD is solid, save for a couple of tiny flaws. The colors in particular look amazing here, which is always important when evaluating Suzuki's work, and each hue and tone is as vibrant and bold as the next and sometimes they appear to literally jump off of the screen at you. While there is some very moderate print damage noticeable in a few scenes, the picture has been cleaned up nicely as this is only really apparent if you're looking for it and it serves not to distract but to remind you that you're watching an actual film in the first place. There are no problems at all with mpeg compression artifacts and edge enhancement is never an issue either, though if you're looking for it you will pick up on some line shimmering here and there. Flesh tones look very lifelike and very natural, and the black levels stay strong and consistent. The image has plenty of both foreground and background detail present throughout.
As is to be expected, Kino Video presents Yumeji in it's original Japanese language stereo sound mix with subtitles available in English and English only. There's a faint bit of distortion in the high end of the mix but it's really, really minor and not really distracting at all. For a fifteen year old film, Yumeji sounds pretty good on this DVD. The levels are well balanced and the background music and sound effects never overshadow the dialogue at all.
If you pick up the boxed set, or more than one of the individual releases of the films, you'll notice some similarity in terms of the extra features as there isn't a lot of difference in this department between the three discs. In fact, the only extra features on this disc are a text biography and filmography for Suzuki, the original theatrical trailer for the film, a decent still gallery of promotional artwork and photographs, and finally, a selection of liner notes that give a brief history of Seijun Suzuki and the Taisho Trilogy. The liner notes, biography and filmography are the same on all three DVDS.
Yumeji wraps up Seijun Suzuki's Taisho Trilogy in style by blending the themes he'd worked with in the first two parts into a nearly seamless blend of supernatural eroticism and ghostly soap opera romance. Kino's presentation is light on supplements unfortunately but the disc looks great and sounds almost as good. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.