NOTE: Although this Japanese Import DVD is NTSC, it is coded for playback in Region 2 only. In order to watch this disc, you'll have to have either a player coded for Region 2 or a Region Free DVD Player.
In 2005 Always - Sunset On Third Street swept not only the hearts of the Japanese people, but also captured 12 of 13 possible awards at the '06 Japanese Academy Awards. With the massive buzz coming out of Japan about this film, I was more than eager to find out what all the commotion was about. I'm usually skeptical about films that garner both critical acclaim and popularity with the masses, but then again I'm more than willing to be proven wrong.
Set in Tokyo in 1958, Always - Sunset On Third Street takes place primarily on 3rd street and follows the lives of some of the residents living there. The film starts off with a young woman from the countryside named Mutsuko Hoshino (Maki Horikita) arriving in Tokyo via train to start her new job at an automobile company. At the train station, Mustuko meets her new employer Norifumi Suzuki (Shin'ichi Tsutsumi) and soon finds out where she'll really be working much to her surprise. Mr. Suzuki does not actually own an automobile company, but merely owns and operates a small, car repair company out of his home called "Suzuki Auto". Mustuko ends up moving in with Mr. Suzuki, his wife Tomoe (Hiroko Yakushimaru) and his young son Ippei (Kazuki Koshimizu). After some initial confusion and some harsh words exchanged, Mustuko (who's now called Roku by the family) settles down and works side-by-side with Mr. Suzuki repairing automobiles.
Right across the street from Suzuki's lives Ryunosuke Chagawa (Hidetaka Yoshioka) the owner of a toy/candy store. Ryunosuke is a writer who's fallen on hard times and instead of writing fine literature, he writes children stories for a monthly publication. This has led him to not only be shunned by his family, but made fun of by some of the other residents on 3rd street. One night Ryunosuke finds himself at the local bar down the road swooning over the beautiful bartender Hiromi (Koyuki). Hiromi has recently been entrusted with a young boy named Junnosuke (Kenta Suga) whose mother has abandoned him. After a little too much Sake and some eye-batting by Hiromi, she manages to convince Ryunosuke to watch over Junnosuke. The next morning Ryunosuke wakes up to find Junnosuke in his home and immediately regrets the decision. Before long Ryunosuke discovers that Junnosuke is a fan of his writings and the two grow closer together.
The remainder of Always - Sunset On Third Street deals with both families, their neighbors and everyday life on 3rd street. Seasons go by and it becomes obvious that times are changing in Japan. Throughout the film in the background, the Tokyo Tower is slowly being built. Technology and Western influence are invading everyday life in Tokyo where televisions, refrigerators and Coca-Cola are becoming household items. Despite being just 13 years after the war, effects are still being felt in Toyko by its residents. In the end Always - Sunset On Third Street is a nostalgic "slice of life" that is uplifting, fulfilling and very entertaining. At some points Always - Sunset On Third Street seems to go a little overboard with melodrama, but never quite feels overwhelming. Whatever minute shortcomings the film has seems insignificant to what it ultimately delivers, lasting quality entertainment.
Much of Always - Sunset On Third Street success has to do with the fine performances turned in by many of its actors. Kenta Suga and Kazuki Koshimizu are a few of the best child actor's I've seen in some time. Hidetaka Yoshioka, Maki Horikita and Shin'ichi Tsutsumi also turn in wonderful performances and really help bring you into the film. Of course none of this would have possible without the passion that director Takashi Yamazak brought to Always - Sunset On Third Street. Back in 2002, Takashi Yamazaki impressed me with his sci-fi action romp,
. While it was hardly unique and had several shortcomings, the film made great use of CGI (including Transformer like planes) and was ultimately very entertaining. With Always - Sunset On Third Street, Yamazaki has taken his visual effect knowledge and integrated it perfectly into a traditional setting. The recreation of Tokyo circa 1958 is breathtaking as elaborate sets and CGI blend together to provide an enthralling backdrop. I for one can't wait to see what Yamazaki tackles for his next project.
Video: Presented in its OAR of 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Always - Sunset On Third Street gets a fabulous transfer like many DVD's coming out of Japan. The film uses very subtle lighting in most scenes which lends to a somewhat overall darker picture. Filters applied by the filmmakers give the image a very soft and muted look, adding a nice nostalgic touch to the film. The bottom line is that this transfer does a great job of accurately presenting the visual feel that the director intended. The only problems I spotted with the transfer were some mild edge-enhancement and compression issues on some of the more elaborate CGI scenes.
Sound: Always - Sunset On Third Street has 4 audio tracks to chose from (not including the commentary track), Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0., Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS (half bit-rate) and a somewhat puzzling Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 audience track. For this review, I listened to the DTS track and was very pleased by the sound quality. The film is mostly dialogue driven, but when needed the DTS track comes to life when Naoki Sato's beautiful score is highlighted. The sound field also opens up into the surround channels with some very well placed ambient effects. As for the DD 2.0 audience track, it basically functions as a laugh track. I'm really not sure what the point of it is, but then again maybe I'm missing something.
Subtitles: The English subtitles on this DVD are excellent and cover everything including onscreen text. Presented in a white text with a small black outline, English subs really don't get much better than what's you see here.
Extras: Like most R2J DVD's, there's not much here for non-Japanese speaking individuals. Then again there aren't many extras at all on this Standard Release. Besides the feature length commentary track, extras included are about 5 minutes worth of Trailers/TV spots and text based cast/crew biographies. Hopefully down the road we'll see a 2-Disc release in the US or UK that will have all the extras from the deluxe edition subbed.
I'm pleased to say that Always - Sunset On Third Street is a film that deserves all the respect, money and attention it receives (and then some). Easily one of my favorite films to come out of Japan in some time and overall one of the best films I've seen in 2006. Always - Sunset On Third Street is a perfect blend of classic storytelling, traditional filmmaking, great acting and CGI magic. This film will put a smile on your face and possibly even squeak out a tear or two. While I'd really love to see Always - Sunset On Third Street given a small theatrical run in the US, I'm not getting my hopes up. In the meantime this excellent Region 2 DVD is available at various online import stores and I can't recommend it highly enough.