Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chaos Reigns: Dissecting ANTICHRIST

I don't think I'm a particularly hate-filled fan of moving pictures. I watch several movies a week, on average, fitting in one or two a day if I'm lucky. It often takes just 90 minutes, and with Halloween just around the corner I've been mainlining horror movies like a junkie knowing he only has a week to live. Some of them have been good, some of them have been terrible, but I've found something to enjoy, or at least appreciate, in almost every one of them.

Some have been fantastic; The Ruins, Street Trash, and Dellamorte Dellamore in particular have left me very satisfied. I know, I'm about as current as a damned Circuit City flyer, aren't I?

Others have been middling; Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, Slaughtered Vomit Dolls, Book of Blood, and Premutos: The Fallen Angel were all fascinating in different ways, but were ultimately too flawed to be considered particularly much good.

Further still, some have been borderline unbearable; Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Beginning, and Le6ion of the Dead are the sort of films so terrible that I have to ask myself why I still watch them in the first place...

Eventually I stumble over something so awesomely terrible - like Exitus Interruptis: Death is Only the Beginning - that I start to remember why even terrible horror films are sometimes worth suffering through. I know that 'for the lulz' may not seem like a valid excuse for much, but I defy anyone to come up for a better explanation for Burial Ground, Eaten Alive By The Cannibals, or Nightmare City even existing - films so shockingly terrible, clumsy, and fun that the only reaction they cause in me is a sort of shame tinged ecstasy, one I don't think I'd feel without having seen the same basic films executed so much better beforehand.

By definition, I'd think, I'm a "fan" of horror movies. Have been since I can remember, watching Creepshow and The Toxic Avenger as a lad with my father. I put up with a lot of eye-rolling crap for the genre, be it contrived plot devices or goofy dubbed dialog or rubber masks that really shouldn't have been lit so well. But every genre has its flaws, its cliches, and its rewards; a good horror film will fill you with excitement, revulsion, and a certain unique sense of terror that's cathartic rather than emotionally destructive. Of all the genres to enchant Hollywood - musicals, westerns, thrillers, comedies, what have you - horror films are the only one to have remained in style for the last 80 years, without a single measurable lapse in interest from the general film audience.

We may gravitate towards zombies and serial killers rather than the Gothic hold-overs from the silent era, but the difference between Count Dracula and Hannibal Lecter, or Eric the Phantom and Jigsaw, are really minor the end. 'Legitimate' print and television critics love to pretend that the "Torture Porn" movement has destroyed the genre forever, but these people are, quite frankly, either full of shit or straight ignorant. Torture Porn has existed in film since the Joy of Torture franchise in the late 1960s, and the genre was spear-headed in Hollywood by none other than Mel Gibson. If anything the Jesus Biopic has been forever tainted harder than the slasher or monster movie... but I suppose that's a discussion for another day. Anyone who's failed to see any positive qualities what-so-ever in Hostel Part 2 or Wolf Creek isn't trying very fucking hard, and I'm sure the same assholes only now see what made Friday the 13th part 6 a fascinating inversion of the conventions the franchise itself had built... but what do they say? You can drag a sheep to the fountain of knowledge, and then not drown him fast enough?

Modern critic circles - by which I largely mean "The Internet" - tend to hate everything that isn't a sparklingly perfect masterpiece, incorrectly chiding anything less as a ripoff or complaining about a lack of anything original. Some websites are virtual hate machines, giving mediocre shrugs to above-par titles, and poorly constructed foaming bile more often than is really necessary on something that's legitimately middling. If nine-tenths of everything are crap, as most everyone these days seems so steadfast to believe, then why the hell do they bother watching any of it? Is getting paid to shit all over each and every new thing really worth the ulcers that their furious words imply?

Nobody pays me for my smart-assed opinion, so I doubt I'll ever know.

I'm not above these spiteful gut reactions from time to time... and yes, sometimes ripping on a film that pissed you off is incredibly cathartic. Still, I'm more prone to bouts of apathy rather than white hot nerd rage. In regards to the films themselves, anyway. Fuck up the presentation of that film, however, and I will rant and rave like a lunatic for everyone within earshot. But that's different.

With that said, I don't mean this lightly when I say that I absolutely I hated controversial Danish autuer Lars Von Trier's DOGVILLE. I sat through all 178 minutes, watching a legitimately clever concept and some stunning performances fall apart through excruciating tedium, pretentious over-explanation, and a gimmicky presentation that absolutely nothing was ever done with. The fact that it was a critical darling and was given praise at its Cannes' premier make me physically ill, and I literally don't think there's anything that I've sat through that I've liked less. There just aren't words in the English language to express how furious every aspect of the film makes me, and no, the fact that we see Nicole Kidman buried under a guy's ballsac for three minutes is absolutely no consolation.

That film is manipulative and smart enough to massage critics' subconscious into THINKING it has a lot to say, but it's frankly an essay on human nature written by an angsty teenager, turned into a crappy play, and shot by the very same immature broad-stroke storyteller in a manner that's so painfully masturbatory that I can't believe anyone actually fell for it. The word "Pretentious" gets thrown around a lot today, but the literal meaning of the word - something akin to 'pretending to be something it is not' - is rarely what people mean when they say it. A film can be complex or surreal without pretending anything. To explain that, the films of David Lynch aren't "weird" just to trick audiences into watching them. They're "weird" because Lynch is fucking insane, incapable of viewing the world from a rational and linear perspective, and so he presents a small bit of his own madness via celluloid to the audience, inviting them to take whatever from it they want to from it.

Dogville presents the world with a film utterly devoid of location, and all of the distractions of basic cinematic conventions, forcing the audience to view the character relationships directly... and then has an omnipresent narrator tell them not only what they're seeing, but exactly how it should make them feel. He also makes us suffer through this shit for three endless hours. If von Trier had, as the narrator, just shut the fuck up once in a while and let the story tell itself, maybe we'd have had something... unfortunately the only good thing to have been spawned by the miserable "epic" is that Takashi MIIKE re-used the 'negative space' style to make a good movie; JUVENILE A: Big Bang Love, which proves that the problem in Dogville is the execution, not the attention grabbing style itself.

So, imagine my shock when my favorite horror film of the year (thus far...?) turns out to be from Lars von Trier... the film is called ANTICHRIST, and it lives up to both its' title, and the inevitable controversy, winning both a "best actress" and a special "anti-award" from the Cannes premier, and splitting critical reaction wide into people who love it or hate it just as passionately.

Starring Hollywood regular Willem Dafoe and fearless French cutie Charlotte Gainsborough as a nameless couple who are wallowing in the grief of losing their infant son to a tragic accident, the film opens with a five minute long checklist of "arty" film conventions, at once distancing itself from the tropes of "genre" pictures, and proving that he's capable of embracing them as well, framing a tragic scene of an infant plummeting to his death whilst his parents make love in slow-motion black and white, while opera drowns out their passions and the sound of the child's skull splattering on the pavement. What sets this apart (besides having nothing to do stylistically with the rest of the film) is the presentation of its' subject matter; erections, barely hidden penetration, and only a thinly veiled view of the young child going *SPLAT* are all there, playing the "high class" scene in what could well be the most exploitative manner humanly possible.

What's telling is that, after 5 minutes, von Trier pulls off the veil of "legitimate art" and lets his miserable couple tell their story from a pseudo-documentary point of view, without any direct intervention in the way of style to distract us from their personalities. (This seems to be a fetish of Trier's... one he clearly shouldn't have abandoned for his America Trilogy.) Their pain, their anger, their fear, and their eventual destruction at each other's hands is played out in full view of a hand-held camera watching their every move, not romanticizing or pitying their fates, merely observing them for posterity.

This is a film which - like few others before it - create horror and suspense from the notion of human nature. Oh sure, that's the root of virtually all modern horror films, in the sense that it's exaggerated into a masked serial killer or a supernatural force of evil. Here, the actions of two people who deeply love each other are the only truly terrifying things on the screen, and the reasons why they perform them make them all the more hideous... and personable. What scares us, really? Being alone? Hurting and being hurt by the people we love? It's rare that a horror film can directly address these issues without being either completely retarded or turning into a "thriller" - a distant cousin to the genuine horror film - but von Trier and his two capable performers have made it work, thrusting them (and by default, the viewer) into the darkest and most human depths of man's injustice to himself, leaving no stone in the couple's most intimate affairs unturned.

Love, dear friends, is scary.

The mocking appearances of The Fools, nature reflecting what resides in She and He's own hearts, are visually striking and, yes, a little bizarre, but only seem to underscore what we have already seen. If - as I interpreted their presence - they aren't "really" there at all, it changes nothing. Like the flashes of surrealism presented in dreams, and to personify the reactions the human body has to external stimuli, these physical manifestations are merely illustrations to the gradual unwraveling of the two leads.

The film has been called misogynistic, and I won't try to deny it; it even directly addresses femicide, and the guilt that She feels is the direct result of her both neglecting and satisfying her most feminine qualities, those of the wife and mother. These attributes are a natural part of the limited narrative, a filthy and unreal secret that leads her further inside of her own dangerous mind, and thus when these misdeeds are punished, it's as a potentially justified act of contrition. This shocking act of self degradation - no, perhaps it's one of transformation? - is the first and only time I'm aware of a sequence like it being put to film, and while I'll admit that it's one for the ages the eroguro crowd to beat off to for generations to come, it's still a beautiful piece of extreme cinema, right up there with the playful voyeurism in Saló, the pure selfishly romantic finale of Nekromantik 2, and the hoarse cries of "Let Jesus Fuck You!" in The Exorcist. Sadly, the dense and slow-boil "arty" nature of this film will prevent it form ever getting the sort of recognition among general audiences that it deserves, and so I ask that anyone within earshot take a deep swig of something comforting, and give this a shot on Halloween night.

Antichrist may or may not be a "horror" film by typical definition, but it is terrifying, and grueling beyond compare. It's a film designed to leave you shaken and wanting not to stare at your own inate penchant of inflicting suffering on others, or in others on yourself. Boogeymen and spooks in the night don't scare me, but my fellow man is worth being afraid of. Antichrist, better than any so-called horror film I can remember, shows me exactly why. Don't misunderstand, though; this review is not an act of contrition. Dogville still sucks, and nothing he or anyone else says will change that fact. I may not be able to forgive him for that 3 hours of my life now behind me, but I'm still not such a bastard that I won't commend him for scaring me for the first time since I can remember.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October Is Officially "Fuck You, GITS" Month

Mangle Entertainment Still Lives!!

Having owned both the Bandai Visual R2 DVD and the Manga Entertainment R1 (Special Editions all the way), I can tell you that the Manga DVD release was always a blurry, pixelated, over saturated piece of shit. The Japanese Blu-ray is a step up from the Japanese DVD, but the Japanese DVD is miles ahead of the terrible American release.

When Manga UK announced that they would include the "original" version of Ghost in the Shell on their release of "2.0", but only at 1080i, I fully expected it to be an upscale. What I didn't expect was that Manga would use a composite master, because there was no dot-crawl or rainbows to speak of on their Special Edition DVD. Clearly Manga has access to a component transfer - or a comb filter so powerful that I was tricked into thinking the R1 was from a component source - so why didn't they use it for the Blu-ray release?

Sure Manga, that's... better?
What the fuck just happened?

And then it hit me; they aren't including the "original" cut as an apology. They're going out of their way to make it look like shit, so that the "2.0" cut looks better by comparison.

To that, I say fuck you, Manga Entertainment. You've done a lot of shitty, stupid things on DVD over the last 10+ years, but this is a new low, even for you. And you assholes were responsible for dubbing ANGEL COP!

But it gets even more ridiculous. Kodansha, at the start of this month, pulled the rights for Akira and Ghost in the Shell from DMP/Dark Horse. At first there was no word on why, but two weeks ago Kodansha re-released Akira and Ghost in the Shell under their own "new" American label, saying that they planned to continue licensing properties out to interesting parties, but would produce local releases of titles they felt had a shot at the mainstream. Okay, fine. I could care less if I see a big ol' K or a chess piece on the spine of my copy of any given series.

Tako tako, burrito burrito...

Remember that hawt cyber-reality lesbian threesome I posted as a joke a couple days ago? Well, get a good look on the blog, because it's NOT in the new Kodansha printing. When Dark Horse published Shirow's original take almost 15 years ago, the creator made the call to remove the two-page "Interfacing" sequence, fearing that it was too close to the borders of pornography, and all around too awesome for Americans to beat off to. Once it was released in a collected trade paperback, everyone's favorite octopus had a change of heart, and the material was put back in.

Kodahsna - intentionally or not - decided to use the edited version. So, this is the other page you'll never see in North America again.

Batou's watching you masturbate.

Dark Horse published the uncensored version of this chapter for about 5 years, so clearly neither the American public nor Shirow himself give a crap anymore. The most reasonable explanation for its' mysterious disappearance is that Kodansha simply went to the first English translated version they had and didn't bother to check if the material was still there or not... but it could just as easily be them opting out of the more explicit content to use a "16+" rating and not shrink-wrap the book, allowing potential consumers to pick through it without the potential for ridiculous unwarranted controversy.

The price tag always put me off towards the uncensored Dark Horse second editions, but this franchise keeps giving me reasons to pay more for a release that doesn't completely suck. This becomes personified when my only recourse to get the "original" cut in HD is to pony up for a Japanese release, which even used will cost at least twice as much as the US edition. Clearly that's the way to go, if I just want to be relatively satisfied with a home video release... the question is would I rather buy 3 other films with the same money?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Whitewash: Composite versus S-Video Redux

Same frame, different connections.

Well, this is just weird... IRE, the analog video standard that describes the level of voltage required to make a pure black or pure white screen, puts "White" at IRE 100, or RGB 235, on any NTSC broadcast. This includes NTSC analog video formats, like VHS and Laserdisc. My VCR pumps out "white" at RGB 220 while hooked through composite, and RGB 235 through S-Video. In "real world" situations, the difference is less signifigant, so I honestly had never noticed.

More modern digital displays may consider "white" to be RGB 255, but in even digital video terms this is "Whiter than White", and shouldn't be seen on a properly calibrated monitor using a video overlay to begin with. NTSC signals outside of Japan are "NTSC-M", in which black is IRE 7.5 (about 32 RGB), and white is still IRE 100. Japan's own "NTSC-J" has black set at IRE 0 (16 RGB), but is otherwise the same thing. All this actually has nothing to do with my current problem, either; the VCR outputs black on either output as IRE 7.5 for US tapes, IRE 0 for Japanese tapes.

I've been recording VHS via composite video for some time now, largely due to the Toshiba comb-filter's excellent job eliminating dot-crawl on LD sources. I did some basic tests on studio logos and the like to confirm that the comb filter in my recorder was better than using S-Video from the VCR, but I've also been fixing the white levels on damn near every recording I've ever made... at least now I know why.

I think I'll be sticking with S-Video from the VCR from here on out, even though the differences are largely minute. The S-Video connection does leave a bizarre dot-crawl patterns on large patches of a single color, like a blue sky, but the comb-filter just smears it into more irregular noise, which honestly doesn't look much better.

Manga Entertainment: Professional Troll Since 1991

And I quote:
  • The Making of Ghost in the Shell 2.0
  • Commentary by director Mamoru Oshii and Animation Director Toshihiko Nishikubo
  • Face to face exclusive interview with director

I should have been suspicious over the "face to face exclusive" comment... because that's exactly the wording Manga UK used to describe their special features on THEIR OWN DVD and Blu-ray release of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, not the Ghost in the Shell 2.0 feature they're actually selling. What's especially hilarious is that the UK cover for Ghost in the Shell 2.0 does properly list out everything included in the "Redux" edition of the original film:

  • Ghost in the Shell (Original version)
    • 1080i 1.85:1 Widescreen
    • Japanese and English DD2.0 Stereo
    • Optional English subtitles
  • Making of Ghost In The Shell: Production Report (1080i)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080i)
  • Character Profiles
  • Creator Biographies

This is just the kind of face-palm inducing bullshit that I refuse to believe passes quality control. How can Manga Entertainment not, at some point in time, re-write the cover to reflect which extras are and are not on the fucking BD?! Do they literally not have a clue what's going on with their own properties? My suspicion is that Manga did the authoring for both GITS 2.0 and GITS 2: Innocence for the English release across the pond, and then got their wires crossed at some point... but really, this sort of thing is beyond inexcusable. It isn't just lazy, it's blatantly lying to the consumer, and it's the kind of stuff that just gets my panties all up in a bunch.

In this representation of these new developments,
the redhead is clearly the US consumer base.
And yes, Bandai loves to watch...

Frustratingly I, and everyone else chomping at the bit over it, still don't know for sure if the original version included on the Blu-ray is an upscale or just an older 1080i HDTV transfer. Having seen screencaps the older Japanese HDTV broadcast, and the 1080p Blu-ray, I wouldn't be shocked if the latter were a heavily tweaked version of the former*. Until I see screenshots I can't be certain what the hell is on this disc, though as the Manga US and Manga UK discs are probably the same, and said UK disc has a 1080i upscaled Production Report, I'm afraid I have a pretty good idea where this is all going...

*Unlike AKIRA, Bandai Visual didn't say a word about Ghost in the Shell being "newly remastered" for its' Blu-ray release.

That said, we can be certain that even a 1080i upscale of Manga's old NTSC tape master would look a thousand times better than their shitty "Special Edition" 480i DVD. Check THESE painful A/B comparisons out if you'd like to see how terrible that pile of pixelated crap is, even just compared to a reasonably competent DVD.

You'd tap this over that prissy moebait-Saya in BLOOD+.
And if you wouldn't, then yes, you are a homosexual.

In totally unrelated news to how shit Manga Entertainment releases can be, the English subtitles on Manga's new BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE Blu-ray are non-removable. I know, 90% of the dialog is in Engrish to begin with, but this is just the sour cream on top of the GITS shit-sundae as far as I'm concerned. To be fair, I'm sure this was a licensor demand, but it's still the kind of thing that just grinds my gears...

You know, venting my anger through soft-porn is probably better than my usual venting with screenshots. Maybe I'll keep doing this in the future.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Let's Never Speak Of This Again. / "mimilulz"

Sorry, no PARs and you'll have to unlock it twice.

What can I say? I'm still a total n00B on the "scene".

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sex, Storms, and the Eastern Star

Universe Laser (Hong Kong)

Eastern Star (USA)

I know, I'm a cheap and forgetful son of a bitch, but it just never dawned on me to spend the $15 or so that it would cost me to buy the Joy Sales remastered DVD of SEX AND ZEN, easily the most epic of of the 1990s Cat III erotica phenomenon. I'm kind of glad I waited; the Eastern Star R1 release includes the same remastered transfer, the newly translated subtitles from the Hong Kong Legends UK release, and for the first time on DVD, the hokey English dub. The extra $5 the US release will cost is worth it, I think, though if you're a DTS whore the Hong Kong release may be an attractive alternative.

I'll also point out that their new STORM RIDERS DVD is pretty sweet. It's interlaced (as you can see), but if that's a problem then you really need to upgrade your hardware anyway. I don't know for sure which subtitle track they're using this time, but Eastern Star/Discotek is always anal about using the best they can find, so I have little doubt that it's a decent one. Their 2 disc set also includes the heavily cut English dubbed version from the turn of the century, so if you'd like to see Sonny Chiba spitting out stilted dubbed English (instead of stilted dubbed Cantonese), this is the one to go for.

Despite all my bitching about cut and/or dub-only DVDs, I still own the Shaolin Soccer R1, just for the US cut. Am I a closet dub masochist? I don't think any other explanation really adds up...

I know there's an "export" subtitled Blu-ray to be had, so I wouldn't blame anyone for picking it up in HD, but let it be known that the Blu-ray is so heavily processed with grain removal that it doesn't look all that different from the DVD. Check out some examples HERE.

Be warned that the Blu-ray also has poor subtitles - a translation of the Mandarin dub rather than the original Cantonese, and that the "original" PCM 2.0 Cantonese track is horribly out of synch to boot! Much like the Criterion DVD release of Salò, the HD master is unimpressive enough that DVD may actually help hide some of its' flaws... still, this is the first time the film hasn't been literally crawling with dirt on every special effects shot, and I honestly doubt it'll ever look much better than it does now.

Let it be said that if you were interested in picking up the Fist of the North Star DVD from Discotek/Eastern Star, there's never been a better time than through their official site, right now. If you bought the first press, sell it and pick it up again, even. I know it sounds crazy, but try to trust me on this one...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Confessions of a Middle Aged Manwhore

I forgot to keep the source files on my HDD long enough to do "before/after" comparisons for THE SENSUALIST, but eh, whatever. You know how this goes: old version was bad, this one is less so. Here's the skinny:

The interlaced transfer was given a blend-deinterlace IVTC, to restore 24fps playback in the closest manner humanly possible. The garbage at the top and sides of the tape was also removed via cropping, though no actual film data should be missing. There was a color-correction and level fix, which I showed several months back.

A reasonably high-quality 3D noise reduction filter was used to eliminate the nasty haze covering everything... The side-effect was banding, particularly on big blocks of chunky compression artifacts, so I followed that with a "debanding" filter, intended to add subtle dithering to posterization artifacts on digital animation. I wish I'd known about this combo back when I was restoring the Lolita Anime series, but hey, we only do what we can.

This was an early recording from back when I was still using the PCM setting on my recorder, so the new encode features a freshly encoded 448 Kbps DD 2.0 (mono source) track and a VBR encode with an average of 8 Mbps. This may sound a little bloated, but I wanted to eliminate any and all mosquito noise, which wreaks havoc on the subtle textures in the animation layers. The whole disc looks pretty good, I think, though clearly if I'd started with something besides VHS the results would be drastically sharper and less noisy. To the best of my knowledge, this never got an LD, so odds are it won't look any better unless Toho ever decides to make a brand new transfer.

There was an uncut, subtitled release in the UK from the short lived label "Western Connection". Supposedly the translation is pretty terrible, but it's better than nothing, and frankly this 'period' dialect stuff makes my brain melt trying to convert it back into something that resembles English.

Some people are already talking about making a subtitled version happen based on my restoration, but I'm not sure if I should personally get involved with any of that... seems safer to let them figure it out than potentially let the drama fall squarely into my lap, you know?

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Warrior Princess By Any Other Name....

...would probably be Xena.

Wow, from down here it does look like a robot penis...

I'm a firm believer that had Rob Tapert not backed down on that episode where Lucy Lawless and her pint-sized sidekick Renee O'Connor get their asses rammed by ogre cock for an hour, the show would have been about as perfect as American TV gets. It was already half way there; this was a show that had Bruce Campbell running around in silk capes and a tweedley mustache!

...I subtitled the third WARRIOR PRINCESS LILIA DVD, is what I'm trying to say. Wither or not the fourth episode (or the upcoming "Special" extension) will ever be translated into English, however, is anyone's guess.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Kentai Films: A Breakthrough.

Original on the left, Remaster on the right.



This is still highly experimental stuff for me, but I'll just come out and say it: I'm violently jerking off to the results. Join me, won't you?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Golgo 13 Shootout: International Man of Misery

Manga UK "Secret Agent Edition" (Interlaced)

Pioneer Japan (Progressive)

Urban Vision USA (Letterboxed)

The 2005 Urban Vision US release is non-anamorphic down conversion of the Pioneer 16:9 remaster, features clumsy-looking English titles overlaid across all Japanese text, and is interlaced seemingly just to add insult to injury. As you can see, it's softer than the other two 16:9 transfers, but not nearly as bad as I had initially feared. Urban Vision has, as a rule, always given spectacular encodes of terrible source materials, and GOLGO 13: THE PROFESSIONAL is no exception. Too bad it features all of those god-awful looking English overlays...

Seriously, is it 1995? 'Cause I can't think of any other excuse for that ugly-ass Amiga graphic mucking up my kanji.

The 2007 British "Secret Agent Edition" from Manga Entertainment is, as expected, an NTSC>PAL conversion of the Japanese transfer. This invariably leads to interlaced ghosting/feathering, and unlike the US release this will never go away with proper deinterlacing: at best, you'll have blurred trailing after-images, at all times. The re-edited English credits and on-screen subtitles are the same as those found on the Urban Vision R1, but at least the Brits were lucky enough to get a 16:9 transfer, which is more than I can say for us in Yankerville. The frame is opened slightly when compared to the other two transfers, but I wouldn't get all fussed up over a few pixels worth on any given side.

See? Ghosts ARE scary!

The 2001 Japanese release from Pioneer, though progressive, has a pretty blatant problem with aliasing, which becomes quite easy to spot during slow pan shots or limited animation sequences: check the coat collar or gloves on the Japanese shot to get an idea of what I mean. Each frame has a different level of jagged edges, but it never goes away completely, and is one of those artifacts that sadly looks worse in motion than it does in stills. The PAL transfer will have to be deinterlaced, which can (and will) lead to aliasing during motion, but the Japanese release looks jagged even when it's not doing anything!* That said it's sharpest and has the best MPEG-2 compression of the bunch, despite being the oldest by a wide margin, so even with this difficult to ignore flaw it's the best looking transfer I've seen for this film yet.

*"Jaggies" like this are a shockingly common problem on HD remaster sourced anime DVDs from the last several years, including Martian Successor Nadesico, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Card Captor Sakura, Revolutionary Girl Utena... the list goes on and on. The fact that the UK release managed to avoid that harsh aliasing does suggest that this was some sort of HD>SD downscaling problem rather than a problem with the HD masters themselves, though as many of these titles have since been given brand new Blu-ray minded remasters, I guess that becomes fairly worthless trivia.

I know, it's hard to see... just take my word for it.

The Japanese release also has some weird "pulsing" data on the left and top of the frame... sort of a digital version of that garbage hiding at the bottom of VHS tapes. It's difficult to spot in stills because it changes from black and white, to pulsing dot-crawl like patterns, to solid black or solid white... I have no idea what it is, I just know that neither of the other two transfers on display have it, and once you notice it, you can't un-notice it.

In terms of extras, the Japanese release from Pioneer comes in dead last... unless you're fluent in Japanese, anyway. Aside from an extensive collection of character designs, you get a commentary track with the film's producer Mata YAMAMOTO and director Osamu DEZAKI, but short of your Nihongo being a hell of a lot better than mine you're not likely to get out of it.

The Japanese disc comes with both the original mono mix and a brand new 5.1 surround track. The mono mix is perfect just the way it is, and it's been preserved with all the hiss and lack of dynamics intact. The 5.1 mix is working from less than ideal sources, and the sound effects have the nasty habit of echoing slightly from the center to the side channels, but dialog and the score sound great, even without a lot of forced directionality. It's a pleasantly natural surround remix, and I can't say I have any complaints. Some of the dialog has been just slightly over-saturated in hiss-removing DNR to be a 1983 mix, but largely the mono mix is just there for crazy purists (like me!) to fall back on out of habit.

The US release includes a new interview in English with producer Mata Yamamoto (3:44), an all too brief collection of colorful promotional stills, and a "new" Urban Vision trailer for the feature - along with the usual shameless promotion, naturally. Their prior release of Vampire Hunter D (...or was it Wicked City? Maybe both?) included the Streamline trailer, but it's sadly absent here.

As far as audio mixes go, Urban Vision is really a mess. Not only does the mix have a more obvious echo and a more harsh, analog-sounding buzz that permeates every part of the mix, but the opening/ending credits music has been replaced with a slightly generic sounding bit of jazz. It's certainly no replacement for Cindy Wood's catchy James Bond inspired PRAY FOR YOU, anyway... The English 2.0 mix, the vintage Streamline dub with the opening titles restored (sort of) sounds just fine. The 5.1 mix, however, is the worst sort of 5.1 mix that makes every line of dialog echo. Just awful, terrible stuff, and it answers my age old question of wither or not the echoing on Urban Vision's release of Vampire Hunter D was the result of their ham-fisted remix or the original production.

The Manga UK release includes the original mono (Japanese) and stereo (English) mixes on disc 1, as well as both of the 5.1 surround mixes on disc 1. Unlike on the Urban Vision release, the UK Japanese tracks aren't full of nasty echoing hiss and include the original theme songs. Why? Because TMS hates America even more than they hate the rest of the world. Hey, prove that I'm wrong; what other even somewhat justifiable reason could there be?

Matching the Japanese release is the inclusion of a new English language commentary track with Jonathan Clements, best known by otaku for having co-written The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide To Japanese Animation Since 1917. He wasn't directly involved with making Golgo 13, and he admits a few times that he isn't even a huge fan of the franchise, but he's surprisingly interested in exploring the history of the franchise and even explaining all of the gags that titles like MIAMI GUNS and KOCHI-KAME have made over the years to Duke's now iconic personae. He might not enlighten you if you're already a big fan, but for someone like me who's only had a passing interest in the film - and you can occasionally resist the urge to yank that little stick you just know is lodged up his bum - it's largely worth the 90 minutes. Also included are Manga propaganda, who cares, blah blah blah.

The UK release also comes with a second disc, including both the Yamamoto interview and a pair of exclusive DTS tracks in both Japanese and English (and even more propaganda for one of those ugly Hellboy cartoons). I'll give the Manga Entertainment Devil his due; these mixes are both louder, and clearer than the 5.1 Dolby mixes available elsewhere, though if anything, it only further highlights how terrible the English 5.1 mix was to begin with. Still, if you're into loud surround mixes, this is it.

At the end of the day the Urban Vision release is just about worth the $5 it'll cost to pick up used, but for an extra $10 you can get the UK edition that's better in every single measurable way. The conversion-ghosting is a damned shame, but the increased resolution, surprisingly enjoyable commentary, and vastly superior sound mixes more than make up for it. The UK release even comes in nicer cover art, petty as that may be to consider worth spending more money on. If you can't play PAL/R2 DVDs, well, blow it out your face. You clearly have a computer, and you, too, can steal DVD Region Free just like everybody else.

The Pioneer Japanese DVD has recently been usurped by a re-release to coincide with the 2008-2009 TV series, and includes 10 minutes of assault-rifle themed bonus footage ("Inside of M-16") and the original theatrical trailer, but it lacks the 5.1 track, commentary and character sketches. It also doesn't say "Remastered" on the cover and is yet another single layer DVD, so I assume it's not been. For the $45 price tag it's only worth picking up if you demand to see the original credit sequence, or if you absolutely despise NTSC<>PAL conversion issues. Still, with this new edition clocking in at roughly half the price of the old Japanese release, at least there's never been a better time to be an anal retentive OCD fan!

Kum Kum, Come Home

Evidently Paramount had an ego just as big as most fansubbers...

Recently the entire 26 episode series わんぱく大昔クムクム\Kum Kum has appeared on English dubbed bootleg DVD, clearly based on what looks like a competent stone aged video transfer from a severely lacking analog TV broadcast. I'm excited, but sorely disappointed at how... monochrome this full color series looks.

Not that I'm surprised it looks this bad. The show aired on Australian TV in the earliest of the 1980s, and was actually one of the few Japanese titles of the period to get a dub made down under. Odds are this title hasn't been remastered, ever, by anyone, so the analog master you're seeing a digital copy of an analog broadcast from (got all that?) is probably older than I am. Shitty quality has never made a good show bad, mind you, but it can do a number on the viewer's enthusiasm sometimes.

It also aired in countries that spoke German, Frecnch, Italian, Portuguese... heck, probably 70% of the known world at one point or another. I don't think it ever hit North America though, and that's a shame. Not only is it the very first director credit for Rintaro, but as far as kitschy 35 year old anime goes this one is pretty great, with plenty of brutal child abuse, the very real possibility that the young cast could be eaten by wild animals at any time, and little fuzz ball monsters that look like Koosh balls with feet and eyes. It also has a singing brontosaurus. Go ahead, look me in the eye and tell me you never wanted a talking - much less singing - long neck at one point in your childhood.

What really blows is that the Japanese screencap is from a Japanese "First and Final" VHS, which only ever included the first, and last, episode of any given series. Unlike many nostalgia titles, it never got a massive LD box set, so it remains the one legitimate home video release that I know of. Making matters even worse is the fact that the copy I was given to archive had a major tape roll fucking up the final 5 minutes... oh, well, ex-rentals, what can you do...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Dog Shit Tacos Indeed.


Let's briefly recap how we got here...

1) South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut is animated digitally, without a scrap of film involved.

2) The massive High Definition digital video is printed to a 35mm "Negative".

3) Paramount uses automated scratch repair tools, which fail to remove the specs of dirt but do a pretty good job of smearing his eyes into oblivion.

4) They release this poorly QC'ed "Remaster" on Blu-ray.

5) ???


To be fair, SP:BLU may be a "Ghost in the Shell" sort of situation, where the original "Digital" master no longer exists, and it's 35mm or bust. If so, that's fine, I can live with an analog sourced master of an all-digital film. What I can't excuse, however, is digital tools designed to fix analog problems fucking up digital films. It's reversible, it's redundant, and it's retarded...

Speaking of poor quality control, behold what 5 seconds in photoshop can do with the overly purple AUDITION transfer I'm kicking myself in the balls for wanting:

Shout! Factory

2 Clicks In Photoshop CS3.

...Kentai Films?

You be the judge, jury, and executioner.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Kentai Films 2.0

Back in 2005, a plucky little twerp fresh out of a collegian nightmare started learning VirtualDub and CCE SP, in the hopes that he could celebrate the 20th anniversary of VAMPIRE HUNTER D by presenting the OVA in a newly restored special edition, with improved video and subtitles by applying a number of restoration filters on the dodgy looking Japanese DVD release which, sadly, remains the best transfer not cropped to 16:9 widescreen. It was a simple enough endeavor, the span of which would teach him a great many things, and even introduce new friends in his quest to attain videophile perfection.

It's 2009. Whatever bright-eyed wonderment I had in me four long years ago has been thoroughly beaten out of me by years of realizing that every single thing I thought I knew about high quality video presentation is dead fucking wrong. High Definition video finally showed off what DVD was always supposed to look like, and the more time I spent fixing other transfers, the more I realized that, while perhaps no Don May Jr. or Richard Harris, I wasn't completely without talent. In fact, the work I've done on sources that weren't total crap from the start - like Maryu Senki and The Untold Story - have been positively encouraging. Having worked for a few niche labels over the years I'm no longer convinced that DVD is the future (much less of my paycheck specifically), but that doesn't mean I can just give up on what feeble and childish dreams I started so many years ago... no, if anything it only encourages me to do things right, since it's clear nobody else is ever going to make a cent giving a shit anyway.

First of all, there's a few things I feel I must get off my chest before I continue this train of thought:


I'm not convinced that hardware is perfect either, but it's evidently impossible to create an AVISynth script that removes rainbows without causing chroma-delay and spatial anamolies. I've looked at an ass-load of different scripts, and I can tell you from experience that not a one of them does what it's supposed to without causing problems that are just as bad as the cross-talk and cross-coloration it promised to fix in the first place.


See all those dark, thin horizontal bars that stand out from the crawling background noise? That's a side-effect from a Time Base Corrector, a device I had once hoped would solve all of my problems... didn't turn out so good.

You want to get rid of them? Somehow smooth them out, leaving colors stable and relatively solid? Don't bother. Smearing it out with spatial DNR just turns it into a newer, nastier glob-pattern with only traces of the original moire to speak of. It's not worth it. If you have chroma noise too, get rid of it. It'll wreak havoc on these little bastards, but there's nothing you can do to save the source, so learn to love and cherish your new globby noise-patterns. I assure you, it's no worse than leaving them as-is.


This is what a manual IVTC of an 24 year old interlaced transfer edited from separate tape sources looks like.

That wasn't worth the week of manual scrubbing and random pattern changes at reel changes at all, now was it?


Nothing, ever, will make this frame look okay. Don't deblock it, don't median filter it, don't try to manually blur out the blocks in Photoshop. You'll just be fooling yourself. The only way to make this any better is to go back to the source tape and re-encode it. If you're working from a DVD already, tough luck cookie. The data is already gone. There's nothing you can do.

But what if I-

I already said NO, damnit! This constant, niggling doubt that I'm doing something wrong has held me off from releasing this feature - quite literally - for several years now, and the fact is... it's not my fault. I didn't make Sony's awful LD transfer, I didn't ask OVA Films to do a gorgeous 35mm sourced remaster in widescreen, and frankly the best post-house in Hollywood couldn't do a better job starting from the R2 DVD. Garbage in garbage out, as they say, and this transfer is the very definition of analog to digital garbage, every step of the way. The sole upside to my countless months of agonizing attempts is that I learned a LOT through my various failures, and I know enough to finally accept the limitations of what digital restoration can do on a crumby digital copy of an even crumbier analog source.

With all of this in mind, I've approached the Vampire Hunter D 4:3 restoration like a sensible, rational, beaten-down servant to the horrors of reality. It won't look great. Hell, I won't even say it looks good. All I will say is that this DVD transfer will be the best fucking 4:3 transfer that Vampire Hunter D has seen on DVD, and yes, I can say that with a straight face. The only way I could ever even HOPE to improve the transfer any further would be to start with a new 4:3 source, but the R1 DVD is a train wreck, and the Japanese LD - even if it's not scratched, rotten, or just plain fuglier than the DVD in some other way - it would simply go from my middle-of-the-road LD player to my middle-of-the-road DVD recorder on XP mode. And yes, that honestly could be an improvement as far as comb-filtering, temporal ghosting and MPEG compression goes... God help us all if that turns out to be the case.

A lot of projects got pushed by the wayside a few years ago due to a number of reasons, and the fact that I'm once again tormenting myself with Vampire Hunter D should be a sufficient suggestion that, yes, I'm doing it one more time. More importantly I plan to finally man up and go trudging through that horrifyingly huge back-log and finally finish a number of DVDs that were... oh, 90% done? Menus will have to be revised, authoring will probably have to be redone from scratch, and yes, some transfers may be re-evaluated. But they will come out. There's no reason for them not to save for my foolish pride and apathy, and I'm probably just as sick of my shit as you are, dear reader.

Vampire Hunter D will not be the first "Lost Kentai" title to make a reappearance, nor will it be the first dramatic restoration on the market. It's merely the symbol of everything I've been doing horribly wrong for the last few years, and thus I'm dragging it back out into the open to (violently) beat my inner demons into submission with it. We can only hope this is the start of something good, and I promise you all that before my head hits the pillow, I'm going to be encoding a restoration that I'm almost half-satisfied with, and I'm going to finish it now before I find a hundred things wrong with it later and it becomes yet another miserable wretch lost to my perfectionists' madness.

To quote the terrible Streamline dub of my heinous tormentor; "So it begins."