Friday, December 31, 2010

Saying Goodbye to 2010 & Mystery Project X

Mystery Project X is officially on hold until I can get final approval for it. That means I can get my lazy ass back to work on other stuff in the meantime, but doesn't actually mean that it's 100% finished. There's also the little matter of syncing subtitles/alternate language tracks, encoding the feature to DVD in the highest quality possible, and some manual dirt clean-up that'll have to be done over from scratch, but all of this is really small-potatoes in the scheme of getting a finished restored workprint with image stabilization, analog noise removal, film damage repair and every other crazy thing I've had to do like outline darkening, anti-aliasing and creative attempts at chroma interpolation that turned out to only be partially effective.

I've had to restructure some of the processes, and it's meant that the work I had done back in October/November basically had to be torched and worked out from the ground up... it sounds horrible (and is, kinda) but it means the restoration will look substantially better than it would if I'd just have shrugged and said "eh, screw it, looks pretty close". I wasn't starting with a master any sane person should have the slightest bit of hope for, but if vintage Japanese animation has taught me anything, it's that when you've lost all hope that you have to stand your ground and fight to your last breath... even if it means you just end up dying.

Most iconic spoiler ever?

There's still some banding I wish I could get rid of, and some weird chroma... stuff, I don't even know how to describe it, like, static horizontal banding patterns in the red channel. But in both cases these are side-effects of the source having been limited from the start. It looks pretty damn good, all things considered. Once the DVD encode is finished I'll try to share it via some "Official" means, but I don't have control over any of that, so you might just have to take my word on everything I've said here.

Only thing that still needs to be toyed with is the color correction. I don't typically have to play with analog themed tools like "hue", but for this particular title the RGB data was relatively stable, it just needed to be shifted away from green/blue towards yellow/red, and instantly everything looked just right. I wish more studios would treat analog materials as needing even the most basic of color correction, since even 10 minutes could easily make the difference between a transfer being totally forked and looking more or less okay.

Look forward to more restorations and DVDs in 2011, ladies and gents. I didn't get everything I wanted finished in time, but I still think the quality of what's been completed in 2010 was worth it. With any luck, 2011 will be full of more of the same.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Actually, Christmas is a Pagan Holiday.

And Jesus probably hates you for celebrating it.

We at Kentai Films hope that your special time is filled with family and friends, cheer and laughter, gifts, cash, delicious cake and KFC, armed robbery in accordance with local guidelines, and awkward pity-sex with that chick at the laundromat you're pretty sure was only kidding about having been born a guy... I mean, her tits are too good to be fake, right?

The point is to just enjoy yourself. True, the holidays are just like every other day, but that's all in the mind. Down a couple pints of glögg and you'll be sure to forget all of that common sense blah-blah-bullshit and be humping reindeer with the best of them... that's, where elves come from, right? From filthy reindeer sex? That's why they're all short and pointy eared? But I thought... oh, really? Uh... know what, fuck it, I'm out. Merry Whatever, boys and girls!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You Can't Stop Progress. (But I Can Sure Make It Slow.)

"Mystery Project X" has been thoroughly beaten to a scratch-repair artifact free pulp, so all that remains are going over a few key-scenes to remove the remaining scratches by hand. I'm increasingly happy with the way this one turned out; the source was such a sow's ear that I wasn't sure I'd come up with anything particularly positive, but checking back and fourth between the source and the close-to-final transfer, I think that maybe there is a God, and that he absolutely loves 80s anime... until he starts eating away details in sparkly pools of water, or causing the gridwork in the walls to disappear the second the camera starts moving. Then I remind myself that God is a vengeful asshole, and I have entered his realm without premission, so he's going to make my trek through playing restoration demi-diety as painful as is absolutely possible. Seriously, God is Nyarlathotep, and that's if we're lucky.

The scene that broke my brain the hardest was a long optical shot where it zooms out and the main character in the shot is moving so quickly that she completely disappears for three frames.

 This is your friendly host Kentai,
working on Mystery Project X.

I'm not totally sure that I'll be able to remove the analog errors that appear as little blips that stay on the screen for several seconds at a time, but I'm sure going to give it a try for the most errant of the little fuckers. With the schedule and budget being what they are I already know I just don't have the resources to fix 100% of them, but if I could just get rid of the worst of them in a few key scenes it might make all the difference.

The only change I could see myself applying is swapping points around in the filter chain. Stabilization makes me nervous; on the one hand, it produces some really fantastic results on non-moving scenes. On the other, it makes scenes with a lot of movement - say, a quick camera pan - choke pretty hard. The logical thing would be to do Stabilization BEFORE anything else, but the danger is that you'll fuck a scene up completely and there will be no way to restore it to the way it was. So what the heck do I do? Start with the Stabilizer and hope for the best, or apply it after I've done everything else, which I already know looks okay?

The reason this project is currently grating on me like cold steel on the soft flesh of delicious Parmesan is I'm doing to try both. Encode one version with Stabilization at the start, another at the end. The upside is I can pick whichever one looks better in motion... the bad news is I have to encode everything twice, and some of these scripts take up to 12 hours to finish encoding to a lossless file. Even doing "test scenes" are worthless, because the kind of thing Stabilization and DSR filters tend to screw up are very specific types of shots scattered through the whole, and only watching the finished 120,000 frames of video in motion will tell me if something went awry or not.

It's driving me crazy that I can't actually show you screenshots on what I have accomplished, though. For one thing I can't imagine the licensors would approve of me doing that, much less on the unsanctioned blog where I pimp bootlegs and give venomous criticism towards Japan's new laws restricting brutal and kinky manga from the hands of minors. It's just not the usual corporate scene, ya know?

So in the meantime, look at this sexy HD transfer of another anime feature to only have an ADV DVD...

Are you thinking it's time for a new Kentai Films Dual-Layer Blu-ray? Cause I'm totally thinking it's time for a new Kentai Films BD50.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Brief Celebration of Free Speech.

I know there's a few weeks to go, but I defy ANY image to make me laugh harder than this one did in 2010.

Fuck you, Tokyo.

This isn't quite something I usually do, but I need to voice a belly full of bile about all this before I move on with my day:

The "Tokyo Youth Ordinance Bill" 
(B 156) has already passed committee.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter Akiba.

The short and long of this thing is that it's meant to make works that encourage harmful activities among minors in the form of anime and manga - not live action films or books, strictly otaku bait - illegal without stricter regulations, the details of which have not yet been made public. The Democratic Party of Japan has announced that they're going to fully back Tokyo's new law, and at least one publisher of adult content (yaoi, specifically) has already said that they're instructing artists to not submit material that involves school uniforms, and that they won't be reprinting any such material that already exists.

What's especially shocking is that this law was passed despite an earlier version of it - one that was even less restrictive and more vaguely worded - was voted down several months back. The general jist of it is that works that encourage or glamorize illegal activity involving minors will be considered obscene material, which by default means that virtually all lolicon and shotacon works - wither they're directly pornographic or not - are going to come under scrutiny. If I remember correctly Tokyo Governor Shintarou Ishihara - the main proponent behind this madness - has even used non-adult satire manga with "blanked out" portions to support his case, knowing full well that there was no sex or frontal nudity under them. He's also a noted homophobe and has told otaku to get real girlfriends, and creepily enough, that holds some relevance to this very law.

Japan has had a long history of allowing artists unbridled freedom of speech, and manga authors ranging from contemporary favorites like Tite Kubo to cult classics like Gou Nagai have publicly spoken out against it. In retaliation, virtually the entire anime industry as it exists today has pulled out of the annual Tokyo International Anime Fair, effectively having given all of Tokyo a giant extended middle finger by separating its' relevancy to the industry itself. Whilst the ordinance technically only extends to Tokyo, we have to remember that most manga and anime publishers are based in Tokyo, as is the entire otaku subculture in the fanboy shops of Akihabara and the annual Comiket doujinshi marketplace. With these laws strictly targeting 2D hand-crafted artwork, not photographic works of pornography, it's a challenge to the entire industry... and this time, it's for reals.

Will all of this really make a real difference? It's hard to say. Theoretically pornographic works are already restricted to adults anyway, so the only "harmful" material left are unregulated works that feature graphic sexuality, most notably works for women (yaoi, especially) which aren't usually labeled as pornographic, and independent works (doujinshi) which aren't regulated heavily to start with. Of course, the vague wording - something like "material which is contradictory to social norms" - could include anything from rape to homosexuality to jerking off in a public restroom. There are stipulations that the work may be released if it has satirical or artistic merits, but that means it's basically in the same trench of "it's up to the judge" as standard Obscenity laws are in the United States.

Laws were passed preventing rape games, but the industry marched along more or less unchanged, merely changing the euphemisms for "slavery" and "violation" to slightly less scary-sounding words, but went on leaving the content more or less unchanged. Japan's entire defense against "obscenity" is also pixelating genitals, but with little actual recourse to the content therein - you can eat shit and fuck dogs and choke a bitch 'till she's blue in the face, so long as the pubes are always fudged out. So much as this law has some very real and unpleasant connotations relating directly back to Orwell, the industry will just have to find new and exciting loopholes to continue doing what it does best; producing increasingly offensive work for the demanding anime and manga connoisseur.

It's the not-quite-pornographic works that are probably going to be hit the hardest.... Berserk and Kodomo no Jikan, oddly enough, both spring to mind as titles which might be either slapped with an 18+ restriction or severely castrated.

The ordinance doesn't begin until July of next year - pending the final vote on Monday, of course - and all current works are apparently exempt. Thank fuck for that, I guess. Still, exactly how the anime and manga industry is going to strike back at this ridiculous law targeting images such as this, which have so far been proven to harm ABSOLUTELY NO-ONE:

 ...we'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

GAUSU: Legend of the Scarlet Ninja - Now Available

I can't believe it either, but it's true: Remastered in anamorphic widescreen, with a brand new subtitle track, and featuring never-before seen image galleries and the rare Japanese trailer, this is the only version of Rin-Sin's incomplete masterpiece HININDEN GAUSU/LEGEND OF THE SCARLET NINJA you'll ever need.

This DVD took way longer than expected due to... let's call them structural difficulties. Remember how those sweet-ass menus were in 4:3? Well, DVD Spec doesn't like mixing 4:3 menus with 16:9 video. It can be done, but at the expense of basic functionality, like chapter menus and language setup options. In the end we decided to stretch the menus to 16:9 - it's a very minor issue, and one we hope you'll forgive when you see the quality of the transfer.

This unfinished epic has been in the Kentai Films lab for a good long time, and we hope you'll think it's been as worth the wait as we all do.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Bugger Royale

Kuriyama-chan is the only moe I need.
(Cropped, not resized.)

Good News: Arrow Video is releasing a deluxe 2-disc Blu-ray of the late Kinji FUKUSAKU's controversial cinematic swan song BATTLE ROYALE, complete with all the trimmings, and available for pre-order at Amazon UK. Region free, too, and the first 10,000 or so pre-orders get some limited goods in that very sexy box set.

Bad News: It's a goddamn SD upscale of transfers minted in 2000 and 2001, for the Original and Special versions respectively.

Making all of this even more bizarre is the fact that Battle Royale was JUST REMASTERED THIS YEAR... 3D.


We might get a nice, new HD sourced version of the Theatrical and Special editions based on the 3D master. That'd just be awesome, wouldn't it?

Or, we might only get this Lucas-level atrocity full of CG blood splatter and bullets mugging for the camera. I'd love to think that Toei isn't stupid enough to pretend that fans of this controversial and already cult-classic title wouldn't want an HD release of the prior two cuts of the film, but if Arrow is releasing the prior editions as upscales now instead of waiting, they may know something the rest of us don't...

So, what'll it be? Peace of mind and some limited edition goodies, or sit this round out and hope we don't wind up in yet another GITS 2.0 scenario? I can't help any of you decide this, but I'd rather you at least make the choice knowing what 17 pounds sterling will actually get you. And High Definition, it ain't.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Project X, Phase Y

Sorry for the lack of relevant Kentai updates, boys 'n' girls. "Mystery Project X" has kept me insanely busy for the last couple of weeks, and I've spent the last several days literally re-creating the project from scratch, trying to figure out if it was possible to eliminate one of the flaws that were hard-coded into the process at the very first step of the restoration. The short answer is, no, I can't, so that was all clearly time well spent. It really sucks that temporal chroma oddities is the natural trade-off I make while removing heavy analog noise on top of 35mm production flicker, but watching the source and the restoration side by side, I still think it was the right choice.

Truth be told, I feel like I've done some pretty amazing things, and it kills me that the very nature of the Kentai Blog means I can't share it with you all here. We're talking about a master that's literally over 20 years old, and I've managed to fix all the worst qualities it had whilst preserving as much of the "look" I know productions of this vintage are known for as humanly possible. I can't claim to know exactly how it was supposed to be, but I've been very careful not to allow any major flaws of my own design creep back in, and I've used as much marketing and promotional material as I could find as the basis for how the color correction should be handled. Things like film grain and fine detail didn't exist on the materials when I got them, but outline density and frame stability has been improved beyond my wildest dreams.

I think everyone who's familiar with how nightmarish history on home video Mystery Project X has had will be satisfied with the results, and I really do hope it does well. Not because I get a cut of the video sales (seriously, I don't), but because it's a great little film that's now stained with my blood, sweat, tears, and love... which sounds way dirtier than I meant for it to. It's by far the most drastic and shocking restoration I've worked on yet - and I haven't even finished it!

I've decided to draw a line in the sand and send the current workprint I'm in the middle of trouble-shooting off to the guys who own the film. If they like it - and I sure hope that they do - I'll perform some final tweaks and be done with it. Without that buffer in place of the guys I'm working for saying it does (or doesn't) look good, I could easily spend the next half-year experimenting with every technique I know of, but that just isn't productive if the goal is to have a product on store shelves in a timely fashion...

We should have a few new Kentai Films titles ready by sometime next week, including a mix of titles you may have seen before and some that'll be brand new to the label. One of them is basically done now, but I've been too busy to finish off the menus. There's also one title I'm going to kill myself trying to finish before X-mas... you all deserve it, you really do, and if I can have it finished before the year is up, it'll make the Anniversary tag I want to slap onto it that much sweeter.

Then again, I've seen a lot of DVDs with "25th Anniversary Ultra Spiffy Edition" or whatever on the cover that doesn't actually have shit to correlate with the year the film was actually released in, so, whatever.