Written by: Michael Den Boer on December 26th, 2016
Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1998 (Pornostar), Japan, 2000 (Unchain), Japan, 2003 (9 Souls)
Director: Toshiaki Toyoda (All Films)
Writer: Toshiaki Toyoda (Pornostar, 9 Souls)
Cast: Chihara Junia, Onimaru, Akaji Maro, Rin Ozawa, Tetta Sugimoto, Leona Hirota, Yasuhiro Suzu, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kenta, Tomohiko Okuda, Kiyotaka Ueno (Pornostar), Unchain Kaji, Chihara Junia (Unchain), Yoshio Harada, Ryûhei Matsuda, Genta Dairaku, Eita, Yû Fujiki, Asami Imajuku, Jun Inoue, Itsuji Itao, Misaki Itô, Chihara Junia, Kazuki Kitamura, Jun Kunimura, Kotomi Kyôno, Akaji Maro, Takako Matsu, Fumihito Minamitsuji, Yûsuke Ohshiba, Onimaru, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Anne Suzuki, Bari Suzuki, Takuji Suzuki, Miako Tadano, Mame Yamada (9 Souls)
BluRay released: December 26th, 2016
Approximate running times: 98 minutes (Pornostar), 98 Minutes (Unchain), 120 Minutes (9 Souls)
Aspect Ratios: 1.85:1 Widescreen /1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Pornostar / 9 Souls) & 1.37:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Unchain)
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: DTS-HD Stereo Japanese (All Films)
Subtitles: English (All Films)
BluRay Release: Third Window Films
Region Coding: Region A,B (UK)
Retail Price: £19.99
Also known under the alternate title Tokyo Rampage, Pornostar marked the feature film debut of Toshiaki Toyoda (Blue Spring, Hanging Garden), one of a handful of filmmakers that would give the Japanese film industry a much needed shot in the arm in the 1990’s.
Pornostar is a film that is sure to divided its audience. For those who are expecting a full throttle assault on their senses they will be quickly let down by this film’s deliberate pacing which has many peaks and valleys along the way. Then there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum whose patience through this film’s slower moments of evolution are sure to be deeply satisfied where this film moment of truth ultimate takes them.
Content wise, the film takes the all too familiar Yakuza genre and the end result is unlike anything ever seen before or sense its arrival. And though the Yakuza play a Significant role in the story at hand. Their opposition a lone assassin is not our typical rival. Where individual characters have played a role in stirring things up between two rival yakuza gangs. The one man verses an origination route is a rarely taken route within this genre.
From a production standpoint, this film excels in every way. With one of its more durable assets being its striking visuals which at times veer into surrealistic territory. Most notable a scene where several knives fall from the sky and land at the feet of the protagonist. And when it comes to moments of carnage. This film takes on the whatever you can do, I can do it better mentally as each moment of bloodletting is topped by the next one.
This film is anchored by two performances, Chihara Junia (Young Thugs: Innocent Blood, 1-Ichi) in the role of loner psychopath named Arano and Onimaru (9 Souls) in the role of a young up and coming yakuza named Kamijo. These two characters’ paths initially cross when Kamijo is given the task of killing someone. It is this moment that defines both of these of these characters, Kamijo’s inability to kill without a conscious and Arnano’s willingness to destroy anything or anyone who gets in his way.
Unchain: A Japanese boxer Unchain Kaji, who was forced to retire due to an eye injury and his life retiring from boxing.
Content wise, this film has all the ingredients one would want and expect from a documentary. And though this film does follow an all to familiar path structure wise when it comes to documentaries. Its ultimate power is its subject matter a boxer whose career was not only cut short. When it came to his actually win / lose record as a fighter was 0 wins 8 loses and one draw. Where most similar themed films tend to focus on successful fighter or at least an underdog who has a meteoric rise to the top. This film is the exact opposite and all the more compelling because of it.
9 Souls: Michiru (Ryuhei Matsuda) is sent to prison after murdering his father. The Counterfeit King tells the other men in the cell about a hidden treasure buried at Mt. Fuji Elementary School. Shortly after arriving in prison Michiru with eight of his cell mates escape. Their bond is strong initially before each man goes his own way.
Director Toshiaki Toyoda gives the escape from prison genre a facelift as he turns his great escape into a road picture about a group of misfits. The movie starts true to genre conventions with your standard jailbreak before it transforms into a character study. Toyoda gives the characters a chance to grow making their fate bittersweet. This film is blessed with a wonderful cast who all give amazing performances. Even though it was inevitable that they would grow apart at some point the Disintegration of the group is subtle as each person finds what they are looking for.
9 Souls is filled with great images throughout with my favorite moment being when they arrive at a strip club. Doctor Shiratori watches the stripper that he loved so much that he gave her one of his kidneys. Toyoda’s use of a red-light effect and inventive compositions emphasize the dancers’ sensual movements. And not to be overlooked is this film’s hypnotic score that lulls the viewer into a dream like state of mind.
The plot for this film is anchored by the relationship between Michiru who lost his father and Torakichi who lost his son. Through each other’s pain, they find an inner peace that helps hell their wounds. Michiru who we are first introduced to at the beginning of the film he has come full circle as he is once again starring outside the window in his bedroom. This time around everything is different as he looks out the window as he holds the key to his future. Ultimately 9 Souls, is a rare find in today’s cinema landscape it is filled with introspective characters and a spirituality that is refreshing, highly recommended.
Pornostar comes on a 25 GB single layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen.
Unchain comes on a 25 GB single layer BluRay. This release has been flagged for progressive playback and the film is presented in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
9 Souls comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen.
All three films have been given new transfers and the end results far exceed expectations. Also, all three are well authored transfers that do a superb job retaining the intended look for each film.
Each film comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD stereo mix in Japanese and included with this release are removable English subtitles. The soundtracks for Pornostar and 9 Souls are comparable. They are both clean, clear and balanced throughout. Range wise both films sound appropriately robust and when it comes to the more ambient aspects of these two films are well represented. Unchain features a soundtrack that one would expect for a documentary. With interview scenes featuring stronger / cleaner sounding audio. Then the fight scenes which have some mild background noise.
Extras for Pornostar include, a trailer for the box set (2 minutes 4 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), a trailer for Pornostar (1 minute 39 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), an interview with director Toshiaki Toyoda and an audio commentary with Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes.
Topics discussed in the interview with Toshiaki Toyoda include, the three films included as part of this collection are all discussed in-depth. Other topics include, how Unchain was started before Pornostar and why the latter film came out first, working with unknown verse name actors and where he wants to go in the future as a filmmaker.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary with Tom Mes include, Toshiaki Toyoda, Pornostar & other films he directed, delinquent youths and the role they play in his cinema, how the 1990’s was a lost decade for Japanese cinema, locations, the cast, themes explored in this film and surreal moments throughout his filmography.
Extras for Unchain include, a trailer for the box set (2 minutes 4 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), a trailer for Unchain (2 minutes 39 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), Marketing Materials (2 minutes 24 seconds), a music video (4 minutes 37 seconds) and Unchain Koji sings Impudent Man (8 minutes 2 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles).
Extras for 9 Souls include, a trailer for the box set (2 minutes 4 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), a trailer for 9 Souls (1 minute 55 Seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), Outtakes (25 minutes 29 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), “making of” featurette (24 minutes 32 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles) and an audio commentary with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp.
Topics covered in the “Making of” featurette include, the story, the characters and the cast.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary with Jasper Sharp include, Toshiaki Toyoda, the cast & information about them, Jun’ichi Fujisawa & the look of the film, prison themed films in Japanese cinema, music that appears in the film and his thoughts about the film.
Overall another exceptional release from Third Window films.
Note: This release is a Limited Edition of 2000 copies in a digipack.