Written by: Michael Den Boer on May 11th, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, June 17th, 1979
Director: Hideo Gosha
Writer: Hideo Gosha
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Keiko Kishi, Shinichi Chiba, Tetsuro Tanba, Yoshio Harada, Ayumi Ishida, Ai Kanzaki, Kayo Matsuo
Approximate running time: 137 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
Subtitles: English & Chinese
DVD Release: Panorama Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 3 NTSC (Hong Kong)
Retail Price: $11.95
Synopsis: 18th Century Japan rivaling bosses hire assassins known as “Hunters in the Dark”. Yataro Tanigawa is one of the most skilled swordsmen in the land. A boss named Gomyo hires Yataro as his personal bodyguard and assassin. Shimoguni a former high ranking member of the Kitamae Clan makes a pact with Gomyo to dispose of the remaining Kitamae Clan ronin who have desires of resurrecting their once prominent clan. Gomyo has his right hand man Yataro dispose of the remaining members of the Kitamae Clan.
Hunter in the Dark was directed by Hideo Gosha most memorable films include Goyokin and The Wolves. Visually Hunter in the Dark features several first rate action sequences. The non action moments are very mundane and at times uninspired. The film starts off beautifully with an ambush and swordfight before settling into a series of scenes that are mostly dialog based. These dialog based scene while some are necessary to help build characters and advance the plot they do feel stretched. There really isn’t much that happens after the films bloody opening for the next hundred minutes. The last thirty five minutes of the film are nearly flawless as the story finally pays off with a series of brutal action sequences. At this point in the film it is a little too late to save the film as whole.
Hunter in the Dark is blessed with a spectacular cast that includes Sonny Chiba, Tatsuya Nakadai (Goyokin), Yoshio Harada (Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance), Tetsuro Tamba (Bohachi: Clan of the Forgotten Eight), Mikio Narita (Message from Space) and frequent Hideo Gosha collaborator Tatsuya Nakadai. The most memorable performance in the film is Yoshio Harada as Yataro Tanigawa a samurai who has lost his memory. The best scene in the film is the finale with pairs off Sonny Chiba and Tatsuya Nakadai sword fighting at a chicken ranch. Sonny Chiba while not the star of the film does get some sizable screen most of which occurs in the last hour of the film. The acting as a whole is uneven which is so disappointing considering the talent assemble for this film. Masaru Satô’s score for the film is one of the few strengths of this film. It would go on to win a Japanese Academy Award. Ultimately Hunter in the Dark fails to live it to its potential.
Hunter in the Dark is presented in a full frame aspect ratio. The film’s original aspect ratio is listed as 2:35:1 on the IMDB. The credits all fit in the frame even though they appear to be very tight and a few of them come close to being blocked out of the frame. The framing on a whole looks claustrophobic especially during action sequences. Colors look muted and the image looks soft throughout. Darker scenes are hard to discern what is going on.
One audio option is included with this release a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in Japanese. The audio sounds flat and there is noticeable hiss throughout. Removable English subtitles that are easy to read and follow have been included. The subtitles have some spelling errors.
All the extras are text based and they include a bio/filmography for director Hideo Gosha and production notes about the film. The text is presented in a dual language English and Chinese.
This DVD is a mess and even at its low retail price it is hard to recommend.