Written by: Michael Den Boer on December 5th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1958
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Writer: Susumu Saji
Cast: Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki, Yusuke Ashida, Toru Abe
DVD Released: January 20th, 2004
Approximate Running Time: 87 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Japanese
DVD Release: Home Vision
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.95
Synopsis: After spending the last three years in prison Miyamoto (Michitaro Mizushima) recovers the diamonds he hid before being sent away to prison. Mihara was injured during the diamond heist three years before and Miyamoto wants to give him the diamonds to help deal with his guilt. Miyamoto arranges for the diamonds to be sold through an old friend Oyane who sets up a deal with a foreign buyer. Mihara’s sister Akika (Mari Siraki) is having an affair with a sculptor who finds out about the diamonds and with the help of his friends they plan a double cross. When the deal goes sour Mihara swallows the diamonds and jumps off the side of the building the deal was taking place on. Will the diamonds be recovered before the body is cremated or an autopsy is preformed?
Seijun Suzuki worked a at furious pace making forty two films in a mere span of eleven years while working for the Nikkatsu Corporation. During these years he primarily worked in the yakuza genre. Suzuki would for the first time with his seventh film Underworld Beauty shoot a film in widescreen. Underworld Beauty opens with a title card the proceeds the main title that boldly announces “Seijun Suzuki’s Seventh Film”, Quentin Tarantino would open Kill Bill in a similar way. In Underworld Beauty Seijun Suzuki would showcase his western cinema influences with his use of film noir shadows and do wop sounding music.
Underworld Beauty may not be as flamboyant or chaotic as Suzuki’s later films, still he manages to come up with innovative and imaginative shots through out. Wataro Nakao’s lush black and white photography is filled with all the film noir hallmarks like playing with shadow and light. Every inch of every frame is filled with an amazing amount of details and style. The script is one of the films weakest assets as its follows the conventions of the film noir genre playing things by the numbers. The acting is subdued for the most part including Michitaro Mizushima performance as Miyamoto which at times is too one dimensional as he spends most of the film brooding. Mari Shiraki as Akiko is more developed performance as she transforms from the grieving sister into a femme fatale. The films score is one the most bizarre scores that I had heard so far from a Suzuki film and at times it feels oddly out of place when used in the films noir settings. The films happy ending feels tacked on and out of place.
Underworld Beauty is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The black and white cinema photography has been beautifully transferred for this DVD as the black levels are balanced through out. There is some minor print damage most noticeable around the reels changes and grain except for a few early scenes is kept to a minimum. These minor problems are most likely due to the source material and overall Home Vision has worked wonders on a film that is nearly fifty years old.
The only audio option included on this DVD is the original Japanese language track that is presented in a Dolby Digital mono. All voices and dialog are clear never muffled. There is no sign of hiss or distortion. The action is mainly focused on the center channel which more then gets the job done. English Subtitles that are easy to read and follow have been included.
Extras include a filmography for director Seijun Suzuki and informative liner notes written by Tastu Aoki. Home Vision has done a wonderful job with the audio/video presentation of Underworld Beauty; still they short change this film in the extras department. An interview with Seijun Suzuki or an audio commentary with a critic would have been sufficient. Underworld Beauty may not contain all the flashy camera work his later work is renowned for still Suzuki through his inventiveness manages to show hints of things to come.