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The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017
The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchy, Arrow Video

Compared to filmmakers like Nagisa Oshima or Shohei Imamura, Kiju Yoshida remains a lesser-known light of the Japanese New Wave, a lamentable state of affairs that this box set from Arrow Video should go a long way toward rectifying. The three films included in Love + Anarchism form a loose-knit trilogy on political themes, investigating the ramifications of different political ideologies—anarchism, communism, and a particularly virulent strain of nationalism—on key moments in 20th-century Japanese history. The director’s cut of Eros + Massacre hews closer to Yoshida’s stated intention to have DP Motokichi Hasegawa push the visuals into the realm of overexposure, where blown-out whites predominate and often threaten to overwhelm the imagery. Heroic Purgatory is the cleanest and clearest of the three films, largely (but not entirely) free of those blown whites. Contrast is well-balanced and details register strongly. Ichiyanagi’s haunting score invokes an ethereal female chorus that wails plaintively. Coup d’Etat looks thick by comparison, with contrast levels a bit off, leaving some black crush and overall fuzziness. David Desser’s select-scene commentaries for all three films are unsurprisingly strong when it comes to conveying cultural and political information, and pointing out Yoshida’s unconventional directorial techniques, but at times he devolves into blandly (and sometimes confusedly) restating what’s happening on screen. The documentary on Eros + Massacre provides plenty of context from French film critics Mathieu Capel and Jean Douchet, and, even better, lets Yoshida lay out his own philosophical and political intentions for the film, as do Yoshida’s separate introductions to Heroic Purgatory and Coup d’Etat. Wilkins

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

Kiss of Death, Twilight Time

On Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of Kiss of Death, an attractive grit pervades the image, lending it a rough, evocative texture. The soundtrack is consistently pristine, handling the high notes (such as the music of a piano) with particular subtlety, though the diegetic effects are also vividly handled, such as the click-clacking sound of an ill-fated women plummeting down a flight of stairs. One of the great, reliable pleasures of Twilight Time discs are the commentaries with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, and their discussion of Kiss of Death is characteristically excellent. Early on, Kirgo proposes that WWII veterans might have re-entered their country feeling like fugitives despite doing what their government asked of them, and that film noirs might’ve been subconsciously wrestling with this guilt in their endless enmeshing of veterans and criminals. Kirgo refines this sentiment throughout the commentary, casually detonating the myth of post-war America as a time of unsullied excitement, reminding viewers of HUAC and unemployment anxieties, among other things. Kirgo and Redman are also in fine form discussing the film directly, with Kirgo memorably celebrating Victor Mature’s visage as recalling a Greek statue. The commentary with film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver is also a must-listen, plumbing the film’s religious subtext, the relationship between Mature and director Henry Hathaway, and Hathaway’s underrated ability to marshal a variety of differing acting styles and energies into a singular, coherent tonality. The original theatrical trailer is the only other feature on this disc, but the commentaries more than compensate. Bowen

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

The Last Laugh, Kino Lorber

Even without considering the laborious history of The Last Laugh’s restoration, this transfer is extraordinary. Yes, there are minor lines and blips in the image, but clarity and depth are rich and prismatic, honoring the film’s obsession with worlds within worlds. The blacks are fulsome, particularly in the poetic city backdrops, and the whites are sharp, as evinced by the impeccable crystal sheen of the film’s mirrors, windows, and polished surfaces. There’s also a new soundtrack, featuring a musical score by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, and an older mix, with the original 1924 score by Giuseppe Becce, as orchestrated by Detlev Glanert in 2003. In terms of aural dimension and nuance, these mixes are equally formidable, boasting robust soundstages with distinguished instrumentation. Meanwhile, the supplements offer a coherent portrait of the confusing story of The Last Laugh’s creation and restoration. In short, three versions of the film were prepared for a German release, an American release, and general international exhibition, respectively. A making-of documentary and an audio commentary by film scholar Noah Isenberg respectively flesh out the context of The Last Laugh’s impact on cinema, and an unrestored import version of the film allows viewers to see how it subtly changed shape between cuts. Bowen

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

The Marseille Trilogy, The Criterion Collection

The films in Marcel Pagnol’s The Marseille Trilogy were both critical and commercial successes; each film was the biggest grosser in France during its initial year of release. However, until the Criterion Collection’s robust Blu-ray release this year, these films had only been previously released on North American home video in unrestored versions. A meticulous restoration using state-of-the-art technology ensures that every frame of The Marseille Trilogy beams with a radiance that could only have been matched by seeing the films during their initial run. As overseen by Nicolas Pagnol, who used a crowdfunding campaign to raise over half of the necessary restoration funds, the transfers show no evidence of dirt or damage. This release is also abundant in supplements, so much so that it may warrant an entire day just to get through them all. Overall, this Criterion box set proves worthy of Marcel Pagnol’s inimitable wit and style. Dillard

The 20 Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

Othello, The Criterion Collection

Criterion refurbishes two versions of Orson Welles’s glorious Othello, which were prepared for exhibition in different portions of the world. Most remarkable is the general softness of the whites of the image, which had a shrill tendency in prior home-video editions. Blacks are rich and robust, bringing out the prismatic intricacy of the compositions, in part with pristine background clarity. The soundtrack layers natural sounds with heightened noises. The dialogue is nowhere near in sync in either version, which is truthful to the films as they were originally produced and presented. To “fix” this problem, which deepens the film’s sense of existential dislocation, would be to commit a creative atrocity. And the rough unruliness of Orson Welles’s production methods—his willingness to be unguarded and unvarnished—is a key to his art, as an extensive supplements package reveals. Commentaries, short films, and documentaries examine Othello from a variety of vantage points, elaborating on its timeless vitality. Particularly notable is a new interview with Ayanna Thompson, author of Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America. Thompson discusses Welles’s blackface, comparing it to minstrelsy and to the various other interpretations of the character. Bowen