Click here to learn more about anamorphic widescreen!
Go to the Home Page
Go to The Rumor Mill
Go to Todd Doogan's weekly column
Go to the Reviews Page
Go to the Trivia Contest Page
Go to the Upcoming DVD Artwork Page
Go to the DVD FAQ & Article Archives
Go to our DVD Links Section
Go to the Home Theater Forum for great DVD discussion
Find out how to advertise on The Digital Bits

Site created 12/15/97.

The Digital Bits logo
page created: 5/17/05

The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

Around the World in 8 DVDs (Continued)

Back to Part One

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Sympathy for the Underdog
1971 (2004) - Toei (Home Vision)

If I decided to devote this column to nothing but Asian cinema from now on, I would never again have to worry about running out of movies to discuss. Some of the most exciting and original movies of recent years have hailed from Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong. But as thrilling as it's been to see new movies like directors like Takashi Miike and Chan-wook Park, an equally exciting development has been the sudden availability of over thirty years worth of hidden movie history. Prolific filmmakers like Seijun Suzuki and Kinji Fukasaku have had their films, most of which have been either impossible or very difficult to track down in this country, enjoy something of a revival.

Sympathy for the Underdog

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

Fukasaku hit a chord with today's audiences with his final work, the magnum opus Battle Royale. Thanks in no small part to the cult success of that film, we've been able to see some of his earlier classics such as the five-film Yakuza Papers cycle. Sympathy for the Underdog predates the first film of that series (Battles Without Honor & Humanity) by two years and can in some ways be seen as a warm-up for that ambitious saga, bridging the gap between it and Fukasaku's earlier, more traditional work.

Koji Tsuruta stars as Gunji, a middle-aged yakuza released from prison as the film begins, having come out on the losing end of a turf war in Tokyo. He gathers together the tattered remains of his old crew and they embark on a new racket, muscling their way into the island of Okinawa. It ain't easy and it gets even harder when the boss from Tokyo shows up. Faced with the prospect of losing everything a second time, Gunji faces off against the man who sent him to prison.

Sympathy for the Underdog is a more modest film than any in the Yakuza Papers series but it's certainly a lot of fun. Tsuruta is as cool as they come, never without his sunglasses, even in a dimly bit bar. This is a guy who's been underestimated once too often and isn't going to let that happen again.

Fukasaku gets a lot of mileage out of staging most of his action in Okinawa, depicting an island that's clearly different from the mainland even if you know absolutely nothing about Japanese history or geography. The action is tough and exciting, drenched in neon and bright red blood. Sympathy for the Underdog isn't the greatest yakuza movie you'll ever see, but if it's your first, I can all but guarantee that it won't be your last.

Home Vision has brought Fukasaku's movie to disc very well, though it isn't quite up to the Bitsy-award winning level of their Yakuza Papers box. Both picture and sound are very solid. Extras include a somewhat dry but still interesting interview with Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane, the original trailer, and Fukasaku's extensive filmography.

Sympathy for the Underdog
Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/C+

All About Lily Chou-Chou
2001 (2005) - Fortissimo Films (Home Vision)

The best thing about having catholic taste in movies is that every once in awhile, you'll stumble across a movie that you've never heard of and fall in love with it. For me, All About Lily Chou-Chou is such a movie. This is one of the most haunting and memorable pictures I've seen in recent months and if you take absolutely nothing else from anything else I ever write for this website, please at least rent this movie.

Lily Chou-Chou is a (fictional) pop star and the object of obsession for Yuichi, the teenaged moderator of an online chat room devoted to her. Online, Yuichi is a disembodied voice of authority but in real life, he's a sad, put-upon kid whose life revolves around shoplifting, crime, and some very brutal friends. Basically, this is a coming-of-age movie and I know, we've all seen dozens and dozens of coming-of-age movies and we don't really care anymore. But you've never seen a coming-of-age movie quite like this one.

All About Lily Chou-Chou

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

For one thing, the story is told (at least in part) through the bulletin board messages anonymously posted on Yuichi's website. Writer/director Shunji Iwai has tapped into youth culture in a way that I haven't seen depicted on screen before. He not only remembers what they care about and how they spend their time, he knows how they communicate with each other and expertly captures the casual cruelty with which they often treat each other.

This is a complex and involved picture that demands close attention from the viewer. But it's also haunting, moving and surprisingly beautiful. Both the music and the visuals are stunning and both are well represented on disc. Home Vision's DVD also provides an exceptionally good documentary, The Making of All About Lily Chou-Chou. Running almost an hour, the doc examines the convoluted path Lily Chou-Chou took to the screen and provides some outstanding and intimate behind-the-scenes footage. Director Shunji Iwai also touches on the genesis of the story in an essay printed in the liner notes of the disc. Rounding out the disc are a music video for the song Wings That Can't Fly, a bio and filmography for Iwai and a pair of trailers.

All About Lily Chou-Chou is a terrific movie, a hidden gem waiting to be discovered on DVD. I like this movie more and more the more I think about it and I can't wait to check it out again. I suspect it's one of the few movies I've seen lately that will really reward multiple viewings.

All About Lily Chou-Chou
Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/B

Paris, Texas
1984 (2004) - 20th Century Fox

Our world tour concludes back home here in America. Paris, Texas is a perfect example of why foreign film sections are a crock. The movie is set in America, written by Sam Shepard, and stars Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell. But it's directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders, also stars Nastassja Kinski and French actress Aurore Clement, and was financed by French and German backers. The story is American but the way in which the story is told is very European. Truth be told, Paris, Texas is a truly international film. It's also, in my opinion anyway, one of the best films of the 1980s.

Paris, Texas

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

Stanton stars as Travis and as the movie opens, we find him wandering, alone and mute, through the beautiful south Texas landscape. A doctor rehydrates him and calls his brother Walt (Stockwell) in Los Angeles. Walt and Travis haven't seen each other for four years when Travis vanished into thin air, leaving behind a wife (Kinski) and young son (Hunter Carson) who Walt has been raising with his wife (Clement). Walt tries to draw Travis back into reality and once they arrive in L.A., Travis tries to pick things up with his son. In the film's final act, Travis and Hunter return to Texas in an attempt to find the wife and mother they've both lost.

To call Paris, Texas leisurely paced is like saying the Sears Tower is kind of tall. But the gentle rhythms of the story are perfectly suited to Wenders' methodical pace. Travis has been gone for a long time and nobody is going to crack that shell overnight. The story unfolds slowly and in lesser hands, this would be rough going. But Wenders has several key collaborators making this work. Foremost is the formidable Harry Dean Stanton in one of his only leading roles. Stanton is one of those actors whose face is so interesting that he doesn't have to do anything to command the screen. Also important to the film is the brilliant music by Ry Cooder, his very best score in a career full of highlights. Cooder's guitar is as much a character in Paris, Texas as Travis, Walt and Hunter.

Finally, if you're like me, you've only ever seen Paris, Texas on VHS. Fox's DVD is nothing short of a revelation. I had no idea this was such a visually beautiful movie. The cinematography by Robby Muller is breathtaking from first shot to last and the transfer to disc brings it out perfectly. A DVD like this reminds me why this format is so wonderful. How many movies are there like Paris, Texas that I've only seen butchered on poorly transferred, pan & scan VHS? Watching this movie on DVD was like seeing it for the first time.

Fox's DVD of Paris, Texas rates as one of the most pleasant surprises I've run across on the format. Released with little to no fanfare last December at a rock-bottom price, you can be forgiven for assuming the disc would be underwhelming. Technically, it's terrific. As for extras, Wenders supplies a running commentary for the entire length of the movie. It's an informative, if not especially lively track, with revelations about the writing of the film (during a scene written by Wenders himself, he asks that if you dislike the dialogue you not blame Sam Shepard), the casting, the financing and more. Kudos to Wenders for making it all the way through this lengthy film with very few dead spots in the commentary. Wenders has also uncovered a handful of deleted scenes, presented here with optional commentary. The disc also includes a still gallery, the trailer and a bit of archival video called Kinski in Cannes. This is raw red-carpet footage from the Cannes premiere and while it also features Wenders, Stanton, Stockwell and Clement in Cannes, there's no doubt that it's Nastassja who the paparazzi are interested in.

Paris, Texas is a great film and Fox has done a superlative job in bringing it to DVD. At about ten bucks a pop, there's really no reason for anyone who loves movies not to pick this one up. If you're a movie fan who hates foreign films, consider this your safe introduction to the rhythms and pacing of non-American movies. Everybody's speaking English and all the locations should be familiar. If you like this, take the plunge into German, French and Italian cinema. If you don't, you're robbing yourself of some great movies.

Paris, Texas
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/B

Adam Jahnke
[email protected]

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
E-mail the Bits!

Don't #!@$ with the Monkey! Site designed for 1024 x 768 resolution, using 16M colors and .gif 89a animation.
© 1997-2015 The Digital Bits, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
[email protected]