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Wolves, The

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    Ian Jane
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  • Wolves, The

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    Released by: Animeigo
    Released on: 9-2-2008
    Director: Hideo Gosha
    Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Noboru Ando, Kyoko Enami, Hisashi Igawa, Tetsuro Tanba
    Year: 1971

    The Movie:

    Set in 1920s era Japan, Hideo Gosha's The Wolves begins when the Emperor grants amnesty to a few hundred prisoners previously rotting in jail. While many of those released would go on to become productive members of the society that once spawned them, a few find that old habits are hard to break and rejoin the ranks of the Yakuza. One of these men is Seji Iwahashi (Tatsuya Nakadai), though his return to the fold isn't quite as simple as he'd imagined it would be. Things have changed a lot since he was locked up, not the least of which is the fact that his boss passed away and was replaced by a different man, Genryu Asakura (Tetsuro Tanba), with whom Seji had some disagreements prior to his incarceration, now running the show a little differently than Seji is accustomed to.

    Regardless of his feelings on the matter, Seiji lives by a code and that code dictates that he does his best to serve his boss. Many of his comrades feel spurned by recent events but Seiki bites his tongue but when he discovers that those currently in control gained it not by legitimate inheritance but by murdering his old boss. With his adherence to the code destroyed, he decides that it's time for retribution and so he picks up his sword and sets out to get just that.

    A colorful and aggressive film, The Wolves has a great energy to it that stems predominantly from Nakadai's slowly seething performance. As his character evolves and goes through the changes that the story throws at him, we can see him become a different person. Once his trust in the code is broken, all bets are off and he's allowed to really go for it and he proves to be the perfect man for the part, playing Seji with enough anger, pain, and somewhat restrained insanity that it completely works. Nakadai isn't always the most subtle of Japanese leading men, many of his critics believe that far too often he overdoes it, but here he's as calm and collected as he needs to be, but only when he needs to be. The maniacal screen presence he can bring to some of his more interesting roles is in full swing towards the later part of the film and makes this one of his standout performances.

    Gosha's direction is just as strong here. The film doesn't always move at a break neck pace but there's enough going on with the main plot and a few interesting subplots, a few of which follow the film's female characters, that it's never dull or even close to uninteresting. We might realize where it's all headed fairly early on, particularly if you're familiar with how a lot of Yakuza films made around the same time period tend to play out, but getting there is certainly an enjoyable trip.

    All of this brooding and tension is set to an equally evocative score courtesy of composer Masaru Sato that literally hits all the right notes at all the right times. The cinematography tends to get claustrophobic at times, and to interesting effect. A lot of tightly framed indoor shots showcase Nakadai's character seeming to symbolize the impending violence that is we all know is tightening in on him.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Animeigo's 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen progressive scan transfer is a pretty good one. Some mild print damage and noticeable grain is present but it's never too obnoxious or distracting, it simply reminds us that this is a film sourced transfer. Color reproduction is usually strong as are black levels though sometimes things look a bit flat. Despite the film's lengthy running time, there are only mild compression artifacts apparent from time to time, they're not a constant problem but rather a sporadic one. Some slight shimmering can be seen from time to time but by and large they've done a very nice job bringing this film to DVD.

    The Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, which includes optional English subtitles, is well balanced and free of any hiss or distortion. Dialogue is clean and clear and while there isn't an abundance of channel separation to note, there aren't any problems here - the movie sounds pretty good and the score in particular is at times quite sweeping.

    Animeigo's extras are, as usual, heavy on the written word. Included in the supplemental section are some interesting program notes that put the whole story into cultural and pop cultural context and which provide some welcome background information on the principal players involved and where they were at professionally and personally during the time this movie was made. Biographies for the central cast members and for Hideo Gosha are also provided.

    Aside from that, look is a trailer for the feature as well as a trailer for Hideo Gosha's The Geisha, a still gallery, an interactive map, animated menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    A fascinating, if slow burning, look at the politics of criminality, The Wolves stands as a high point in the careers of both its star and its director. Animeigo's DVD might be a bit light on extras but it looks and sounds quite good and as such is completely worth owning.

    Want more? Hit the Animeigo website by clicking here!
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