Deathquake AKA Jishin retto (1980)
R2 - Japan - Toho
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (29th August 2005).
The Film

Japanese “Toho studios” are best known for their Godzilla (“Gojira”) -films, of which they´ve produced almost 30 now between 1954-2004. This is not the studios whole story, since they´ve produced hundreds of movies from the 1930s and also plenty of other movies outside the Big Monsters/Sci-fi –genre (e.g. several movies by director Akira Kurosawa). The years between 1950s-1970s were very productive for Toho, but from the late 1970s and during the 1980s things started to slow down. They still made films like “Kagemusha AKA Shadow Warrior (1980)” and Godzilla´s big comeback movie “Gojira AKA Godzilla:1985 (1984)”, but the “golden days of Toho” were pretty much over.

“Deathquake AKA Jishin retto”, made in 1980, is a disaster movie that is not a new area for Toho. Films like “Nippon chinbotsu AKA Submersion of Japan (1973)” were very successful in Japan, among the few other films. In “Deathquake”, the story itself is quite simple. Seismologist Yoichi Kawazu (Hiroshi Katsuno) finds out that an enormous earthquake will hit Tokyo, Japan. This information will have a strong affect on him, and his relationship with his wife and son is hurting. His superiors and other important people don´t take him that seriously, so he´s looking for comfort with a young woman. In the meantime, the earthquake is coming nearer and nearer.

“Deathquake” isn´t that ordinary a disaster-film after all, at least if you compare that to the similar films from the US. It´s more like a human drama, where characters start to re-evaluate their lives when they find out that soon their lives will truly change (or even end), due to the strong forces of nature. There are no real heroes in the film, and no big scenes with military or scientists coming for help. The tone of the film is very melancholic, even sad, and locations such as isolated rooms, dark streets of Tokyo, and quiet corner tables from the restaurants will bring the viewer down to the characters' level. During the first half of the film, these few characters talk and try to find some comfort for each other. You´ll get this “big city”-feeling, where even among the millions of people, one or two persons can feel isolated. A few scenes with the main character Yoichi and his son are very real, and affective.

After this quite a stand-still period of the film, the earthquake strikes, and it´s portrayed very destructive and very grim. When you´ve already been drawn to the world of these characters, you suddenly see that they´re fighting just to save their lives, and pretty much that´s all they can do. Is there any hope left?

Toho has a long history of great craftsmanship, especially when it comes to miniature effects and building sets. This has been a driving force of many Godzilla-films; a big part of their charm. This time the special effects work is a bit of a mixed pack. The film's director of special effects Teruyoshi Nakano followed the great Eiji Tsuburaya as a head of Toho´s special effects department. Nakano retired in 1987 from the movie industry, so the 1980s was his last era in films.

Some effects-scenes are very affective, considering that there were no CGI-effects (all were made via miniatures and sets, with a few photographic-effects here-and-there). Then again some scenes don´t work that well, and a few shots are stock footage from the notorious Toho disaster-movie “Prophecies of Nostradamus AKA Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen (1974)”, just recycled here. You´ll get the feeling how disastrous the earthquake is, but something is missing, a few additional scenes maybe to make more variations to the effects.

In the end you could say that “Deathquake” lacks that certain spirit Toho-films have always carried, but director Kenjiro Omori (his only film which he directed btw) obviously wanted to make a more serious film with human characters (with some references to atomic bombing to Japan), than a full-on disaster film. I assume that people who´ll wait for the big disaster-film all the way through can be disappointed, because of the quiet “first part” of the film.

Video

Presentation is Anamorphic 1.85:1 and it´s quite clean all the way through, so the source material has been in good condition. There is quite clear low level noise in the transfer though, so digital transfer hasn´t been perfect (this is a dual layer disc btw). General look of the transfer is more on the darker side, with a bit brownish and greyish colors. If you look at the yellow car which one of the character drives in the film, you can see that it´s not exactly crystal clear yellow, and in some scenes, the skin tones look too brownish. I could also assume that since we are in Tokyo, we've got neon lights with different colors etc, but even in the night scenes the neon lights don´t look very “bright”.

I´m sure that the filmmakers intentionally wanted a certain “darker” look to the film, but I still have a feeling that this could´ve been a bit of a better transfer. Still, there are no film artifacts nor print damage. One downside is that disc only includes optional Japanese HoH subtitles, but you can get the overall view of the film even without the English subtitles. Film runs 126:14 min (NTSC), and it has 28 chapters.

Audio

The film has one audio track: Japanese Dolby Digital 4.0. This means that there are 3 discrete audio signals (left/center/right), with a mono audio signal for the rear speakers. With my receiver, the 5.0-lights were lit, so I assume that the “mono”-signal for the rear is duplicated to both rear speakers (similar to 2.0 mono). Anyway, based on the IMDB the original audio is Mono, so original-track is not included on the disc.

Audio works fine for the film. Although this is a disaster-movie, the track is not a big surround-experience, and since the first part of the film is very much dialogue anyway, there is not that much use of the surround soundfield. It also sounded that the audio was focused on the front speakers (L/C/R), with some rear surround action in selected scenes.

Extras

First we have an audio commentary by lead actor Hiroshi Katsuno, moderated by Takeshi Kotoda. Unfortunately my lack of Japanese forced me to skip it, but it´s presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. Then there´s a 42 second Japanese teaser of the film, which is very basic but actually quite interesting. Then we have 2 Japanese trailers, running back-to-back (3:07 min). Trailers include at least one alternate shot on one of the effects-scenes. The final extra on the disc is an interview-featurette with the director of special effects Teruyoshi Nakano (29:39 min). The interviewer and Nakano are sitting behind the table, talking and browsing photos. Featurette has some interesting “behind the scenes” photos from the sets, so it works as a small “photo gallery” also.

Overall

“Deathquake” is an interesting mix of human relationships and disaster, where the characterization is not buried under the huge effect-scenes. The disc itself is a good presentation of the film but nothing more than that. It also lacks English subtitles, but that isn´t the style of Toho´s DVD-releases.

This DVD is available at CDJapan.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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