Imprint Asia Spotlights Asian Cinema With Its Inaugural Blu-ray Releases

Lost in the Stars, The Sea Is Watching, and The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi kick off a new line from Imprint Films.

By Rob Hunter · Published on May 1st, 2024

Australia’s Imprint Films (a division of ViaVision) has been releasing a steady stream of films to Blu-ray since 2020 — older and newer, across all genres and international origins. Their releases don’t see the label performing new restorations, but everything else about their presentation typically shines starting with slick slipcovers, alternate art, and extras. This also includes a deference towards films that often have yet to get a Blu-ray release elsewhere.

2024 saw Imprint branch off with a new sub-label called Imprint Asia, and as suggested by the name, the focus here is on films from China, Japan, and (presumably) other Asian countries. The first three titles dropped last month (with the next three due in June), and they run the gamut from a blockbuster mystery to a romance written by Akira Kurosawa to an action reboot headlined by the equally legendary Takeshi Kitano. Now keep reading for our reviews of the first three releases from Imprint Asia, in order of their spine numbers.

Lost In The StarsLost in the Stars (2023)

He Fei (Yilong Zhu) is at his wit’s end as he rushes into a police station trying once again to report his wife as missing. They don’t seem to care, and things only worsen when he wakes the next morning to find a woman (Janice Man) claiming to be his wife beside him. She has the right documents, photos of the couple together, and knows intimate details, but he knows she’s not his wife. Or is she? And if not, just who is she… and what does she want?

Rui Cui & Xiang Liu’s new film is probably an unknown to most Americans, but it might surprise you to learn that the film earned the equivalent of nearly half a billion dollars during its theatrical run in China last year. There are no superheroes in sight and minimal CG, but there is a compelling mystery with a protagonist clearly well over his head in trouble. The film is a loose remake of the 1990 Russian movie, A Trap for a Lonely Man, but it quickly becomes its own beast of a tale unfolding with minor action beats, dramatic flashbacks of the love that led up to the disappearance, and more turns than a family game of Monopoly.

Those story turns keep the momentum going and peel back layers of truth, and while most are less about surprising viewers than ratcheting up the dramatic tension, there are a few in the third act that go for broke with twisty revelations. It makes for a fun time trying to stay a step ahead of the film itself, and that only grows as things get vaguely ridiculous leading up until the end — the story feels wrapped up with half an hour left, but there’s more to come, baby! It’s silly at times, melodramatic at others, and the film takes itself very seriously when it comes to the drama of it all, but the damn thing works all the same.

Lost in the Stars may be far from the expected when it comes to blockbusters, but it looks good and maintains its sense of mystery and suffering all the way through. Fans of movies for adults — serious tales uninterested in flash and short attention spans — should give it a spin.

The Sea Is WatchingThe Sea Is Watching (2002)

O-Shin (Nagiko Tōno) is a geisha working alongside other women at a small town inn. Life is what it is, a series of in and outs with men destined to forget these ladies as soon as they walk out the door, but the monotony shifts when a young samurai arrives on the run from authorities. O-Shin helps hide him, and she almost immediately falls in love with him. The feelings are almost mutual, too.

The big calling card here is that the film is based on Akira Kurosawa’s last screenplay, but it’s probably best if you forget that detail going in as The Sea Is Watching isn’t quite the Kurosawa you know and love. The legendary filmmaker made action films, dramas, and more, but this tale feels somewhat removed from his usual observations on people and their behaviors. That’s not strictly a negative as there’s plenty here to satisfy, but it’s a story and execution that never reach the highs of Kurosawa’s own best.

It’s also arguably not the romance that’s advertised either, as it instead feels like a character piece exploring a subset of society usually relegated to the side of the frame. We spend time with the women, we see their friendships and the humdrum nature of their illicit occupations, and we realize that they’re not always the victims that the world and pop culture work to suggest. Still, it’s a hard life, and a lonely one too, and we quickly come to see that they share that in common with the samurai. The latter is never the focus here, but the side by side comparison is an interesting one.

The Sea Is Watching is a fine film, engaging in its characters and relationships, but it feels in need of something more. The second act in particular, feels slightly unmoored before things come together more towards the end. As it stands, though, there’s a compelling enough look at people and a place, both of which we’ll never experience for ourselves.

The Blind Swordsman ZatoichiThe Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)

A blind masseur named Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano) wanders through the countryside looking for anything but trouble. Trouble, though, often finds him. When he arrives in a small village and befriends two adult sisters, he hears a tale of woe shared by their neighbors as well. It seems the Ginzo gang has been harassing the villagers through violence and intimidation, shaking them down for money, and worse. Zatoichi takes it all in and seems nonplussed at first, but things change when the gang sets their sights on him.

The Zatoichi character has been a mainstay in Japanese pop culture since the late 40s including a run of twenty-six films released from 1962 to 1989. (He’s also the inspiration behind 1989’s action/comedy, Blind Fury, starring Rutger Hauer in the role.) Kitano resurrects the character for this feature, but he puts his own particular spin on things meaning the end result is a film far removed from the action/adventure you might be primed to expect. It’s the skeleton of a revenge action/drama done up in its own unique way.

Action beats are extremely brief — an admitted hallmark of Kitano’s films anyway as he’s a filmmaker more interested in what comes before and after the violence as opposed to the violence itself — and they’re never memorable in the way the best film fights typically are. Forget impressive choreography or execution, and you’ll just have to accept the CG blood that Kitano uses for visual flourish rather than realistic spray. Instead, it’s the tone, personality, and sense of open wonder that makes the film stand apart from both its predecessors and the genre in general.

Zatoichi is ultimately a playful but sincere character piece, one exploring ideas of kindness, acceptance, and justice through the people that surround our swordsman. He’s the title character, but he might not have the most screen time. It’s a tale of swordplay and revenge, but music becomes a recurring addition to atmosphere as score and onscreen motions/sounds work hand in hand. It’s an action film, but it’s one more interested in people, experience, and a sense of near-whimsy. It’s a classic character adaptation, but it’s also every bit a Takeshi Kitano film.

  • *New* Commentary by film historian and author Sean Redmond
  • The Making of The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi [39:57]
  • Crew interviews [38:41]

Buy these Imprint Asia titles and more from Imprint Films.

Related Topics: Home Video

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he’s so damn young. He’s our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists ‘Broadcast News’ as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.

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