The Mad Fox
In stark contrast to the monochrome naturalism of his earlier masterwork Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji, visionary master director Tomu Uchida took inspiration from Bunraku and kabuki theater for arguably his strangest and most lavishly cinematic film, The Mad Fox.
Amidst a mythically-depicted medieval Japan, a court astrologer foretells a great disturbance that threatens to split the realm in two. His bitter and treacherous wife conspires to have the astrologer killed, as well as their adopted daughter, Sakaki. The astrologer’s master apprentice, Yasuna, who was in love with Sakaki, is driven mad with grief and escapes to the countryside. There, he encounters Sakaki’s long-lost twin, Kuzunoha, and the pair meet a pack of ancient fox spirits in the woods, whose presence may be the key to restoring Yasuna’s sanity, and in turn bringing peace to the fracturing nation.
Finally available outside Japan for the first time, Uchida’s stunning, wildly stylised widescreen tableaux – using expressionist sets and colour schemes – are highlighted in a world premiere Blu-ray™ release.
Tomu Uchida’s The Mad Fox makes its home video debut in North America through Arrow Academy’s new Blu-ray edition. The film is presented on this dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. Arrow’s notes on the restoration only state that they were supplied with the high-def master by Toei.
While mostly pleasing the image can look a bit off, but it’s hard to discern if it has to do with the film’s heavily stylized look, how it was filmed, or if it has anything to do with the digital restoration. The image is rarely all that sharp, looking a bit fuzzy round the edges and weakening the finer details, while there is also some distortion on the edges of the frame. Grain can also have a more muddled look, almost like it has been filtered ever so slightly. Yet, based on comments from Jasper Sharp on the included commentary, the issues could be byproducts of the anamorphic lenses used and the film stock used, along with the fact that it doesn’t look like the original negative is the source of the scan.
The film stock sounds to have, at least, played into the colours, which have a warmer look, but considering the film’s colour scheme (which has a brief mid-scene completely bathed in yellow/orange) there is a good chance this aspect is intentional. Past that, the colours do look decent enough, and there are some very bold looking oranges and reds, particularly during the opening sequence that sets off the whole film, where entire scenes are bathed in red, and it is cleanly rendered without any noise. Black levels are strong themselves, looking fairly inky without crushing out shadow detail.
Outside of a handful of minor marks the image is pretty much free of damage. Digitally, the image is also quite clean, but I did notice a shimmering effect in the mesh head pieces worn by some characters that appear in the film.
In all I think the image is still rather pleasing, there are just a handful of aspects that look off, and it’s hard to say whether it’s the restoration or just things that are inherent to the source materials and the stylized nature of the film. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt that it’s the latter.
The film comes with a Japanese PCM 1.0 monaural. The track is, overall, weak, and distortion can creep in there when music appears. Outside of that, though, the audio is clean with no obvious damage.
Outside of a trailer and small image gallery delivering production photos and marketing material (including a VHS cover), the disc only presents an audio commentary by Jasper Sharp. I found the film fairly entertaining when taken at face value, but there’s a lot to unpack in here, at least in relation to Kabuki theater and Japanese folklore, and Sharp does guide the listener through all of this while also providing some historical context of the time period it takes place in. He also talks about the cast and crew (saving the film’s star, Hashizo Okawa, for last), and covers Uchida’s other works, bringing up Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji, along with other films of the period. When bringing up certain films, Sharp also does Arrow a favour by plugging their Blu-ray editions in the track for these films, if one exists. It’s a good track, covering various aspects of the production, while also working to clarify certain elements that may go over the heads of most Western audiences.
First pressings also include a booklet featuring an essay on the film by Hayley Scanlon, followed by another interesting one about the puppet play on which the film is based (brought up by Sharp in his track), making comparisons to the film adaptation. The booklet is only 26-pages long, but it might be worth picking this title up early to get a hold of it.
Very little to be found here ultimately, but the commentary does, at the very least, do a very good job itself unwrapping the film.
I’m admittedly thrown on the presentation (any issues more than likely source related) but it still looks rather nice in the end thanks to the clean-up and presentation of the warmer colours. Features leave a lot to be desired, but Sharp’s commentary does a decent enough job filling in gaps. It’s an interesting title and one worth picking up, but maybe during a good sale.