Blu-ray Review: A Fugitive From The Past

Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews, Top Story

During the glory days of VHS, international cinema wasn’t a big section at the average video store. They’d stock a few of the titles that were also taught in film appreciation classes and maybe a few of the naughtier films that focused on decadence. When it came to the Japanese shelf it was normally a dozen titles by Akira Kurosawa and a copy of Tokyo Decadence. Unless you had a membership to a video store that specialized in Asian films such as Dave’s Videodrome in Carrboro, you merely read about titles in various magazines and cinema books or John Zorn interviews. There were plenty of films from Japan that didn’t find themselves legally distributed here. This explains how a movie as critically acclaimed as A Fugitive From The Past has finally arrived in America nearly 60 years after its release in Tokyo. Director Tomu Uchida’s three-hour detective film was voted the third greatest Japanese film by Kinema Jumpo, the oldest cinema magazine in the country.

When a typhoon is about to hit a seaside town, two criminals go on a bit of a crime spree before splitting town on the train with their new buddy Takichi (Sailor Suit and Machine Gun‘s Rentaro Mikuni). He has no idea what’s going on, but wants to beat the storm with them. They trip swipe boat and something happens at sea that has the two criminals wash up dead on the beach. They’re not alone as far as corpses go since during the storm, a boat capsizes and kills hundreds. The town is also flattened by the typhoon. Detective Yumisaka (Dodes’ka-den‘s Junzaburō Ban) can’t match the bodies to the ship’s passenger list. He eventually deduces their true identities and ties them into the crime that took place before the typhoon struck. He also uncovers the existence of a third man that was with the criminals around this time. Takichi hides out with Yae (Mishma: A Life in Four Chapters‘ Sachiko Hidari) and gives her a gift that changes her life for the better. She no longer has to be a prostitute in the rural community. When the detective on Takichi’s trail discovers Yae, she refuses to cooperate. The case goes cold. The detective gets in trouble from being obsessed by the case. Years go by and then Yae turns up dead. A new detective hunts down Yumisaka to help finally bring Takichi to justice.

A simple piece of advice: watch A Fugitive From The Past on the largest TV set in your house. This is a black and white epic that requires your face filled with the images. Tomu Uchida lets scene build up and crush. The interrogation scene towards the end doesn’t cut corners and take the easy road to a confession. The detectives and the suspect engage in an unrelenting marathon battle. To say more is to ruin the dramatic impact. This movie is properly ranked among the greats. Junzaburō Ban is perfect as the detective who can’t give up on the case. Rentaro Mikuni is equally brilliant as the suspect who swears he’s a different man. A Fugitive From The Past is three hours long and worth every minute. Only wish I could have rented the VHS tape from Dave’s Videodrome.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The black and white transfer brings out the disaster zone at the beginning of the film. The audio is DTS-MA HD mono in Japanese. The levels are fine for storm noises and interrogation room dramatics. The movie is subtitled in English.

Introduction by writer and curator Jasper Sharp (26:52) has him point out how the film is considered the third greatest film in Japan’s cinematic history. He points out how the other Top five film are from Japan’s classical cinema period. He goes into why A Fugitive From The Past has never been released in the USA and UK outside of a few festival screenings. A big help in establishing Tomu Uchida’s legacy was a recent retrospective that was brought to other cinemas.

Scene-specific commentaries from leading Japanese film scholars Aaron Gerow, Irene González-López, Erik Homenick, Earl Jackson, Daisuke Miyao and Alexander Zahlten. They have clips that the various academics delve into various subjects involving the film. There is even an explanation of the Toei W 106 System.

Original theatrical trailer (3:56) pushes how many awards the film won and that this is the three-hour uncut version of the film playing.

Image gallery includes 58 images of press photos and posters
Tomu Uchida filmography covers his work from the 1920s to 1970s as a director and actor. He did plenty of silent films.

Arrow Video presents A Fugitive From The Past. Directed by Tomu Uchida. Screenplay by Naoyuki Suzuki. Starring Rentarô Mikuni, Sachiko Hidari, Kôji Mitsui, Yoshi Katô, Sadako Sawamura, Susumu Fujita & Akiko Kazami. Running Time: 182 minutes. Rating: Unrated. Release Date: September 27, 2022.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.