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Seijun Suzuki
Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki, Yusuke Ashida, Toru Abe, Hideaki Nitani
Writing Credits:
Seijun Suzuki

The moment he's released from prison, the honorable gangster Miyamoto recovers the stolen diamonds he had stashed before getting pinched. When he returns to his old haunt to make good by a friend who took a bullet for him, he is diverted by the greedy Boss Dyane and his insatiable taste for Miyamoto's precious stones. Replete with film noir style, Underworld Beauty is one of Suzuki's best nods to the American gangster genre.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Japanese Monaural
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 87 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 1/20/2004

• Suzuki Filmography
• Booklet

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Underworld Beauty (1958)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 9, 2004)

Since I receive many more DVDs than I could ever actually watch, I need to find some way to sift through the various titles. This means that a cover can help a disc stand out from the crowd. When I received Underworld Beauty, I knew nothing of it, but with a cover photo that depicted a babe with a machine gun, I thought this just might merit a look!

1958’s Beauty follows a recently released criminal named Miyamoto. We see him enter a sewer to retrieve a small pouch of diamonds and then meet with crime boss Oyane. Oyane clearly wants the gems, but Miyamoto plans to give them to Mihara, a former partner who lost a leg in the caper that sent Miyamoto to jail. We also meet an artist named Arita, who creates mannequins and uses Mihara’s wild younger sister Akiko as his nude model. Arita works as Oyane’s subordinate and gets put on Miyamoto as part of a deal to sell the diamonds to an American.

When this rooftop meeting starts to go awry, Mihara takes matters into his own hands – and stomach. He swallows the diamonds to keep them from Oyane’s men and then jumps from the roof. He survives this fall, but just barely, and soon expires. The gangsters plot to get the gems out of his innards, while Miyamoto works against them. Eventually Oyane’s men do retrieve the stones, but they quickly change hands, and this leads to an ongoing battle between Miyamoto and Oyane’s side. In addition, he tries to look after wild child Akiko.

Based on that synopsis, Underworld Beauty sounds like a pretty intriguing and exciting little flick. Unfortunately, the reality proves much less interesting. It contains all the right elements to become a lively potboiler, but it treats them in such a somnambulant manner that it goes nowhere.

The flat performance as Miyamoto provides a key reason for this blandness. The character possesses some inherently cool elements, and he really should come across as a true badass. Unfortunately, he comes to life in such a low-key and bland manner that we never see him in this light. The film fails to explore the character’s mythic potential and leaves him as a fairly forgettable element.

The movie also suffers just because there doesn’t seem to be much to it. It feels padded, as it presents about 20 minutes of actual plot spread out to more than four times that length. If it generated greater depth for its characters, this wouldn’t become a problem. Unfortunately, all the participants remain one-dimensional. Akiko never comes across as much more than an irresponsible wild child; even when the plot thickens toward the end, she still seems like a nuisance more than a personality to interest us.

It doesn’t help that so many of the individual elements remain bland. Some potential for intrigue exists but the film fails to exploit those possibilities. It’s mildly interesting to follow the path of the diamonds and see where they’ll go next, but that’s still not enough to sustain our attention for nearly an hour and a half.

Occasional moments of excitement appear, and the flick climaxes with a pretty decent gun battle. Unfortunately, by that point it’s too little, too late, and the action can’t spark Underworld Beauty to any higher level. From its slow pacing to dull characters, the film lacks much to involve the viewers.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio D+/ Bonus D-

Underworld Beauty appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie presented a fairly average picture for a film of its vintage.

Sharpness mostly seemed adequate. Occasional softness interfered with wide shots, but those instances remained fairly rare. In general, the movie displayed reasonably good definition and delineation. No issues with jaggies occurred, but some light shimmering popped up, and I also noticed a bit of edge enhancement.

Black levels varied. Sometimes they looked nicely deep and rich, but on other occasions, they came across as somewhat flat and inky. They generally left a good impression, however. Low-light shots appeared moderately tough to discern, while contrast favored the light elements too much; many shots looked too bright. Print flaws caused a number of distractions. Examples of grit and specks were reasonably infrequent. I noticed more prominent concerns due to streaks and spots, though, and occasional instances of thin lines also appeared. Ultimately, this transfer mixed the good with the bad and merited a “C”.

The monaural soundtrack of Underworld Beauty definitely showed its age. Speech demonstrated some of the weakest elements. The lines consistently sounded harsh and reedy, and they displayed quite a lot of edginess. Music was somewhat rough but featured moderately decent range and power; the score remained rough at times but still seemed acceptable overall. Effects suffered from some of the same distortion and shrillness that affected the rest of the track. A little light background rumble accompanied much of the mix. In the end, the audio seemed pretty weak.

Only a couple of minor supplements show up on the Underworld Beauty DVD. On the disc itself, we get a perfunctory filmography that lists the work of director Seijun Suzuki. In addition, the DVD’s booklet presents an essay from Tatsu Aoki that briefly discusses the history of the yakuza action film at Nikkatsu Studios.

Somewhere buried beneath the blandness, Underworld Beauty enjoys a decent enough little story of robbery, greed and revenge. Unfortunately, the movie depicts all these elements in such a flat and dull manner that they never manage to prosper. Instead, the film just meanders and fails to involve the viewer. The DVD presents average picture with fairly weak audio and almost no supplements. I can’t recommend this slow-paced and boring action flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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