DVD Title
The Lower Depths
International Title
DVD Length
Original Length
89/125 Minutes
89/125 Minutes
Company
Year of Manufacture
Criterion
2004
Language
Subtitles
French/Japanese
English
Region
Number of Discs
1
2
Aspect Ratio
Sound
1.33:1
2.0 Mono
Extras
.
Menus (English) 
.
Chapters (20/22)
.
Renoir Introduction (5 minutes)
.
Audio Commentary by Donald Richie (for Kurosawa's The Lower Depths)
.
Documentary on The Lower Depths, from Toho's Masterworks, with interviews from the staff (32 minutes, 5 chapter stops)
.
Character Biographies (English, 11 in total)
.
Five pages of background information on Renoir's film by Alexander Sesonske, found in the booklet
.
Eight pages of background information on Kurosawa's film by Keiko McDonald and Thomas Rimer, found in the booklet
Captures
Review
Criterion's, heavily delayed, release of Akira Kurosawa's The Lower Depths (1957) is a change of pace from the company's usual releases. Kurosawa's movie is packaged here with Jean Renoir's film of the same name, both of which are based on Maxim Gorky's play. Despite the similar subject matter, the cross-cultural billing might feel a little odd for Kurosawa, or Toho, buffs; however, the disc retails for the same price as other other Criterion releases, so one can hardly complain regarding the added content. In general, this set is an incredible bargain, as between the two titles there are plenty of extras, although the video and audio quality, while decent on Kurosawa's film, tends to suffer quite a bit on the older Renoir film.

 Video:
Star Rating

One has to admire the amount of work that Criterion has poured into restoring Renoir's mid 1930 masterpiece here; however, the video presentation still suffers greatly due to the age of the film. The most noticeable blemish being the jittery-ness of the presentation, as the image appears to shake up and down at certain points in the film. This doesn't occur through out the entire movie; however, it does get bad enough at points where it's almost painful to watch because of it. Scratches do appear on the print as well, such as a very noticeable line across the film around the 16 minute mark, but overall Criterion has done a good job at making these less apparent on the DVD. The contrast and brightness have both been set at appropriate levels on this disc, as the black levels look excellent in Renoir's film. In terms of digital inconsistencies, like shimmering or artifacting, these are nearly unnoticeable on the DVD, although there is a lot of grain present.

The video presentation for Kurosawa's film is noticeably superior when compared with Renior's, but then one would expect this given the 21 year age gap. Despite this, the second disc in the set still presents its fair share of problems in regards to the video quality. Overall, the film is fairly devoid of scratches, although the amount of grain on the print is quite noticeable. Unfortunately, like Criterion's Stray Dog release, light shimmering, a unnatural fading from light to dark often appearing on the edge of films, is a serious problem on this release, and gets rather distracting during some parts of the film. The contrast and brightness is a little off as well, most noticeable on the title screen as the letters appear washed out, but for most of the film it suffices. Digital inconsistencies appear on this disc as well; while artifacting is handled well here, shimmering (a rainbow strand of colors which appear on fine details present in the film) does appear on occasion, which is particularly distracting given that the film is in black and white.


 Audio:

The audio presentation on Renoir's work here is a mixed bag. The movie is presented here with the film's original mono track, and while the general presentation is good, the 1936 film does show its age at points. The best example of this being the closure of the film, as the audio track sounds very scratchy and harsh. There are pops in the audio track on occasion, but for the most part Criterion has done a superb job in restoring the almost 70 year old film. The audio for the movie, which is the film's original French audio track, is complimented with, removable, English subtitles.

The audio presentation for Kurosawa's film is pretty solid here, given the limitations set forth by the original audio track. Overall, it sounds rather flat, but then that is to be expected given that the original mono track is used here. Hisses and pops on this release are all but unnoticeable, as even the louder songs sound crystal clear on this disc. The audio presentation, which is the original Japanese audio track, is complimented with, removable, English subtitles that were freshly commissioned just for this release.


 Extras:

Extras for the Renoir film are pretty light, as all that is included is a five minute clip which features the film's director as he recollects on showing the screenplay to Gorky to gauge his response. Extras for Kurosawa's film, on the other hand, are more abundant. Like their Ikiru release, this DVD contains an episode of Toho's Masterworks, which focuses on the film and the time period in which it was made. The Masterworks' episode is easily the best feature of this release, as it divulges into various side aspects that went on during the making of the film and contains more recent interviews from a number of the film's actors. There is also a audio commentary, which goes with Kurosawa's movie, that is performed by Donald Richie, author of the book A Hundred Years of Japanese Film. The commentary is pretty informative, and the depth at which he dissects the film is intriguing; unfortunately, his voice is a little monotone, which makes the commentary sound a little dry. The last extra on the disc are 11 character biographies. This might seem like a trivial extra, but Criterion has really done their homework here and each is very informative as to the actor's background and their mannerisms in The Lower Depths.

Like other Criterion releases, the booklet here is packed with information regarding the two films as well. For Renoir's film, there is a five page essay by Alexander Sesonske about the movie, who covers the impact of Hitler's rise to power at the time on the production of the film. For Kurosawa's The Lower Depths, there is a eight page essay by Keiko McDonald and Thomas Rimer, which covers the influence of theater on Kurosawa's work and his appreciation of it.


 Overview:
Bottom line, this set is a excellent value, and the pairing of the films does provide a nice view of two very different interpretations of the same story. One extra that would have been nice though, but is missing from this set, is something that directly contrasts the differences, and perhaps why these deviations were made, in adapting Gorky's work. Overall though, if someone has a interest in either of these films, or enjoys Kurosawa movies in general, they shouldn't hesitate to pick up this set.
-Anthony Romeros