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Japanese filmmaker’s fascinating 1967 semi-documentary ‘A Man Vanishes’ comes to DVD

Published: Thursday, Dec. 27 2012 7:21 p.m. MST

Fans of Japanese cinema will revel in a 1967 film by Shohei Imamura that makes its U.S. DVD debut this week, along with a few other titles.

“A Man Vanishes” (Icarus, 1967, b/w and color, four discs, $44.98, in Japanese with English subtitles, also five TV documentary films from 1971-75; 12-page booklet). In truth, the late Imamura was as much an anthropologist as a filmmaker in his approach to documentaries, delving into gritty and controversial subjects in his native Japan that others would never dream of analyzing.

The title feature was his first venture into the form, but it’s really only sort of a documentary. Imamura begins by searching for a salesman who, like many other Japanese men in the 1960s, has simply disappeared. But he eventually wanders into exploring the nature of truth and the meaning of cinema. Imamura also links up with the missing man’s fiancée and there develops a relationship between them, but in the end the filmmaker is as bedeviled by the search as he was when he began.

All of this makes for engrossing cinema and helps set the stage for Imamura’s shorter documentaries, several of which are provided here as equally entrancing bonus features, five made-for-TV films about such divergent topics as a 74-year-old woman who tells her story of being forced into sexual servitude for the Japanese military serving in Southeast Asia during World War II, pirate factions raiding impoverished islands in the Philippines, “Unreturned Soldiers” in Malaysia and Thailand who refused to return to Japan after the war, and another about the eventual decision by one of those “Unreturned” soldiers to go back after all, with curious results.

“The Trouble With Bliss” (Anchor Bay, 2012, PG-13, $14.98, deleted scenes, featurette, trailer). Michael C. Hall, better known as a serial killer of serial killers on his Showtime series “Dexter,” here plays yet another of those movie-centric mid-30s slackers living with his parents (in this case, widowed dad Peter Fonda), whose life is stuck in neutral while he encounters quirky characters. But the film is unfocused and unfunny.

“Cosmopolis” (eOne/Blu-ray, 2012; R for sex, nudity, violence, language; $29.98, audio commentary, featurettes). Robert Pattinson plays a young wizard of Wall Street spending a day in his limo, which doubles for his office. He is driven through Manhattan in the midst of heavy traffic, venomous protesters, and interruptions from his cold-fish wife and other, warmer female companions, until violence and rage bubbling beneath the surface eventually explode. A very strange film, even for writer-director David Cronenberg, who seems to be commenting with dark satire on the hermetically sealed-off lives of the 1 percent, though that’s very much open to interpretation. (Also on DVD, $24.98.)

“Once Upon a Time in the West: Cinderella” (Anchor Bay, 2012, PG, $19.98). Flashy animated Western from France retells the “Cinderella” story with anthropomorphic animals, wild-west antics, pirates and anything else the filmmakers could come up with that might attract children of all stripes. Visually interesting enough to keep kids happy for 81 minutes. (Available exclusively at Walmart.)

E-MAIL: hicks@deseretnews.com

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