Ghostroads: A Japanese Rock N Roll Ghost Story [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Japan - King Records
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (24th June 2018).
The Film

"Ghostroads: A Japanese Rock N Roll Ghost Story" 「ゴーストロード」 (2017)

Throwback rock band The Screamin' Telstars (played by the four members of The Neatbeats) are in the studio rehearsing, but their lead guitarist Tony (played by Mr. Pan destroys him amp with some uninspired loud solos throwing off the rest of the group. Tony goes to a music store to buy an new amp and falls for a inconspicuous small amplifier kept in the back of the store. The Shaolin priest looking shop owner Mr. Chang (played by The Privates), in what he sees as his rival band. The lead singer Shinzo (played by Tatsuji Nobuhara has the fame, the fortune, and also the heart of Shinobu (played by Tomomi Hiraiwa, Tony's former love.

But the amp he bought is not just any old amp. It summons the ghost of blues musician Peanut Butter (played by Darrell Harris who gives him an opportunity to shine even brighter. With the apparition of Peanut Butter's help, Tony's guitar playing improves greatly unlike ever before which guarantees unforeseen success - enough to possibly become the next Beatles or Stones, or even something greater. But all for what cost...?

The legend of Faust, in which a man is given incredible knowledge and ability through a deal with the devil has been made into countless adaptations in various forms over the years, especially in film and music. F.W. Murnau's "Faust" from 1926 is the most well known of the direct adaptations. "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" was a take with a writer trying to make it in Hollywood. "Bedazzled" took things to swinging London (in the original 1967 version). A famous legend in music, blues guitarist Robert Johnson who died in 1938 at the age of 27 supposedly met the devil as a crossroad where he sold his soul in exchange to become the greatest blues guitarist. In "Ghostroads", the legend of Faust meets the legend of Robert Johnson, in Japan in the twenty first century.

Written by Japan based TV and radio producer Mike Rogers along with co-writer James Honeycutt, the film is a rock film at heart with electrifying performances from The Neatbeats and The Privates, plus incidental music by Ken Nishikawa and more, the film is also an homage to science fiction and horror films of the 1950s and 1960s though not quite being part of either of those categories. Music is the main force and the powerful soundtrack is the main draw, taking inspiration from titles such as "American Graffiti" or even "Back to the Future" with the 50s and 60s inspired music being center stage. The story itself is not the most original but the flow and the execution is what sets it apart, flowing like a lengthy music video with a storyline. Would you sell your soul for greater fame and fortune? Would you be willing to push others aside to make it to the top? These are age old questions and the consequences are always intriguing in "what if?" scenarios.

The musicians in the film are actual musicians. The Privates have been around since the late 1980s playing to the crowds for decades and having the fair success in the 1990s with major television appearances, though they have been more in tune with the indie crowds rather than the majors with 19 studio albums in their discography. The Neatbeats were formed in 1996, heavily inspired by 50s and 60s rock music in both musical style and fashion. With eleven studio albums over the course of twenty years, the band has been a darling group in the indie rock scene but not one for the majors. The garage rock band The 50 Kaitenz is the youngest band of all forming in 2004, and they have had some fair commercial success with a few of their albums and singles hitting the charts over the years. Even though the three bands formed a decade apart from each, they all have a throwback sound to them and fit with the tone of the film which although takes place in modern time, the film could be set in any generation as well. There is no showcase of modern technology, no references to a specific time, though there are more references to the past. There are film posters in Tony's apartment that are from the 1930s. The fashion choices of the Screamin' Telstars are mod influenced with neat suits and ties. The instruments could also be from any time in the past. So is this really the twenty first century? Does it really matter in the end?

"Ghostroads" can sometimes suffer though, from amateurish acting in some scenes (though they can mostly be played for camp comical effect), and one point for a music film - could have used a few more music scenes where the bands would play full songs rather than snippets. For fans of the horror genre looking for something different, even with a tagline stating American 50s style horror featuring Japan's hotttest rock n roll bands, there are really only one or two moments of stylized violence and they are fairly comical and tame rather than bloody or horrifying. Shot over a period of two years in a crowdfunded project with many first-timers involved in the filmmaking, "Ghostroads" has a unique charm that will give rock music fans something to cheer about.

The film first played at the Raindance Film Festival in the UK on September 25th 2017 and the Japanese premiere was a few days later on September 30th.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

King Records presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p, in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. Shot in HD, the visual style is a very colorful one, with brightly colored outer locations and recording studios, to darker indoor locations such as the clubs and backstage areas. There are also some black and white scenes as well as hallucination scenes having the contrast blown out intentionally. The transfer is very good overall, with most scenes having a clear image with vivid color reproduction. Though there are some issues with certain colors on flat surfaces such as walls and curtains sometimes having artifacts, and there are a few shots where ghosting (unintentional) and blurring occur with movement, but these are in very few moments throughout. Visually the scenes can change drastically with different kinds of lenses used from scene to scene, depth of field changes, static shots in one scene and handheld in others, different color palates, all in a similar sense to a music video production, so visually speaking it is always vibrant and eye catching. Overall a very good transfer for the film.

The film's runtime on the Blu-ray is 78:19

Note the screenshots were taken from the standard definition DVD of the film



















Audio

Japanese/English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
The original stereo track is presented in lossless audio. For the music portions, the audio sounds great, whether in studio, on stage, or just with the background music coming alive fully. As for the dialogue, it is mostly fine but there are portions in which the voices can sound a little muffled in certain scenes. Dialogue is usually centered, but in some scenes the left and right channels will represent the characters on the sides of the screen or off screen. The mix is quite loud so be prepared to have your volume controls handy.

There are burned in English subtitles (for Japanese portions) + Japanese subtitles (for English portions) for the main feature. Whenever there is Japanese dialogue, the English subtitles appear and when English is spoken the Japanese subtitles appear, as they were presented theatrically. The subtitles are ingrained and cannot be removed as it is not an electronic subtitle track. The subtitles are well timed and easy to read, with no issues of spelling or grammar mistakes. Strange that they did not make the subtitles optional for one language or the other, or to have the subtitle track be optional altogether.

Extras

Audio commentary with Mr. Pan of The Neatbeats, Tatsuji Nobuhara of The Privates, Danny of The 50 Kaitenz, and director Mike Rogers
In this commentary featuring three of the musicians/actors and the writer/producer/director, the chatty affair is a mix of reminiscing about the shoot as well as stories related to and also completely unrelated to the film. They discuss the very cold weather in some scenes, the cheap lunches for the production, the casting of the characters, the reason to make it a dual language production, and a lot more.
in Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with no subtitles

Bloopers (8:38)
Flubs, missed lines, and utter confusion at times, these bloopers are made even funnier as on screen captions fill in some additional info. Some fake laughter is also added for effect.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese/English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with no subtitles

"Comments from the Cast" featurette (3:09)
Featuring the same four members of the audio commentary, the four discuss in short about the two year process making the film, and how music lovers will have a lot to enjoy about the production.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with no subtitles

Background Music (audio only) (25:25)
1. "Peanut Butter #1"
2. "Mr. Tarot #1"
3. "Shadow of Shinzo"
4. "Tarot & Chess"
5. "Peanut Butter#2"
6. "Tony's Psychedelic Dream"
7. "Tokio Grind"
8. "Tony's Regrets"
9. "Peanut Butter Deal"
10. "The Murder"
11. "Mr. Tarot #2"
12. "The Boy's Gone Mad"
Twelve tracks of background music used in the film are presented in this audio-only feature. The still image of the theatrical poster is always present on screen and like a jukebox the tracks can be scrolled via on-screen menu. The fast-forward, rewind, and chapter functions are deactivated for this feature.
in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

"Opening Day Stage Greeting" featurette (20:31)
Neatbeats on stage. Echoey sound. Share stories of the production. Thank the crowdfunders. Some favorite movies with great soundtracks.
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with no subtitles

Opening Day Stills (10 stills)
10 stills from the opening day screening are presented.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Trailer (2:16)
The original trailer is presented.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese/English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with burned-in Japanese and English subtitles

Overall

"Ghostroads: A Japanese Rock N Roll Ghost Story" is a fun take on the Faust legend with excellent Japanese rock music, bizarre humor, and heavily stylized visuals. The King Records Blu-ray features good video and audio with a good amount of extras, though note most of the extras are not English friendly. The main feature does have English subtitles for non-Japanese speakers, so English speaking audiences that are interested should very well pick up the Blu-ray or the simultaneously released DVD edition. Very recommended.

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B Overall: B

 


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