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  • Writer's pictureTyler Foster

Elegant Beast (Limited Edition) Blu-ray Review

Radiance Films

Blu-ray Release: December 19, 2023

Video: 2.35:1/1080p/Color

Audio: Japanese LPCM 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 95:40

Director: Yûzô Kawashima

Adapted by Kaneto Shindo from his own stage play, Elegant Beast looks in on the Maeda Family, whose small apartment becomes a hotspot for visitors who have taken part in or been victimized by one of the family's various money-making schemes. In particular, the family has directly or indirectly siphoned close to $2 million from Highlight Productions, the talent agency run by Ichiro Katori (Hideo Takamatsu), where Minoru Maeda (Manamitsu Kawabata) works, and from Shuntaro Yoshizawa (Kyû Sazanka), an author of cheap erotica that Tomoko Maeda (Yûko Hamada) is sleeping with. Meanwhile, Minoru and Tomoko's parents, Tokizo (Yûnosuke Itô) and Yoshino (Hisano Yamaoka) while their days away in a small but nicely-furnished apartment that Yoshizawa intended for Tomoko. Finally, there's Minoru's girlfriend Yukie Mitani (Ayako Wakao), an accountant for Highlight who has her own scheme up her sleeve.

Comparison is cheap, but it's hard to imagine contemporary audiences not thinking of Bong Joon Ho's 2019 Oscar winner Parasite as Elegant Beast (also known as The Graceful Brute) begins. Both films present the viewer with a family of con artists, who casually and cheerfully support each other in their various schemes and deceptions. The film opens with Tokizo and Yoshino figuring out how to best make their apartment look poor, knowing that Katori is on his way, with Yukie in tow, hoping to guilt the couple into trying to help him recover the $1.7 million that Minoru has grifted from Highlight Productions. They hide the television set, shove a Renoir in the closet, pull the cheap ashtray from the bathroom, and replace the fabric tablecloth with a plastic one, all with an ease and skill that suggests this isn't the first time. The similarities get even more pointed a little later, when Tokizo recalls once being "so poor, the stench clings to us."

Yet, the similarities end there -- this is a different Beast than that film, with the Maedas being more ruthless and oblivious to their own destruction than the deceptive family in that film. Minoru, in particular, seethes with greed and selfishness, trying to blackmail Yoshizawa over the thinly-veiled caricatures of the Maedas in one of his recent novels, suggesting that his writing sexually exploits his sister (while exploiting her himself to try and squeeze more cash out of the writer's grasp). When Yukie shows up a second time, without Katori, to tell Minoru that she's ending their relationship and resigning from Highlight to run a hotel of her own with her own share of both Highlight and Yoshizawa's money, he's less heartbroken than he is incensed that this woman not only refuses to continue sleeping with him, but also that her scheme is better thought out than his. When he devises a way to throw a wrench into her escape route, he does so with a reckless destructiveness that is more about hurting her than gaining anything for himself or his family.

Elegant Beast is adapted from a stage play, and the film has a certain stage-bound quality to it in terms of it being a performance piece, driven by lengthy dialogue scenes. However, director Yûzô Kawashima has an incredible eye, and almost every scene is staged from an unexpected angle that reinforces the minimal amount of square footage in the apartment, as well as the various ways in which the characters remain caged or trapped within their environment. Bars cover most of the windows, and the doorways and hatches throughout the apartment box the characters in even when the bars aren't visible. Kawashima constantly finds new ways to get all of the characters or several characters crammed into the same frame, using the foreground and deep background to not only capture another character but also find more frames and boxes for his motif. There are also some interesting, beautiful tricks with lighting, such as a purple sunset, and a scene where the apartment appears to be highlighted with a spotlight.

As the fallout from Minoru's revenge on Yukie starts to pile up around the Maedas, the family's behavior never wavers, even as characters we've already seen become either more desperate or less friendly toward them. If the film has a minor flaw, it's that the Maedas are so static that the film arguably starts to feel a little repetitive near the end, as the characters argue about the same parts of their various crimes over and over again. At the same time, it's that same monotony, that unwavering commitment to their own ruthlessness, that gives the end of the movie its power. Earlier in the movie, Tokizo and Yoshino talk about how wealthy Americans dine by candlelight, and joke that civilized people must become afraid of the light. The Maedas are civilized -- and the darkness they unwittingly or callously create has consequences.


For this new Blu-ray of Elegant Beast, Radiance Films performed some additional color correction to a 4K master produced by the Kadokawa Corporation. This is a very beautiful new presentation that boasts pleasing clarity, nicely-saturated colors, and a beautiful, naturalistic layer of film grain. The film is not exactly crisp, especially since so much of the movie is medium and wide shots, but that is in keeping with the intended look of the film and not an issue with the Blu-ray or the transfer. The movie's blocking and cinematography is one of its most interesting and compelling aspects, and all of it is wonderful to look at on this disc.


Sound is a Japanese LPCM 2.0 Mono track, and while there is much less to say about it than the image quality, it is perfectly fine. Elegant Beast may shed the hallmarks of a stage play adaptation with its visual design, but there's no escaping that aside from some weather or ambient environmental sounds and the movie's score, 99% of the movie is simply dialogue, delivered cleanly and clearly. English subtitles are provided, which are solid, although I did find it slightly irritating that they repeatedly use the word "storey" and "storeys" instead of "story" and "stories" to talk about the number of floors in the apartment complex.


  • Interview with film critic Toshiaki Sato (16:34) - Sato -- who I must say, is quite stylishly dressed -- discusses director Yûzô Kawashima's history and style both from a general standpoint, as well as delving into how his trademarks fed into Elegant Beast in particular. Specific topics include timing and how that corresponds to dialogue and editing, his interest in motherhood as a thematic concern, how his ALS (which he kept secret) affected his directing, recurring actors in his films (namely Elegant Beast's Ayako Wakao), the setting of the film, and more.

  • Appreciation by filmmaker Toshiaki Toyoda (14:21) - Toyoda discusses his personal film education and discovery of Kawashima's work, and his thoughts on Elegant Beast in particular, which he rewatched in his twenties at the behest of a mentor and discovered his understanding and admiration of it was much deeper than when he first saw it. He also discusses working with one of the sound designers of Kawashima's movies, appreciating the redheaded stepchildren in a filmmaker's catalogue, his memories of post-war Japan and what his family members told him about those years, families in films, and touches on how Kawashima's work influenced his own movies. The discussion is a little rambling, drifting from subject to subject, but in some ways, that stream-of-consciousness quality adds to the authenticity of the piece.

  • "The Age of the Danchi: Post-War Housing in Japanese Cinema" Visual Essay by film critic Tom Mes (11:38) - As one can tell by the title, Mes explores the set design of the movie and how it related to and/or reflected post-war Japanese culture. As much a history lesson as a visual essay on the movie, this is a very informative piece for those looking to know more about the context that went into the film.

  • Theatrical Trailer - The Japanese trailer for Elegant Beast is included.

There is also a booklet in the case with an essay by actor and writer Midori Suiren, and a 1989 piece by Yasunari Takahashi from a magazine called Yuriika, both translated by Tom Mes. The Scanavo case also features reversible artwork, with a new design by Filippo Di Battista on one side and the original theatrical poster art on the other side (I admit, I wish both sides featured the box copy, instead of relegating it to the obi strip for the new design).


Elegant Beast is a fascinating portrait of a family consisting of ruthless swindlers, and the economic and social destruction they leave in their wake. Director Yûzô Kawashima does a fantastic job of taking a stage play and breathing real cinematic life into it, with dynamic camera angles and shot design that constantly reinforce the ways in which the Maeda family is boxed into their own tapestry of lies and deceit. Radiance Films' Blu-ray offers a gorgeous new 4K transfer and some nice new supplements. A fascinating film ripe for rediscovery.

The images on this page are taken from the Blu-ray and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images.



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