Release Date(s)2019 (July 20, 2021)
Studio(s)Hydra Production Committee/Polyphonic Film (Well Go USA Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D-
Hydra is a 2019 Japanese martial arts film which bears a few elements in common with John Wick, while still forging its own particular path. Most of the similarities are superficial: a detailed criminal underworld, stylized cinematography, and an emphasis on practical stunts instead of visual effects. Like John Wick, it was also directed by a former stunt person—in this case, Kensuke Sonomura. The script by Jiro Kaneko takes place in a small Tokyo bar run by Miu (Rina Kishida) who finds herself in the middle of a conflict between corrupt policemen and an underground organization. But her laconic cook Takeshi (Masanori Mimoto) has secrets of his own, as well as hidden skills which may be the only thing that can protect her. So far, so John Wick. But the name Takeshi should be a clue that Hydra has other things on its mind; it's more of a leisurely meditation on the effects of a life filled with violence, just like in the films of the legendary actor/director Takeshi Kitano (Violent Cop, Sonatine).
Hydra certainly pulls no punches in the go-for-broke nature of its opening scene: a professional killing set in a public restroom which isn't shy about the messy details that most action films avoid. But after that, it pulls everything back to take its time to develop the relationships between the characters, and to carefully mete out explanations regarding what is happening in the background. For a martial arts film directed by a former stuntperson, Hydra is surprisingly sparing with its action scenes. When they do arrive, they're well-staged, though the first major fight relies a bit too much on quick cutting. The rest are better, however, and the story culminates with a suitably prolonged mano e mano which resolves the majority of the plot threads that have been set up throughout the rest of the film.
Hydra is drenched in style thanks to the cinematography of Yasuyuki Suzuki, who channels the look of Michael Mann’s digitally photographed films more than that of the John Wick series. The acting is serviceable; this is one of those films in which looking cool is more important than emoting. In that regard, Mimoto is perfect for the role of Takeshi, with his stony face acting as a mask to hide the secrets that he has been keeping. He does have expressive eyes, though, and does a fine job of showing his internal conflict through them. Most importantly, he delivers the goods once the fight scenes arrive. While there aren’t many of them, Hydra never wears out its welcome with its lean and mean 77-minute running time. That fact alone is noteworthy—most action films these days have forgotten the lost art of efficiency, and they run out of steam before they’re over. That isn’t a problem here.
Hydra was shot digitally by Suzuki and framed at 2.39:1 for its theatrical release. No other information is available regarding the film formats, the transfer, or the elements used for it. The arresting cinematography of Hydra has strongly saturated colors for the present-day scenes, and desaturated colors for all of the flashbacks. The contrast is sharp with very deep black levels—deep enough that there’s missing detail in the darkest parts of the image, but that’s not by accident. The vibrantly colored, high contrast look of Hydra gives it an appropriately heightened sense of reality. There are a few minor defects such as an occasional bit of noise, as well as flicker during the closing credits, but this a generally solid transfer that does a nice job of supporting the intended look for the film.
Audio is offered in Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital, with removable English subtitles. The 5.1 track is fine, though it has limited directionality—dialogue and sound effects tend to be anchored to the center channel, with the music providing most of the spread across the front. The surrounds are primarily used for general ambience, though there are occasional specific effects as well. The music also provides most of the bass response, some of it quite deep. While it’s not the most immersive mix, it’s still satisfying for this particular film.
Extras are limited to four trailers, all in HD:
- Hydra (1:52)
- Undercover Punch and Gun (1:33)
- Deliver Us from Evil (1:23)
- First Love (1:52)
Hydra may be a bit too languidly paced for many action fans, but it’s still an interesting mood piece that should be rewarding for patient viewers. Well Go USA’s Blu-ray offers a fine transfer of Suzuki’s striking cinematography, but a few more extras would have been welcome.
- Stephen Bjork
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