Imprint Asia: The Sea is Watching (2002) – review

Akira Kurosawa is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and four years after his passing in 1998 his final original screenplay, The Sea is Watching, made it to the big screen – and just recently made its worldwide Blu-ray debut under the new dedicated sub-label “Imprint Asia.”  

I’ve come to watch and enjoy several Japanese movies on this continuing journey of physical media coverage. While The Sea is Watching is a more traditional story than most, it nonetheless offers a different look at an often-maligned profession. The romantic drama transports viewers back to the 19th century, where a beautiful young woman, O-shin, allows a samurai to seek refuge from his pursuers in the brothel where she works. Despite being cautioned by those around her, the two fall in love. 

Visually, The Sea is Watching is a very gorgeous film thanks to its rural setting and the colorful, traditional outfits worn by our protagonists. The warm atmosphere helps humanize our lead characters and their profession, presently an image in far contrast to that presented in Western movies. O-shin and her fellow workers carry themselves with grace and dignity, all the while supporting each other in their establishment steeped in tradition, a prominent theme throughout the film. Both the lower-class prostitutes and samurai are bound by their respective codes, and while they share a professional relationship of intimate sexual exchange, that barrier between worlds is always maintained.   

The romances that develop between our female leads and the men they service are often born from desperation. With O-shin’s first relationship, her young warrior is at odds with his chosen path, while she seeks more from life. Despite the upheaval that our protagonist’s love life often causes, a subtle notion at divine providence hinted at by an elder character and the film’s title elevates this story to a tranquil level while encompassing a significant part of Japanese culture and spirituality. 


  • Behind The Scenes Featurette 
  • Theatrical Trailer 

Obviously, there’s very little in the way of extras, but the Behind-the-Scenes featurette gives an informative, brief insight into how Kurosawa’s screenplay was brought to the screen. What’s a little odd is the lack of alternate artwork, which has been consistent across Imprint’s range of limited-edition titles. However, it did take a while for me to notice, but nevertheless, it’s a lovely cover that perfectly reflects the sentiments of the film.  


I suspect this 1080p presentation has been around for some time, likely used for digital streams, but it’s more than adequate for the film’s debut on Blu-ray, despite the 1.85:1 image looking a little soft at times. There’s a wonderful array of colours on display from the traditional kimonos worn by the female characters which frequently stand out. Optional audio tracks in HD DST 5.1 Surround and LPCM 2.0 Stereo are both very crisp. However, the 5.1 is not as immersive as I had hoped, so I recommend the latter for greater volume overall. Japanese language and English subtitles are included. 

The Sea is Watching features sincere performances from our leads, that are often at their strongest during moments of silence and personal reflection. Imprint Films have chosen wisely with this title, and I think it will serve well as a relatively gentle introduction for those keen to start exploring Japanese cinema.    

(2002, director: Kei Kumai) 



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direct blu-ray screen captures



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