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Empires - Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire

SBS/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 165 mins . E . PAL


Back in high school, for those who can remember back that far, numerous great empires were studied as part of the history curriculum, and that usually meant Egypt, Rome and Greece. Now these were great empires (each afforded its own Empires DVD release, already reviewed on this site) but some great empires such as that of the Japanese are largely overlooked as not being as ancient, or as flamboyant and glamorous. The other reason that empires such as this are often ignored is that, until recently, around 1865 to be precise, little was known about the Japanese Empire due to its closed-door foreign policies.

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3 Brm, 2 Bath. Double garage. First to see will buy.

Japan was once as feudal and warlike as most other societies, but it was also a country of tradition and formality. The ruling class were the Samurai, led by their warlords, the Daimyos, who were ultimately answerable to the Shogun. Of course, even this system was borne of violence and a long history of civil war and unrest. With the establishment of this feudal order in the 16th century, Japan settled down, relatively, and civil wars and fighting were largely a thing of the past.

This series of three 55-minute episodes, Japan – Memoirs of a Secret Empire, looks at the rise of the Tokugawan Shoguns, the relative demise of the Samurai class, the infrequent and minimal infusion of traders from the west in the three centuries before 1865, and the arrival of a small US fleet led by Matthew C. Perry and friends (Friends? Get it?!) threatening Japan with trade or war – Japan’s choice. They wisely chose trade.

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Everyone pitched in to help find Yukio's contact lens

The episodes are narrated by Richard Chamberlain, and are a combination of re-enactment, murals, landscape sweeps and interviews with prominent American and Japanese historians. It looks at the social, political, militarial and peasant classes that made up Japanese society. It investigates the slow intrusion from the west by the Dutch, and to a lesser extent the Portuguese, and the arrival of the ultimate barbarians, the Americans, with their steamships and superior cannonry.


Being recently made for television, the image looks very clear and sharp. The ratio of 1.78:1 is not 16:9 enhanced however, but in general terms is very good. Colours are delightfully clear and clean. Noise is absent, and black levels are excellent. Shadow detail is also very good, and there are no instances of marks, dirt, or specks and flecks.

Aliasing and shimmer is all but absent, and only the layer change, placed in the middle of Episode Two, mars what is essentially a solid and fine looking transfer.


Like the other releases in the Empires series, there is but one option, a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track that is warm, solid and more than adequate. Low level sounds are restricted to the opening menus and some of the louder accompanying music. All narration is loud and clear, as are the numerous interviews. There are no problems wit synchronisation or glitches, dropouts and the like. Volume levels are good and consistent


Aside from a half a dozen trailers for other releases in The Empires Series which would appear to be available on all the DVDs in this series, there are no extra features included.


Couch potato historians should get a buzz from the entire Empire series now mostly available on DVD. Like this one, they are well put together, well researched, and well presented collections that shed light on some of the more interesting periods of man’s long and diverse history.

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      And I quote...
    "A look at one of the last, great, feudal empires…"
    - Terry Kemp
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