Local artist helps Criterion preserve great works of film (excerpt)

Company has set the standard making DVDs of the classics from the likes of Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Bergman

Published On Sat Jan 20 2007 by Judy Stoffman (Toronto Star)

In just 10 years the DVD has profoundly altered the movie-viewing experience for millions of people, shifted the economics of the film business, and facilitated the preservation of our cinematic heritage.

The last of these has been the particular mission of the New York-based Criterion Collection.

Staff may spend up to nine months restoring a film and the film's sound, adding trailers, stills, documentary footage about the production and creating original supplementary materials such as scene-by-scene commentaries and interviews with directors, cinematographers and actors. Criterion pioneered the use of these bonus materials, now widely copied. Its recent re-release of Kurosawa's iconic film The Seven Samurai – a three-disc set for $55 – takes some 13 hours to view in its entirety.

A Toronto art teacher and filmmaker is an unheralded contributor to Criterion's achievements. Marty Gross, who runs children's art classes in his studio on Davenport Rd., also distributes Canadian films to Japan and brings Japanese films to Canada. He is Criterion's point man in Japan, negotiating rights and creating bonus materials for the classic films of Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, Masaki Kobayashi and Kon Ichikawa. (Ted Goosen, professor of Japanese at York University, is another Torontonian involved; he has translated Japanese materials used on the discs.)

"I co-ordinate the extra production in Japan," says Gross, who speaks passable Japanese. "I hire a crew and produce interviews with directors, actors, cinematographers. I call from Toronto to explain what I want. Generally, people love to talk about their career. I can find a way to get to almost anybody."

Only one person has turned him down – the enigmatic Hideko Takamine, now 82, who starred in many of the films of Naruse in the 1950s. These include When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, which was screened last year at Cinematheque Ontario and will soon be available on DVD. "She doesn't go out now," Gross explains.

Discovering who owns the rights to the cutaway footage he needs can be a headache: "I did some basic research on the estate of Hiroshi Teshigahara who made Woman of the Dunes. He left his estate to a flower arranging school."

Finding the relevant interview subjects is another challenge. "Kurosawa died 10 years ago," Gross says. "There are still people around who knew him but in the case of Ozu and Naruse who were older, very few people are left who had direct contact with them."

Gross has worked as a consultant on a dozen Japanese films released (or soon to be) by Criterion since Donald Richie, general consultant to Criterion, first recommended him to Criterion. Richie, an American-born writer, is the leading expert on the Japanese cinema, having followed its development since he first went to Japan with the post-war U.S. occupation forces.

Gross grew up in Toronto and went to Japan in 1970 to study pottery after dropping out of York University. He went again in 1975. "On the second sojourn, I was already thinking about a film on traditional Japanese potters. I returned to Japan in 1976 to film Potters at Work, my first film there."

His next film, The Lovers' Exile, was about Bunraku, the Japanese puppet theatre. He says he learned the language while editing it in Toronto.

"Potters at Work, in particular, attracted some attention in Japan and allowed me to meet many artists, film directors and writers, thus enlarging my range of contacts," he says.

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