Monday, April 22

Interesting Stuff about Japanese VHS #1: Catalog Numbers Matter Again

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Even if you've been a semi-regular visitor to the BoGD for awhile, you've probably noticed my increasing focus away from stateside VHS. I do love tapes of all stripes, but I feel like I've been destined to gravitate toward tapes from Japan. That's not to say I don't fondly remember looking over the rows-and-rows of my local video store's horror section.

The thing is I was just a kid at the time and my parents forbade most of my suggestions from those particular shelves. I got into horror later on and have great memories of watching bootlegs sourced from Japanese tapes before DVD exploded (importing originals was cost prohibitive). They were one of the best sources for many uncut versions we take for granted today. So I wanted to start a series of articles covering some of the more curious things I've learned since beginning to seriously collect them.

With the boom of the modern Internet coinciding with the DVD format, the importance of those little sets of numbers mixed with letters known as catalog numbers have taken a backseat. You're a mere click away from all the information you'll need to see if a movie has been released on disc and it's just as easy to buy a copy. All that's usually required is throwing the movie's title into Google. There's no need to slog through paper catalogs to compile handwritten lists of wanted releases with their catalog numbers being a vital aspect in your search. Nowadays, they're most useful to the most anally retentive among us to keep their collection in order-of-release on their shelves.

So it's definitely a futile pursuit inputting most any catalog number from a U.S. VHS into a search engine and expecting desired results. Bookkeeping in Japan must be meticulous because there's a curious carryover that still exists on the Internet. Japanese VHS catalog numbers have proven a means of determining both the title, especially useful for those who don't know the language, and exact date of release (stretching back into the '80s). However; it's not always quick, requires a bit of online sleuthing, and sometimes you'll find zilch. Google's Advanced Search option is indeed your friend in this process. Inputting catalog numbers into Google's standard search tends to yield nothing, but choosing to search only Japanese pages delivers the goods.

Japanese VHS are usually good at having an English title somewhere on the cover. Although sometimes either there isn't one, the material never had one, or it's hard to see from a bad/small scan yet you have or can still make out a catalog number. An example of this is this VHS with zero indication of an English title. I originally bought it listed as Horrible High Heels (1996). Already knowing that movie and having doubts, I dug around to see what it actually was.

I already knew it was indeed a Hong Kong roughie like Heels and looked in the same vein as The Untold Story (1993). Searching its catalog number (SS-0519, bottom spine above prices) found this listing at AllCinema.net. The 99 minute runtime matches and I now have a 1993 release year. Using Google Translate, the first actor's name is "Wai Tinchi" and popping that into Google points to this actor listing at the Hong Kong Movie Database. But wait, this VHS also has a Japan Article Number (4988105009691, left bottom corner), similar to a UPC barcode. Searching that number lands me at this Rakuten listing with a picture so now I'm sure I'm in the right ballpark.

Getting back to the HKMDB, searching each 1993 title in that actor's filmography ends up at this review of The Unpublicizable File. So finally, after some virtual gymnastics, this Japanese tape is Ma Siu-Wai's The Unpublicizable File (1993). Maybe I should just learn Japanese after all that, but this is just a case of how to find a title without the aid of any English. Two more tips, when searching the cat. number or JAN, it's helpful to affix "vhs" to it (i.e. - "SS-0519" vhs). Also feeling around for the film's title on Japanese pages and then googling it can gain even more results to sift through (like these).

Who really knows what compelled Japanese online retailers and movie databases to preserve this information. Consumer adoption to DVD away from analog media occurred much more quickly in Japan than North America, so it's strange anyone cared to log detailed information about these old tapes. Hopefully in this age of dying physical media this resource will remain available to collectors. It's truly invaluable.
by the way, I fucking love the name of this video series!

1 comment:

Hellbilly Hollywood said...

I remember these days so fondly now. Whenever I would go to Cons the bootleg booths were some of the first I ran to. I remember my mad scramble to get TCM 4. Of course pre-internet really and I didnt know what a dud it was. Still, finding it there, bootlegged I think from a Japanese source. It was exciting!

Sorry, got to thinking back and didnt really comment on your topic! Either way, great post. Cant wait to see more.

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