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Swallowtail Butterfly (DVD) (English subtitled) (Japan Version) DVD Region 2

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Swallowtail Butterfly (DVD) (English subtitled) (Japan Version)
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All Editions Rating: Customer Review Rated Bad 7 - 7.8 out of 10 (5)

YesAsia Editorial Description

Director Iwai Shunji's unofficial masterpiece, Swallowtail Butterfly is an original and stunningly made film encompassing more emotions than any film should be allowed to. Set in a dirty Japanese slum known as a "Yentown", the film tells the tale of a colorful collection of characters, immigrants from all over Asia. Kicked to the curb by society, these immigrants struggle to make their own way, with predictably poor results. That is, until a surprising and almost miraculous event occurs that grants them the ability to literally make their own money! With the Yen suddenly within reach, the inhabitants of Yentown break out of their squalor to find their individual hearts' desires. But is money really what they seek?

A complex and startling commentary on the world in which we live, Swallowtail Butterfly is a movie of many identities. Mixing various cultures, languages, and genres, Iwai Shunji's creation stands out as a unique and utterly transfixing Japanese film that takes all expectations and throws them out of the window. Full of theatrical touches, greedy gangsters, lost orphans, terrorist schemes, family connections, and a bracingly heartrending version of Frank Sinatra's My Way sung by Japanese songstress Chara, Swallowtail Butterfly is a gorgeous and amazing pinata of a movie that defies whatever its audience expects. Full of cinematic energy and undeniable originality, Shunji Iwai has created a film that delights, mystifies, and simply begs for multiple viewings!

© 2003-2021 Ltd. All rights reserved. This original content has been created by or licensed to, and cannot be copied or republished in any medium without the express written permission of

Technical Information

Product Title: Swallowtail Butterfly (DVD) (English subtitled) (Japan Version) 燕尾蝶 (DVD) (英文字幕) (日本版) 燕尾蝶 (DVD) (英文字幕) (日本版) スワロウテイル Swallowtail Butterfly (DVD) (English subtitled) (Japan Version)
Artist Name(s): Eguchi Yosuke | Mikami Hiroshi | Ito Ayumi | Yamaguchi Tomoko | Chara 江口洋介 | 三上博史 | 伊藤步 | 山口智子 | Chara 江口洋介 | Mikami Hiroshi | 伊藤步 | 山口智子 | Chara 江口洋介 | 三上博史 | 伊藤歩 | 山口智子 | Chara Eguchi Yosuke | Mikami Hiroshi | Ito Ayumi | Yamaguchi Tomoko | Chara
Director: Iwai Shunji 岩井俊二 岩井俊二 岩井俊二 이와이 슌지
Release Date: 2003-11-19
Publisher Product Code: PCBG-50467
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English, Japanese
Place of Origin: Japan
Picture Format: NTSC What is it?
Disc Format(s): DVD
Region Code: 2 - Japan, Europe, South Africa, Greenland and the Middle East (including Egypt) What is it?
Publisher: Pony Canyon
Other Information: DVD
Shipment Unit: 1 What is it?
YesAsia Catalog No.: 1002895908

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This film has won 2 award(s) and received 7 award nomination(s).
  • Japan Academy Prize 1997
    • Picture of the Year Nomination
    • Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role Nomination
    • Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role Nomination, Ito Ayumi
    • Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography Nomination
    • Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction Nomination
    • Outstanding Achievement in Sound Recording Nomination
    • Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Direction Nomination
    • Popularity Award Winner
    • Rookie of Year Winner, Ito Ayumi
All Award-Winning Asian Films

YumCha! Asian Entertainment Reviews and Features

Professional Review of "Swallowtail Butterfly (DVD) (English subtitled) (Japan Version)"

August 29, 2006

This professional review refers to Swallowtail Butterfly (DVD) (Hong Kong Version)
Shunji Iwai's Swallowtail Butterfly opens with a "once upon a time" narration that seems to have come straight out of a fairy tale. The narrator explains that the yen has become the most powerful currency in the world (not a very far-fetched scenario). So powerful, in fact, that people from all over the world have gone to Japan to work for the yen, hoping to earn a fortune and return home rich. The influx of immigrants was so large that Japan came to be called "Yentown." However, the Japanese hated that title so much that the foreigners who fill up "Yentown" were named "Yentown" as well. This introduction thus sets up a grand futuristic "Yentown" epic by Shunji Iwai, whose only previous feature film at the time was the equally magical Love Letter. Taking a considerably different approach, Swallowtail is a dark, gritty, violent fantasy that is nothing short of amazing filmmaking.

The film opens with the discovery of a dead Chinese prostitute, and we soon realize that the narrator is the prostitute's nameless daughter. With all her mother's money stolen by her Chinese colleagues, the girl is passed off from one caretaker to another within the Yentown ghetto until she encounters Glico (played by pop star Chara, also the wife of Tadanobu Asano), another Chinese prostitute with a heart of gold and a hell of a singing voice. Too nice to sell the girl off to her type of life, Glico not only gives her a name (Ageha), she also sends her to work at a second-hand shop, run by Fei Hung (Hiroshi Mikami) and a merry band of fellow Yentowns.

Ageha soon begins to learn the reality of being a Yentown with Fei Hung by spending their days digging through junkyards and popping the tires of passing cars. However, everything changes when Glico encounters a particularly rough client, and a fellow Yentown named Arrow accidentally punches him out the window, followed by a fairly unpleasant crush by a passing truck. Upon burying the dead client, Fei Hung's crew finds a cassette tape containing Frank Sinatra's My Way inside his stomach. Little did they know, not only would the tape become their key out of Yentown, it would also put them directly in the path of a deadly confrontation with Yentown's deadliest gangster, Rio Ranki (Yosuke Eguchi).

Swallowtail's brilliance lies in the fact that it defies description; it is a coming-of-age story for Ageha, a rise-and-fall musical epic for Glico and Fei Hung, a gangster thriller for Rio Ranki, a social realist film on the consumerist culture of Japan, and a futuristic fantasy all rolled into one. Even the languages of the film are blurred, with no less than three languages (Japanese, English, and Mandarin Chinese) being used at the same time. While this may disorient some in the beginning (just as Iwai intended to do), it never becomes grating or simply a gimmick. The confusion of languages is necessary in order to portray the type of melting pot Yentown is. From Caucasian characters that speak no English ("Thanks to the Japanese education system, I cannot speak a word of English!" he says in fluent Japanese) to characters that speak three languages in one sentence, Iwai not only aims to satirize contemporary Japanese culture's disdain of foreigners (although not necessarily foreign culture), but also present a reality of the oft-ignored ethnic minorities. It's an ambitious motif, but in the multi-layered world of Swallowtail, it's only one small detail.

Iwai films tend to focus on characters, and despite its dense plot, Swallowtail is no exception. Adapting his own novel, Iwai has concocted a colorful cast of characters, supported by brilliant performances all around, even when they spend most of the film speaking their non-native languages. Chara is magical as she transforms from a kind-hearted prostitute who just likes to sing into a pop diva with a hidden past; Hiroshi Mikami is incredible as the bumbling opportunist Fei Hung who remains defiant through his tragic end; and Ayumi Ito as Ageha is the soul of the film, as her growth process from a confused orphan to a powerful boss of the Yentown juvenile delinquents proves to be the best arc of Swallowtail. Even supporting characters get their moments in the spotlights. Sheik Mahmud-Bey has a memorable scene as Arrow the ex-boxer/protector, veteran actor Mickey Curtis steals the spotlight in an extended sequence as a doctor/tattoo artist, and Hong Kong pop star Andy Hui gets to show off his wild side as triad "cold-face killer" Mao Foo. It's rare that such as wide ensemble of actors can manage to all give great performances, and Swallowtail happens to be that instance.

Despite its fantasy plotting, Iwai, with his usual collaborator cinematographer Noboru Shinoda, shoots the film in cinema verite style, often using multiple handheld cameras for one scene. This creates a down-to-earth futuristic world where it's not changes in technology, but societal changes that are emphasized. However, Shinoda also sticks to the plot's fable roots by importing Iwai's signature look, using soft lighting as a contrast to Yentown's rough surroundings. The result is a beautifully rendered piece of visual filmmaking that makes every frame of Swallowtail stunning to look at.

If there is any weakness in Swallowtail, it would be Iwai's penchant for details. At 148 minutes, Swallowtail goes through a rough start, and the film does drag slightly as it approaches the climax (an extended tour through the drug-filled slums comes to mind). But for most scenes, Iwai, as his own editor, injects each scene with just enough of everything that it finds its pacing early on and sticks to it until the very end. Injecting a heavy dose of the usual Iwai quirky humor, including a healthy serving of dark humor during the climax in the form of several violent shootouts, Iwai still manage to comfortably juggle multiple subplots and even ties them all back together in the end. If you're looking for a definition for "brilliant filmmaking," this is it.

After my first viewing of Swallowtail on an old Hong Kong VCD, I sat in silence through the end credits, stunned by what I had seen. There are very few films where one viewing would be enough to become one of my favorites. In the case of Swallowtail, it only took 148 minutes for me to become a full-fledged Iwai fan. If a lesser director had directed Swallowtail, it would've been an intriguing mess, but luckily Shunji Iwai not only manages to devise a wild ride through the gritty wasteland that is Yentown, but he also constructs an emotionally affecting and visually astonishing piece of cinema that elevates his status to the legendary filmmaker of his generation. Even though Swallowtail was met with critical and commercial success at the time of its release in 1996 and has since become a required viewing for film classes in Asia, it's baffling that it hasn't gotten much of a reputation in the West. Its multi-ethnic settings can easily translate into a Hollywood film. Then again, even if Swallowtail is remade in Hollywood, we know that it just won't be as good.

by Kevin Ma

This original content has been created by or licensed to, and cannot be copied or republished in any medium without the express written permission of

Customer Review of "Swallowtail Butterfly (DVD) (English subtitled) (Japan Version)"

Average Customer Rating for All Editions of this Product: Customer Review Rated Bad 7 - 7.8 out of 10 (5)

See all my reviews

November 13, 2010

This customer review refers to Swallowtail Butterfly (DVD) (Hong Kong Version)
2 people found this review helpful

Good movie, okay release Customer Review Rated Bad 8 - 8 out of 10
I think this movie deserves a re-release.

It is aptly transferred with decent video and audio, and it's priced according to what it doesn't have. Any extras. Considering the Japanese, and more expensive, version of the film doesn't seem to have any major extra material... I think this fares pretty well.
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Kevin Kennedy
See all my reviews

August 20, 2007

This customer review refers to Swallowtail Butterfly (DVD) (Hong Kong Version)
1 people found this review helpful

Stay with Imai's other films Customer Review Rated Bad 4 - 4 out of 10
"Swallowtail Butterfly" is a mess. Overlong, with story elements which Director Imai neglects to tie into the plot and events which come out of the blue with no rhyme or reason to them. For example, why in the world does Ageha shoot up something she believes to be heroin? Nothing in the film would lead you to believe that she would do anything like that. And why have a movie which seeks to be a thriller detour into a 20-minute segment which really is nothing more than a Chara music video?

I have to assume that either the filmmakers never really figured out what they wanted their movie to be about or they made a hash out of it in editing. This director is capable of making truly memorable movies; check out "Love Letter", "April Story", and "Hana & Alice", all exceptionally good films. Unfortunately, "Swallowtail Butterfly" is confused and tedious, little more than a bad Takashi Miike imitation.
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See all my reviews

November 9, 2003

This customer review refers to Swallowtail Butterfly (Limited Edition) (Japan Version - English Subtitles)
2 people found this review helpful

"i did it my way" Customer Review Rated Bad 10 - 10 out of 10
Jeez this was a great film to watch. I would recommend this to most anybody. It's a story about yentowns in yentown (you'll get it later). In the story, a nameless girl is taken under the wing of Glico, a hooker from Shanghai played by CHARA. You see how Glico and her posse live their lives as hated immigrants in Japan, who will do anything to make a buck, I mean yen. In fact, much of it is quite hilarious. Like a Japanese mafia guy gets punched out of a window, and when they call an ambulance a garbage truck slowly runs over him, totally killing him. It sounds awful now, but when you watch it, it's just really funny. Later when they go to dispose of the body, they discover an audio tape with Frank Sinatra's "My Way" on it. The story is very long, but I never lost my interest. The characters are very real, but also pretty amusing. In other parts it makes you shudder, like the Opium Street scene, where you witness a small community of homeless, starving drug addicts of all sizes and ages, shivering in an alley. Some parts will make you cry, but I won't tell you which ones. Through and through it is very entertaining, it has everything to offer. One warning however, this film is extremely graphic. There's a lot of ultra violence, sex, nudity, swearing, and just things that will make you feel sick (like the retrieval of the MY WAY tape). I feel that all of it was necessary, however. The story gives you *a lot* of ideas to ponder, and it will move you deeply. It affected me in a very strong way.
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October 16, 2003

This customer review refers to Swallowtail Butterfly (Limited Edition) (Japan Version - English Subtitles)
A good movie Customer Review Rated Bad 8 - 8 out of 10
Overall a good movie about foriegners trying to make it in a near future Japan chasing the almighty yen in Yentown. Some make it big through music, some through crime, while others struggle to survive and not be left behind. Although a little slow at times with some loose subplots including gangsters and a rare Sinatry recording, the film manages to tie everything together in the end.
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May 29, 2003

This customer review refers to Swallowtail Butterfly (Limited Edition) (Japan Version - English Subtitles)
One of the Classics Customer Review Rated Bad 9 - 9 out of 10
For anyone looking for an introduction to modern Japanese cinema, this is the movie. This movie really captures the experience of greed that is part and parcel with the life of many foreigners in Japan. Great music by the Yen Town Band (led by extraordinary Japanese singer Chara). You'll get a kick out of Japanese actors portrayal of foreigners and the constant mish-mash of Japanese, Chinese and English mixed together in this film.
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