‘Kamikaze Hearts’ Blu-Ray Review – A Classic of Underground Queer Cinema is Newly Revitalized

By turns harrowing, instructive, questionable and fascinating, Juliet Bashore’s quasi-documentary dive into the porn industry of the 1980s takes a hard-nosed look at the issues of misogyny, addiction and exploitation through the stories of two women, naive newcomer Tigr and her partner, magnetic and imperious porn veteran Sharon Mitchell – caught up in a toxic romance.

Alternately spellbinding and unsettling, Kamikaze Hearts is both a riveting record of pre-gentrification San Francisco’s X-rated underground and an intense, searing love story. The film offers a disturbing insight into the altering of bodies, feelings and lives. New restoration!

For more in-depth thoughts on Kamikaze heartsplease see my colleague Mike Vaughn’s review of its original theatrical re-release here.

For more thoughts on Kamikaze Hearts, please see our discussion on The Video Attic:

Video quality

Kamikaze hearts debuts on Blu-Ray courtesy of Kino Classics in 1080p encoded AVC digital transfer in its original aspect ratio derived from an all-new 2K restoration. This film is the product of ingenious underground cinema, and it’s unlikely many have ever dreamed of getting it in high definition. Instances of print damage such as nicks and scratches have been mostly eliminated with distinct clarity and beautiful detail. You may still notice a few minor spots and blemishes that have crept in, but it probably looks better than ever, even in its original run. The presentation is attractive, with surprisingly strong image stability and delineation.

This film is composed of images captured in a truth style that this transfer captures in a very natural way. The image can be slightly soft in long shots, but the environments lend themselves to some nice detail. Colors are vividly saturated with certain key hues popping out in a wonderful way. Skin tones are natural and consistent with delicate features easily noticeable in close-up. Black levels hold up well enough without any major cases of apparent crushing, banding or compression artifacts. This transfer maintains the natural film grain of the presentation which is often coarse but refined without appearing anything unsightly. It’s a top-notch presentation for a film that didn’t seem likely to receive such consideration.

Audio quality

The Blu-Ray comes with a solid LPCM 2.0 track that achieves everything this movie is trying to do. The track shows no telltale signs of age-related wear, such as hissing or popping. The music used in the film seems to be true to the creative team’s intent as it unfolds with dynamism and clarity. Even with the strength of this element, the star of this piece are the dialogue exchanges. Although some recording locations seem less than ideal, dialogue and background noise are portrayed in harmony. Given her indie roots, it’s refreshing to hear it holding up so well. Optional English subtitles (SDH) are also included for the feature film. Kino Classic delivered as you would expect with this audio track.

Special Features

  • Audio commentary: Director Juliet Bashore, actors Sharon Mitchell, Jon Martin and Howie Gordon, and performance artist Shelly Mars provide a very candid and illuminating commentary track in which they discuss the film’s production, distinguishing between fact and fiction, memories of some of the subjects on screen, the messy nature of the production design, the state of mind they were in at the time of filming, and much more that offers a very rewarding insight.
    • Juliette Bashore: A new 17-minute interview with the writer-director in which she explains how she came to make this project, her experiences with the subjects, the feedback she received from producers, the problems she encountered during production and more.
    • Sharon Mitchell: A new 22-minute interview with the star in which she discusses her involvement in the film, where she was at this point in her life, and various dramatic stories about her life that aren’t too easy to digest. Mitchell isn’t afraid to go dark places because she gives context to her life.
    • Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens: A new 34-minute interview with Anna Sprinkle (actress/sex therapist) and Beth Stephens (artist/ecosexual) in which they discuss their life in the sex industry, their interactions with the subjects of this film, gives context to the scene of the time this film was made, analyze the thematic significance behind certain shots in the film and more.
    • Susie Bright: A new 68-minute interview with the author/critic in which she talks about where she was behind the scenes of this film, how she came to know the subjects of the film, the queer scene of the 80s, the semantics of their universe at the era, San Francisco life and more. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to dig into here, which gives great context.
    • Howie Gordon: A new 29-minute interview with actor Howie Gordon in which he discusses the special place of San Francisco at the time this film was made, his career as a porn star, the realities of filming a sex scene , why he doesn’t consider the porn movie and more.
    • Jon Martin: A new four-minute interview with actor Jon Martin, who is joined by Sharon Mitchell, in which they discuss their collaboration, how he got involved in the project, memories of the production and more.
  • Accident (1990): A nearly 13-minute short is provided here by Juliet Bashore which begins with a director’s note explaining in context that this was done as a sketch for a potential “Hollywoodized” version of Kamikaze hearts that people were trying to persuade her to do. While Bashore is probably right that this effort probably would have been a bad idea, it’s still interesting to see what might have been under different circumstances.
  • Trailers: This release provides the original trailer (1:58) and re-release trailer (1:17) for Kamikaze hearts.

Final Thoughts

Kamikaze Hearts is a unique overlap of storytelling and non-fiction that can be difficult to parse even once the exact storyline has been explained. This is partly due to the fearless performances of her ensemble, namely the one and only Sharon Mitchell. Even during the most difficult or disturbing moments, it can be difficult to look away from what the camera has been allowed to capture. The film won’t appeal to all tastes, but it’s undeniably an important part of the underground queer cinema movement. Kino Classics helped save this one from obscurity with a new Blu-Ray with terrific A/V presentation and a hugely expansive selection of special features. If you are interested in this area of ​​cinema, it is worth exploring further. Recommended

Kamikaze Hearts is actually available for purchase on Blu-Ray.

Note: Images shown in this review do not reflect Blu-Ray image quality.

Disclaimer: Kino Classics has provided a free copy of this disc for review purposes. All opinions expressed in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

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