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Akira Kurosawa


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Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) is one of the few non-american directors of his time to truly do more than simply leave his mark: he changed film. One of the first to tell the stories of anti-heroes and ambigous narratives, one of the first to point his camera to the sky. There's an excellent 4-hour documentary on his life & works, and even it briefly covers them. Let's look at some of his more famous and influential films.

 

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Later retold as The Magnificent Seven (discussed here), this was...look, they sell it better than i do.

 

Unanimously hailed as one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of the motion picture, Seven Samurai has inspired countless films modeled after its basic premise. But Akira Kurosawa's classic 1954 action drama has never been surpassed in terms of sheer power of emotion, kinetic energy, and dynamic character development. The story is set in the 1600s, when the residents of a small Japanese village are seeking protection against repeated attacks by a band of marauding thieves. Offering mere handfuls of rice as payment, they hire seven unemployed "ronin" (masterless samurai), including a boastful swordsman (Toshiro Mifune) who is actually a farmer's son desperately seeking glory and acceptance. The samurai get acquainted with but remain distant from the villagers, knowing that their assignment may prove to be fatal. The climactic battle with the raiding thieves remains one of the most breathtaking sequences ever filmed. It's poetry in hyperactive motion and one of Kurosawa's crowning cinematic achievements. This is not a film that can be well served by any synopsis; it must be seen to be appreciated (accept nothing less than its complete 203-minute version) and belongs on the short list of any definitive home-video library.

 

All of that was true. Its amazing, and the cast is some of Japan's greatest, a lot of aged, experienced actors who really carried thier roles, my favorite being a frequent flyer with Kuroosawa, the legendary Toshiro Mifune, who i used to think of as Japan's Clint Eastwod, but its an unfair comparion because he's a very different guy who plays a wide spectrum of roles in Kurosawa's films alone.

 

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This is it: the fim that would get remade as A Fistfull of Dollars with Eastwood, and later as a gangster movie, Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis and Christoper Walken.

 

Yojimbo, a wandering samurai enters a rural town in nineteenth century Japan. After learning from the innkeeper that the town is divided between two gangsters, he plays one side off against the other. His efforts are complicated by the arrival of the wily Unosuke, the son of one of the gangsters, who owns a revolver. Unosuke has Yojimbo beaten after he reunites an abducted woman with her husband and son, then massacres his father's opponents. During the slaughter, the samurai escapes with the help of the innkeeper; but while recuperating at a nearby temple, he learns of innkeeper's abduction by Unosuke, and returns to the town to confront him.

 

...This semi-comic 1961 film by legendary director Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, Ran) was inspired by the American Western genre. Kurosawa mainstay Toshirô Mifune (The Seven Samurai) plays a drifting samurai for hire who plays both ends against the middle with two warring factions, surviving on his wits and his ability to outrun his own bad luck. Eventually the samurai seeks to eliminate both sides for his own gain and to define his own sense of honor. Yojimbo is striking for its unorthodox treatment of violence and morality, reserving judgment on the actions of its main character and instead presenting an entertaining tale with humor and much visual excitement. One of the inspirations for the "spaghetti Westerns" of director Sergio Leone and later surfacing as a remake as Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis, this film offers insight into a director who influenced American films even as he was influenced by them.

 

Its not quite scene-for-scene Fistfull, but its damn close. Mifune really helps create the scruffy anti-hero archetype here, and later he rebuffs it in the sequel, Sanjuro, which was also great but i personally dindt dig it as much as this one, thoguh it was fun seeing Yojimbo ("bodygaurd") try to instruct young warriors, however reluctantly.

 

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Rashomon, perhaps his most famous work, is adapted from a short story of the same name - I got to read this story a while back, and its great, but Kurosawa really expands on it.

 

Basically, Toshiro Mifune (who else?) is a brigand, who stumbles upon a nobleman and his beautiful wife passing through the forest. Intending to tie the man up and rape his wife, something happens, and the man is left dead. The movie is about the subsequent investigation & puruit of justice, but what really stands out is how you, the viewer, are left with four differnet perspectives - the brigand, the woman, a witness, and the man himself, courtesy of his vengeful spirit's testiomny - and despite this, you're left wondering which, if any, held the truth to what happened. Narrative-wise, its the first movie (i know of) of its kind, and has since been emulated many times, from Paul Newman's "The Outrage", to Jet Li's "Hero".

 

Brimming with action while incisively examining the nature of truth, Rashomon is perhaps the finest film ever to investigate the philosophy of justice. Through an ingenious use of camera and flashbacks, Kurosawa reveals the complexities of human nature as four people recount different versions of the story of a man's murder and the rape of his wife. Toshiro Mifune gives another commanding performance in the eloquent masterwork that revolutionized film language and introduced Japanese cinema to the world.

 

 

that's all for now. I could get into Hidden Forterss, and its loose influence on Lucas' Star War series, but next time i return to this thread, id like to cover Akira's ambitous projects: covering Shakesepeare. I still need to see Throne of Blood, his take on Macbeth, but Ran, Kurosawa's King Lear, still stands out to me as the finest take on the tale, and that's even having seen Sir Lawrence Oliver's performance.

 

ps there's a great Criterion box set of Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Seven Samurai & Hiddent Fortress here for $72.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hmm...Sanjuro's a good sequel to Yojimbo, if youre like me and cant get enough of Mifune as the anti-hero. Im enjoying this massive documentary on Kurosawa (its like 4 hours, i can send it to you when im done), and i still have a copy of Kuorsawa's "Dreams" to watch, which ive heard good things about but cant recommend just yet. If you can find Throne of Blood, do so and lemme know what you think, cause Ran was awesome.

 

How're Red Beard and Rhapsody in August?

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Red Beard was the last collaboration between Kurosawa and Mifune, I believe. Low on action, but a great story about an arrogant doctor who is humbled through his experiences in a poor clinic, under the tutelage of the head doctor, Red Beard (played by Mifune). It's very heartwarming, in the same way that the ending to Rashomon is heartwarming, and Mifune does kick some ass, albeit very little unfortunately.

 

Rhapsody In August I wouldn't bother with. It's the weakest Kurosawa film I've seen. Modern story centered around the atomic bomb, and the affect it's had on one particular Japanese granny. Not bad, but not a must-see.

 

Sanjuro I'll try to find, I personally felt that Yojimbo was Mifune's best role. Same with Throne of Blood, sounds damn interesting.

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Im enjoying this massive documentary on Kurosawa (its like 4 hours, i can send it to you when im done)

 

PBS are showing it again tomorrow night (monday). Great fucking documentary, but looooonnnnnngggg. I bought the DVD last summer and took a few days to finish the fucking thing (damn you 90 minutes of bonus footage!).

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I've only seen Seven Samurai and Rashomon. To someone trying to get into Kurosawa, I recommend Rashomon first. Why? One reason and one reason only. Rashomon is 80 minutes long and Seven Samurais is 208 minutes long.

 

Rashomon inspired what is know in many academic disiplines (from anthropology to criminal justice to journalism) as the Rashomon effect, the phenomenon of two or more people recounting the same event in (sometimes dramatically) different ways. We've all experienced this, whether it's you thinking it's your sister that provoked a fight while she claims it was you (she is SO EVIL, it's totally not my fault!) or whatever.

 

Rashomon won the 1950 (I think) Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Edited by Jack's Meandering Thoughts
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  • 3 weeks later...

Still haven't been able to find "Seven Samurai", "Sanjuro", or "Throne of Blood", but I did see three other Kurosawa gems, "High and Low", "Dreams", and "Madadayo".

 

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A great noir about a wealthy industrialist (Mifune) whose son is targetted in a kidnapping. However, the kidnapper accidentally nabs the wrong kid, taking the boy's friend instead, and Mifune's character must struggle with the dilemma of paying the huge ransom (thus putting him and his family in the poor house), or leaving the life of an innocent child in the hands of the manic kidnapper. Serves not only as a great detective story but as a powerful social commentary on the relationships between high and low class people in 1960's Japan. Highly recommended.

 

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Basically eight separate, seemingly unrelated short films, some pleasant, some haunting and nightmarish, all based upon dreams had by the director. The dialogue is incredibly sparse (too sparse in my opinion), and the films are a bit too slow-paced (I tried watching it with my sister and she fell asleep halfway through). Still, it's amazingly beautiful visually, often very poignant (it's hard not to be deeply unsettled by 'Mount Fuji in Red', while the final dream, 'Village of the Watermills' will leave you with feelings of peace and tranquility.) Dare I say it, "Dreams" is fucking enchanting.

 

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Well, this is Kurosawa's final film, and a brilliant end to his career. Simple but moving story of an aging professor whose students venerate him in his old age, joining him each year for a ritual birthday party asking "Mahda-kai (Are you ready?)" to which he downs a big glass of beer and answers "Madadayo! (Not yet!)". I promised myself I wasn't gonna cry... :devil:

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