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message 1: by Ed (new)

Ed | 219 comments Mod
Discuss, discuss. :)


message 2: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments Ed, can you pretty please move the two threads for December movies here?

Tom will be our leader this month!


message 3: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments Hi Ed,

I tried to move my posts on Kurosawa over here to the December threads, but it said the moderator had to do that. Would you mind?

Thanks,
Phillip


message 4: by Tom (last edited Dec 02, 2008 07:23AM) (new)

Tom | 5461 comments KUROSAWA

There are few directors whose filmography is as populated with masterworks as Kurosawa. SEVEN SAMURAI, RASHOMON, LOWER DEPTHS, RED BEARD, HIGH AND LOW, BAD SLEEP WELL, RAN, the list just goes on and on. Kurosawa is generally considered the first Japanese director to have had significant international success, when RASHOMON won the prestigious Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, which was at the time the most important film prize in the world.

The below is just some notes, written basically off the top of my head, with occasional references to wikipedia:

Kurosawa's family had samurai roots, and in his youth he received some traditional samurai sword training. He was also a bit of a crybaby. Kurosawa says in his autobiography that his childhood as a child was Mr. Gumdrop because his tears were the size of gumdrops. There seems to have been some difficulty in his early studies, which was helped when a teacher took an interest in him and helped him adjust.

Kurosawa had an adored older brother, who had a career as a narrator in Japanese cinemas. Apparently narrators were a regular convention during the silent era in Japan: they would narrate the action, interpret dialogue, and generally support the film.
Kurosawa clearly adored this brother, Heigo, who seems to have been a remarkable person. One of the most memorable sections of the autobiography is a scene following a particularly destructive earthquake, when young Akira is taken on a tour of the wreckage. Young Akira wants to look away from the terrible sights, but his brother urges him to look at the horrors dead on, to see them for what they are and remove their power to frighten him.

Kurosawa entered the film industry at the bottom of the ladder, in an apprenticeship program. He eventually rose to the position of director, earning the nickname of "tenno" or "emperor" for his often dictatorial style on set. Many of his films were the most expensive film ever made in Japan at the time of their production.

His career was generally successful, but went into something of a decline in the late 60s when his participation in TORA! TORA! TORA! fell apart. His reputation was restored in the late 70s when KAGEMUSHA, produced with assistance from Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, was a major international success. He continued making films for the rest of his life, winning particular acclaim (and a Best Director Oscar nomination) for his adaptation of KING LEAR, the epic RAN.

For my money, there's just nobody better than Kurosawa. He has peers (Hitchcock, Fellini, Keaton, Jones, a few others) but no superiors.

I can recommend the following books on Kurosawa:

SOMETHING LIKE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by the man himself.

THE FILMS OF AKIRA KUROSAWA by Donald Richie

THE EMPEROR AND THE WOLF: THE LIVES AND FILMS OF AKIRA KUROSAWA AND TOSHIRO MIFUNE by Stuart Galbraith IV


message 5: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments THE BAD SLEEP WELL

Kurosawa’s tasty black comedy begins at a wedding reception, one that rivals Connie Corleone’s for sheer drama: the daughter of a fat-cat corporate VP is marrying the VP’s personal assistant. As the reception begins, one of the officers of the company is arrested for cooking the books, much to the amusement of the press in attendance, who’ve been waiting for pretty much exactly this to happen. A good deal of plot is established in this opening sequence, as is the general tone of the film: the viewer is invited to share in the journalists’ amused cynicism about everything from the real feelings of the groom for the bride (is he marrying her just to get ahead?) to the sudden bizarre appearance of a wedding cake in the shape of a building with sinister associations for everyone concerned.

And we’re off and running. It turns out that the personal assistant (played by a very restrained but still magnetic Toshiro Mifune) isn’t quite what he seems: he has a very definite agenda. Hint: the movie owes a bit of a debt to HAMLET. There is a lot of good nasty fun to be had in THE BAD SLEEP WELL, of the kind that Kurosawa does especially well. Echoes of IKIRU’s bureaucratic satire and the bitterly misanthropic comic one-upmanship of YOJIMBO can often be felt, along with the unmistakable tension of the mysteriously under-rated HIGH AND LOW. Unfortunately, THE BAD SLEEP WELL falters, and it is hard to pinpoint exactly where. It has something to do with Mifune’s character having some well-founded concerns about the consequences of his actions, and these concerns being allowed to overwhelm the character and finally the movie.

SPOILERS -- Beware if you worry about that kind of thing--
The problem is that we're told that the "good" characters need to be as "bad" as the "bad" characters in order to prevail. Unfortunately, the ultimate undoing of the "good" people is not due to "goodness" but to "stupidity." In a nutshell, in order to give us a tragic ending, Kurosawa has Mifune under-estimate the "badness" of the people he is up against, and it just doesn't wash. Mifune has just been too clear-sighted about his enemies to make the error he makes, and the extended monologue a certain character makes on Mifune's behalf isn't terribly moving because of it.

Worth seeing, certainly, especially if you can manage to see it on a big screen. The Criterion DVD is great, but a DVD of any Kurosawa film is a serious dimunition. The acting is, as is only to be expected in a Kurosawa film, of the highest imaginable standard. There just aren't better made or acted films than Kurosawa's.

THE BAD SLEEP WELL. They sure do.


message 6: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments Hey! Anyone up for discussing some Kurosawa??


message 7: by Phillip (last edited Dec 07, 2008 06:42PM) (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments The Films of Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)

For those that have heard of Akira Kurosawa but have never seen any of the great director’s work, here is a list of essential classics. Acknowledged as the creator of not one, but many undisputed masterpieces (Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Kagemusha, Ran, Rashomon, High and Low, Stray Dog, Red Beard, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo), Akira Kurosawa helped to revolutionize Japanese Cinema while providing inspiration for other directors (George Lucas: Star Wars, John Sturges: The Magnificent Seven, Sergio Leone: A Fistful of Dollars). Kurosawa was particularly successful with adaptations of great literature, using works by Shakespeare (Ran, Throne of Blood) and Dostoevsky (The Idiot) as a springboard to create some of his more compelling and complex narratives.

1) Seven Samurai (1954)
This film has rightly earned unanimous international acclaim since its release in 1954 for providing us with a complex story rich in historical overtones handled with absolute technical brilliance and superbly realized by a notable cast that features some of Japan’s finest actors from the period.

Desperate farmers hire seven samurai (who wander the land after the fall of warlord feudalism in 16th century Japan) to defend their land from bandits who pillage their village. The samurai organize to train their meager army of not-so-innocent peasants, create a plan of defense, and enact one of the greatest hand-to-hand battle sequences ever conceived and delivered on film (the final battle sequence occupies nearly 1/3 of the movie’s total 3 ½ hour duration). Seven Samurai is an outstanding allegory of social reconstruction conceived in post WWII Japan and has inspired countless imitations but few rivals. (The film served as a blueprint for The Magnificent Seven, and is thought by many critics to have revived the Western genre in American cinema).

2) Ikiru (1952)
Kurosawa’s heartbreaking chronicle about a man searching to give meaning to his empty bureaucratic life once he discovers he has stomach cancer. The first half of the film focuses on the principal character as he wanders the seedier side of Tokyo nightlife. The second half of the film takes place at his funeral, where many members of the community gather to debate his greatness and/or folly. Finely sculpted characters, a unique narrative structure, an inquiry into what constitutes our individual identity, and an unparalleled performance by Takashi Shimura make Ikiru an unforgettable film event.

3) Rashomon (1950)
Rashomon features several breakthrough ideas on film narrative and structure. The movie opens amid the ruins of Rashomon, a palace once occupied during the great era of warlords. The beggars that find shelter there swap stories and we become the audience of a tale of the rape and murder of a princess. When the suspects appear at a trial, the story is told through the multiple perspectives of its participants.

4) Ran (1985)
Based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kurosawa has his great warlord divide his province between his three sons to fatal consequences for all. Ran is perhaps one of Kurosawa’s most well-known film by American audiences and received several academy awards for its stunning art direction and costumes. The score by Toru Takemitsu suits the film perfectly, and is an outstanding example of the great composer's work.

5) Yojimbo (1961)
Great music and comic action drive this follow-up to Seven Samurai, and forms a companion piece to Kurosawa’s Sanjuro (1962). Fans of Sergio Leone’s A Fistfull of Dollars will find the original model to retain all of the psychological intrigue and action of its western-styled descendant. The companion piece (Kurosawa's "Sanjuro" is also the model for Leone's "For a Few Dollars More").

6) Stray Dog (1949)
Kurosawa often instigates his more successful character studies by turning the world of his protagonist upside down. In the unforgettable Iriru, the central character discovers he has stomach cancer and will enjoy precious little remaining time on earth. In High and Low, a rich businessman’s life careens toward disaster when his son is kidnapped by a depraved madman.

In Stray Dog, a young detective (played by Toshiro Mifune in his first film with Kurosawa) leaves a crowded streetcar on a miserably hot day only to find his gun has been pick-pocketed. As in Ikiru, this existential crisis forces our hero to hit the seedy streets of Tokyo in search of his weapon, or his symbolic identity. Echoing noir classics like The Big Sleep, once detective Murakami penetrates the criminal underworld a whole new swarm of crimes unfold as Mifune descends further and further into psychological and social chaos.

7) Throne of Blood (1957)
This powerful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in the tradition of Japan’s Noh Theater may be one of the greatest readings of the bard’s oeuvre. Kurosawa re-imagines Macbeth as Isuzu Yamada (acted miraculously, as always, by Mifune), a brave knight fighting to protect Spider’s Castle. While returning to from battle to receive a medal of valor, a forest spirit foretells his future and the rest is the stuff of history – warrior kills king and becomes king only to be killed by another warrior who takes the throne for himself.

Brilliant photography exploits Kurosawa’s insistence on shooting the majority of the film in extreme fog, which ideally underlines the idea that the land itself is closing in on the mad warrior. The final scene, where arrows rain down on the dying warlord, is one of the more celebrated (and imitated) endings in cinema.


message 8: by Phillip (last edited Dec 07, 2008 06:43PM) (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments Phillip's Top 10 Kurosawa films:

In addition to the films I discussed briefly above, here is a list of my ten favorite Kurosawa films. There are a few early ones that Tom has discussed (I Live in Fear, and The Lower Depths) that I haven't seen yet, so I'm putting those high on my priority list for this month.

1) Stray Dog (1949)
2) Rashomon (1950)
3) Ikiru (1952)
4) Seven Samurai (1954)
5) Throne of Blood (1957)
6) The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
7) Yojimbo (1961)
8) High and Low (1963)
9) Red Beard (1965)
10)Ran (1985)

I've also seen a few others from the new Eclipse box entitled "Early Kurosawa", namely Scandal and The Idiot. While I enjoyed Scandal for its unusual theme (for the time it was made), I wasn't so thrilled with Kurosawa's setting of Dostoevsky's great novel. Part of the problem is that the film ends half-way through the book, which was a strange choice, IMO. There were other problems with the film that i don't need to go into great detail here. In general I think Kurosawa made great choices when he selected novels to adapt. In Japan, he was sometimes (wrongly, IMO) criticized for being too "western" (for using novels by writers from outside of Japan), but his re-imagining of these books do a great job of making distinct statements about Japanese culture in his settings.

If you've never seen Kurosawa film, I think any of these ten would be a good place to start. Ran is one of my all-time favorite films: there isn't a false note to be found anywhere in the film, and some of the scenes are so brilliantly conceived and executed, that it is hard to think of another movie that offers viewers so much to reflect on and marvel. Some folks shy away from Seven Samurai because it's three and a half hours long, but I'm sure I'm not the only one on this discussion list to argue that the time FLIES by; it's captivating from beginning to end.



message 9: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments I'd say that SEVEN SAMURAI or RASHOMON or the magnificent HIGH AND LOW would be great places to start. While I love RAN, I don't think it is necessarily representative of his work.

SEVEN SAMURAI for being probably the best action adventure film of all time. Completely agree with Phillip: the three hours really do FLY by, there isn't a dull or wasted frame in it.

RASHOMON for being a serious inquiry into the nature of memory and reality itself, while still managing to be a vastly entertaining movie.

HIGH AND LOW for being a brilliant police procedural thriller.


message 10: by Phillip (last edited Dec 04, 2008 04:28PM) (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments those three do make for a great introduction.

i'm not giving up on ran though...it's an amazing film. it's really great on the big screen if you ever have the chance...

i just watched "No Regrets for Our Youth" last night, from the Early Kurosawa Eclipse box. I loved it...I'll write something and post it soon.


message 11: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments RAN rocks, an amazing movie.

I have that Eclipse box too. I wish they'd included SANSHIRO SUGATA I and II, and THE MOST BEAUTIFUL. I'll be posting shortly on I LIVE IN FEAR, a fascinating, atypical Kurosawa film with one of Mifune's more interesting performances.


message 12: by Phillip (last edited Dec 07, 2008 06:46PM) (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments No Regrets for our Youth (Akira Kurosawa, 1946)

“Japanese militarists used the Manchurian Incident as a pretext to press the public for support to invade the Asian mainland. Any opposing ideology was denounced as “Red”. The Kyoto University Incident was one example of this tactic. Although this film was inspired by that historical event, the characters portrayed herein are entirely fictional.”

And so opens No Regrets for our Youth, which was released in 1946 and is one of the last films by Kurosawa to directly explore the effects of WWII on Japanese society. The film's narrative begins in 1933 and spans the war years, ending in 1945. No Regrets mainly follows the lives of several students and one professor at Kyoto University as they struggle to maintain academic freedom (and free speech) during the years building up to WWII.

The excellent cast is led by Setsuko Hara, who plays Yukie, the daughter of a celebrated professor at the University of Kyoto. This is the only Kurosawa film I can think of where a woman plays the lead role and Hara handles the challenging role easily (no surprise there!). Ozu fans will immediately recognize her ability to play women with strong emotional centers who have great wisdom and integrity, and she does not disappoint in No Regrets...

Sure enough, in this film she traverses the boundaries of blushing schoolgirl, a young woman striking out on her own to wrestle with her own existential demons away from her family, and a dutiful wife who devotes herself to exhausting farm work with her in-laws after her husband dies in order to clear his name with his parents.

The film does a great job of focusing on each period and captures the different eras with perfect stylizations. The scenes that feature the care-free youths hiking in the country are filled with poetic and beautiful imagery, the politically charged environment of a university under fire is handled with the feeling of a finely made documentary, and the final chapters, where Hara faces her greatest physical and emotional challenges, are directed with a steady hand and curious camera lens to capture all of the subtleties of this great actresses’ performance. One of the great marvels of the film is how Kurosawa handles themes of war and its effects on humanity without ever showing a battle or a casualty (I take that back, there is one image of a dead soldiier in the beginning of the film).

I admit I was surprised to find such a mature work filled with a great deal of thematic material and an incredible emotional arc for one character to portray. This is a fine example of one of Kurosawa’s early masterpieces, and a real treat for those of you that enjoy in-depth character studies with historical and political themes.



message 13: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments I LIVE IN FEAR

Produced the year after SEVEN SAMURAI, it is a remarkable movie. Toshiro Mifune stars as the patriarch of a rather divided family who is very very concerned about the possibility of nuclear war and the dangers of radiation. He wants to sell his successful family business and relocate his family to Brazil to avoid what he views as certain death from the H-Bomb. His family is not entirely sympathetic, and attempts to have him declared incompetent. Part ofthe interest of the film comes from watching Mifune's behavior, and trying to decide as to how right he is to be so concerned. Is his concern justified, or is he just going nuts?

Apparently there was a lot more justification for the Mifune character's concern than I had thought. A little post-movie checking showed me that there were a lot of atomic tests going on at the time the film was made. Apparently there was even one incident where a fishing boat had got caught in a fallout cloud. It wasn't just in movies that folks were thinking of departing Japan for less radioactive parts.

I don't know if anyone is going to list I LIVE IN FEAR as one ofKurosawa's greatest efforts. There's a piece of stunt casting that nearly sinks the film, and unfortunately it is Mifune himself as the patriarch. Playing a character apparently twice his age, Mifune assumes a cane and a bit of a stoop, but nothing, not even dyed hair and glasses, can hide his (to me at least) astonishing physical magnetism. Try as he might, he can't hide his youth and energy. It would be like Marlon Brando at the height of his STREETCAR/WATERFRONT beauty playing someone that age. As fascinating as the stunt is, it winds up distracting from the film. Mifune does his best, of course. He pulls off lots of wonderful little moments, especially a running habit of grunting angrily and furiously fanning at the stupidity of his ungrateful children, and his final scenes are very effective.

There are other wonderful performances as well. Takashi Shimura has a role as a dentist (kind of the audience's surrogate) who finds himself drawn into the family struggles, and he is excellent as usual: he's certainly among the most dependably excellent actors I know of. It was also interesting to see Minoru Chiaki, who played the monk in RASHOMON and the comic samurai in SEVEN SAMURAI, this time in modern dress playing a rather undistinguished, rather spineless person. Other members of the Kurosawa Repertory Company appear as well: the film is full of familiar faces. Ultimately, I LIVE IN FEAR is a fascinating and troubling film that asks a lot of difficult questions without supplying any easy answers. I liked the film very much.


message 14: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments i'm going to check this out this week. thanks for the great review.

and, hey tom...does it feel like we're playing duo here? what happened to all the enthusiasm about kurosawa, folks? stop holiday shopping and watch some great films!


message 15: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments I just got RAN, I am done with my course and I am ready to watch. Not having any instant watch Kurosawa is making my movie viewing slow.


message 16: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments let me know what you thought, meg. i look forward to hearing your thoughts.


message 17: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments Well, I got through the first hour of RAN. I fell asleep, not because of the movie, but because of sheer exhaustion.

A samurai has many sons and is aging. He chooses one to take over his kingdom and steps down. The choice is not acceptable to all of the sons and two leave, become disenherited. Of course the one chosen is a bad seed and the plot thickens. How can you not like a movie that is a "remake" of Shakespeare's King Lear with a samurai backdrop?

More to come when I finish the movie. It is almost 3 hours long.


message 18: by Phillip (last edited Dec 09, 2008 08:24AM) (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments and every minute of the film is pure poetry.


message 19: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments Meg, be sure to watch the rest of the film when you can. An amazing experience!


message 20: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments Bump--

Anyone? Kurosawa fans?


message 21: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments I am really enjoying RAN. I really like the insane Heridito (?spelling). He plays it so well with just his facial expressions. It is brilliant. I think I am about 2/3 done.

too many holiday obligations, there is no Meg time!


message 22: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments OK I finished RAN. I have to admit to liking it; however, I think the length is a real draw back. It could have been cut about 40 minutes and still have had the same impact.

The sole woman in the movie was a shrew, that bothered me. Her screaming and whining was annoying.

Other than that I really liked it. A lot of culture, heartbreak in the loss of power and standing of the father. Sadness with the gread of the sons.

Lots of plots and well done. If you want an epic, sit back and enjoy this one.


message 23: by George (last edited Dec 10, 2008 06:38PM) (new)

George | 951 comments I watched it again last weekend, after many years. No question but that the film is beautifully done. It's interesting that even though the main character's makeup and acting style seems to have more in common with Kabuki theater than film, it still works very well in this context. But I doubt anyone here could accept it in a Western film. Most of the roles are done realistically, but the jester and the blind brother of the good wife, sorry, I'm not good on names here, are roles that are particularly stylized. I particularly like the role of the evil wife secretly plotting to bring down the entire family. It's a riveting performance in a fascinating film.

Meg, good luck on finding some personal space between now and New Year's. I have some today, but mostly because I'm home alone, down with a either a bad cold or a light flu.



message 24: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments disagree with the "length" of the film. there's no wasted space in that movie, imo. see it on the big screen, all in one sitting. i don't know how people watch films in segments, i personally couldn't do that. i know everyone is pressed for time, but...oh well. i've said my piece...


message 25: by Tom (last edited Dec 11, 2008 01:28PM) (new)

Tom | 5461 comments I was going to suggest some discussion on the difference between BIG SCREEN vs. video screen in relation to Kurosawa.

I remember the first time I saw HIGH AND LOW, on a letterboxed VHS tape on a pretty small TV. It still worked, for the most part, I was entertained and moved by it. When I saw the film years later on a big screen, I was just plain bowled over by it. There's just so much going on in HIGH AND LOW, little glances among the actors for instance, that just can't be seen or appreciated on even a pretty good size TV. I find I can just give over to a movie more completely when I'm in a theatre (even a cruddy little theatre like a lot of the remaining repertory houses in NYC) without worrying about the phone ringing or the damn neighbors or the traffic jam outside.

As for the length, Meg, which 40 minutes or so would you have cut? Any particular scenes struck you as unnecessary? I don't entirely disagree with you: I always feel that there are a few too many scenes of Hidetora in the Heavily Symbolic Waste Land, accompanied by the Weeping Fool.


message 26: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments big screen vs video would be a great thread to discuss on its own....


message 27: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments OK first let me say something in regards to Big Screen vs my TV. Not all of us are lucky enough to live in a big city or cities that dedicate movie theatres to foreign films or even films that aren't block busters. Some of us have no alternatives other than watching movies in their homes. I live in a town that has a population of 3000 and a twin movie theatre. In the winter it is known for lack of heat. It dips in the middle, it is old, some people think it is quaint and the movie selections are best sellers only. So you have a choice, quality movies in your home, move or travel to see a movie.

I love big screen but it is not an option. What I do love about watching in my home is the fact that I can watch in segments, walk around, take a break etc. So Phillip, it is a good thing we don't watch movies together!

As for the length of RAN. What really grated me was the screaming evil wife, I would cut that immediately. She can be evil in different ways, the screaming was a detractor to her role IMO. The symbolic waste land scenes could be shortened and/or eliminated. I think length of films are sometimes detractors.


message 28: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments Interesting, Meg. I've always found Lady Kaede remarkable for projecting more of a glacial calm than anything else. Yeah, she loses her cool once or twice, but she's hardly a shrieking harridan.

I can't agree that her scenes should be cut. They're essential to one of the biggest themes in the film, the idea that Hidetora's clan is reaping what it has sown. Kaede's revenge on the warlord who murdered her family is absolutely integral to the story.


message 29: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments I don't mean that her scenes should be cut, I really liked her. I would just cut the shrieking parts out, it hurt my ears. I loved her villianous ways and I think the shrieking detracted from her personna. IMO it showed her weakness too obviously.


message 30: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments her performance is grounded in a kind of theatrical style that is pervasive in japan. it's a culturally historically relevant choice by both director and actor, i think.

*****

not a full-fledged review, but i watched yojimbo with a musician friend after a rehearsal last night, and enjoyed it again (not sure how many times i've seen it).

i'm not going to offer a full-on review here, but it's a devilishly clever little tale of a ronin that stumbles into a little village and shakes up the town by pitting one evil clan against another. this is inspiration for leone's "fistfull of dollars", and has its own brand of stylistic brilliance. it also has one of my all time favorite soundtracks. toshiro mifune is the rascal in charge of his mini-revolution, and was born for the role.


message 31: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments THE LOWER DEPTHS

is Kurosawa’s version of Maxim Gorky’s play. There’s not a lot of plot, but a great honking barrage of character, all played to perfection by members of the Kurosawa Repertory Company. The film details the lives of a bunch of down and outers who live in a flophouse that seems to be located at the bottom of some kind of ravine. The film opens with people dumping garbage down the ravine onto the roof of the flophouse. Get it? Among the residents of the flophouse are an old tinker and his terminally tubercular wife, a past his prime actor, a prostitute, a man claiming to be an ex-samurai and his wife who now make a living selling candy, and assorted gamblers and dregs of society. The occupants of this flophouse are used to being dumped on. Well, life happens: as the film progresses, there’s a lot of yelling, a death or two, some illusions are shared and several more are shattered, a couple of attempted seductions and a good deal of drinking and sleeping. There’s more to it than that, of course, but it gives you an idea of the rather free-form feel of what goes on. There don’t seem to be the rigorous plot mechanics of SEVEN SAMURAI or RASHOMON at work here. The ragtag nature of the film reflects the ragtag nature of the characters.

The great pleasure of watching this film is in watching a bunch of world-class character actors carry a movie. Most of the cast, like Toshiro Mifune and the indispensable Minoru Chiaki, are familiar from other Kurosawa films. Character is summed up in a single gesture, one remarkable actress whose name I can’t remember but who was a memorable Lady Macbeth in Kurosawa’s THRONE OF BLOOD tells you everything you need to know about her character by the way she slouches into a room. Minoru Chiaki seems to have been the Japanese Johnny Depp: he makes me laugh simply by standing up and holding one foot over the fire. The most startling performance comes from Bokuzen Hidari, as an old man who seems to be some kind of pilgrim (his exact status, as priest or pilgrim, is never spelled out in the subtitles but might be apparent to a Japanese audience). Hidari played the hilariously sad-faced farmer Yohei in SEVEN SAMURAI, and is usually used as comic relief. But in LOWER DEPTHS he plays what basically amounts to a Christ/Buddha figure: he’s probably the most intelligent and enlightened person in the film, certainly the least selfish and crass. The man goes through the film with a wide beautiful smile, dispensing intelligent advice and basic human decency but never coming across as self-righteous or smug, even occasionally suggesting a sort of deviousness that makes you wonder exactly what he’s up to. There’s none of the cartoonish grimacing that can occasionally mar his appearances in other films, you really want to just keep watching him. If he was a TV evangelist, you’d send him money. You might even vote for him.

One viewing just isn't enough for a film as dense as this one. The interactions among the characters are just too intricate, and I'll need to do some reading on other aspects of the movie. For example, I'd really like to know what the Japanese characters on the back of the pilgrim's kimono mean, if they offer some insight into his character or the rest of the film. But repeat viewings will be great fun. I've discovered a new movie to try to get to the bottom of.


message 32: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments uh, rob?

would you care to say more?

any particular film that you find useless, or is it that way with every thing you've seen?

and, i have to ask: are you serious?


message 33: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments I just finished the Bad Sleep Well. I agree with your review Tom.

The wedding scene was a classic. The bride fainting, the toasts, the press, the wedding cake. It was terrific. Brought the viewer in immediately, you had to watch it all to understand all that you viewed at the wedding.

I also loved Wada viewing his own funeral. It was really well done.




message 34: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments Meg, yeah, the funeral sequence was amazing, one of my favorite scenes in the film.

How did you feel about the ending?


message 35: by Phillip (last edited Dec 17, 2008 08:57AM) (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments I Live In Fear (Akira Kurosawa, 1955)

I Live in Fear has its merits, to be sure, but I'm not sure this is one of my favorite Kurosawa films. As Tom mentioned, there's Toshiro playing an aging grandfather concerned with further atomic blasts. The political angle of the film is certainly engaging, and in my experience, it isn't easy to get my Japanese friends to talk about Hiroshima or Nagasaki. So to see a film made by one of Japan's finest filmmakers on this subject is sure to have its value.

But I found the film a little one-dimensional. The old man's family brings a case to court to see whether or their patriarch can be considered crazy (because his obsession has driven him to want to leave Japan and move to Brazil, where his family will be safe). No one in the family wants to uproot and leave Japan. A subplot also examines whether or not the patriarchal construct, where multiple generations might live under the same roof and must follow the lead posited by the eldest male, is still an effective way of life in "modern day" Japan (the film was made in the mid-50's).

The film wrests on this balancing act of "is grandfather crazy" or "are his fears justified?". Kurosawa's good grace is not really taking a stance on the question, but the film kind of meanders, in my opnion, while it posits the evidence...

And, yes, it's awkward watching Mifune, a young man in great physical condition, playing an aging man whose sanity is in question. It seems strange to me that both Ozu and Kurosawa used younger actors to play older men in their films. Is it possible that after the war a lot of older actors weren't around? I don't know, but I have wondered about this practice.

I'm glad I watched it, but so far my favorite films from the Postwar Kurosawa box set is "No Regrets for Our Youth", for presenting a unique and well develped story (like I Live in Fear, it also presents a political theme). As I mentioned elsewhere, it is also the only film where Kurosawa used a woman to play the central role, and Setsuko Hara does a great job of carrying it.


message 36: by James (last edited Dec 18, 2008 10:16PM) (new)

James Marsh (marshy00) Just found this thread - apologies, I really do neglect the forums on here.

I'm a huge Kurosawa fan, have been furiously mining his work for a couple of years now. For me, there really is no beating RASHOMON - it's just genius. I know some modern audiences take issue with the seance at the trial, but not me, I loved every minute of it.

Kurosawa I have seen, in order of preference (sort of):
Rashomon
Ikiru
Throne of Blood
Seven Samurai
Sanjuro
Yojimbo
Stray Dog
Ran
The Hidden Fortress


still to watch in my dvd collection:

Lower Depths
Kagemusha
High and Low

(yup, I'm a Criterion junkie!)

Something Like An Autobiography is a great read.

So...was it ever decided officially which Kurosawa we're supposed to be discussing? Ran?

If so, I must admit I don't regard it as classic Kurosawa...it might be the colour photography, or the fact there's no Mifune or Shimura on screen. Make no mistake, it's still a class film, but just not in my opinion a definitive example of his work, specially for a newbie.

I saw Macbeth on stage last week...itching to re-watch Throne of Blood - it really is tremendous, and quite possibly his best Samurai film (I forget the Japanese word I'm supposed to use! haha)



message 37: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments Marshy, there's no specific Kurosawa film in the spotlight. Just sharing impressions on the great man's great work.


message 38: by Meg (last edited Dec 19, 2008 03:11PM) (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments I just watched Rashomon. So far, of the three that I have seen, this is definitely my favorite.

I particularly was enthralled by the laughter of the main characters. The laughter of insanity was extremely powerful.

the princess was beautiful, terrified, and somewhat driven to insanity again expressing it through her laughter. The thief that raped her, certainly stole the show.

It particularly is of interest to me is how Kurosawa captures his audience through the facial expressions of the lead actors. So much is said without the use of words, it is brilliant.


message 39: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments glad you checked out rashomon, meg...that's one of my favorites too.

marshy:
1) put high and low hign on your list of things to do....
2) thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts.

enjoy!


message 40: by Evan (new)

Evan On the list of Phillip's *essential* 7 Kurosawas - well selected BTW - I would move Throne of Blood up a notch ahead of Stray Dog. And throw The Hidden Fortress on there, even though a lot of people think it trivial. It's a film of great sweep and beauty, and thoroughly entertaining. Hell, Lucas stole Star Wars from it.

Phillip wrote: "The Films of Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)

For those that have heard of Akira Kurosawa but have never seen any of the great director’s work, here is a list of essential classics. Acknowledged as the ..."


Phillip wrote: "The Films of Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)

For those that have heard of Akira Kurosawa but have never seen any of the great director’s work, here is a list of essential classics. Acknowledged as the ..."


Phillip wrote: "The Films of Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)

For those that have heard of Akira Kurosawa but have never seen any of the great director’s work, here is a list of essential classics. Acknowledged as the ..."





message 41: by Phillip (last edited Jan 01, 2009 02:41PM) (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments cheers, evan. i think throne of blood is an outstanding film. i've never been a big fan of hidden fortress, but i've only seen it once. sometimes films grow on me...not literally of course, but....

those lists of mine are usually ordered chronologically. i usually never intend to imply preference when i put them together.


message 42: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments HIDDEN FORTRESS is a wonderful piece of entertainment. Not the deepest of accomplishments, but an intelligent piece of play. You really feel like everyone involved had a grand old time making it. It deserves to be better known than it is.

It is also one of the Kurosawas that absolutely demands to be seen on a big screen. If you've only seen it on video, reserve judgment until you've seen it BIG. There's just nothing like it.


message 43: by James (last edited Jan 01, 2009 05:41PM) (new)

James Marsh (marshy00) I have to agree with all the Hidden Fortress comments. It is a fine old romp and definitely deserves a big screen viewing (that I have sadly not witnessed) to show off the beautiful cinemascope cinematography, but it does lack some of the thematic gravitas one gets from most of Kurosawa's work.

However, that said, I know everyone rates Seven Samurai as the first great action movie, and some still deem it to be the best (although I'd give that award to Die Hard hahaha) I personally think that for high adventure The Hidden Fortress is better than Seven Samurai - largely thanks to it's lightweight story - princess, treasure, gruff warrior, squabbling minions - it's all there!

Phillip:

Will get High and Low in the player asap - also noticed I have The Bad Sleep Well and Drunken Angel too!!


message 44: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments i've never seen it on the big screen. i have passed over opportunities to see it in that format because it was never a priority. it played last year here at the castro with several other kurosawa greats and i passed (hmmmmm, let's see: throne of blood, rashomon or hidden fortress....) well, you can see where i'm going with this.

high and low is a fantastic film, IMO. i still haven't seen drunken angel, but just read about it recently in donald richie's book on AK.


message 45: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments DRUNKEN ANGEL is really good, but it wanders a bit, and there's some rather sledghammer symbolism.

There's nothing that can beat SEVEN SAMURAI. Just bloody perfect in every way.

Don't let an opportunity to see HIDDEN FORTRESS on a big screen pass you by. Basically, don't let any bigscreen Kurosawa pass you by.

And I see that the Criterion Collection is going to be releasing Kurosawa's first color film DODESKADEN on DVD in the coming few months. I saw a pretty bad print a few years ago. Possibly the worst Kurosawa I've ever seen, but maybe the new print will make a difference.


message 46: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments yeah, i've never seen that one, or dersu usala (sp?).

what can i say? i had a limited number of nights during the festival that i could attend and i opted for throne of blood (which i had never caught on the big screen) and rashomon...(second time on big screen). i'll keep your comment in mind though, tom.


message 47: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments DERSU UZALA is pretty good, for the most part, but doesn't really hold up.

Limited number of nights, my eye, Phillip. You should have completely re-arranged your entire life to accommodate the glories of cinema watching. Re-arrange surgery, if need be. Skip funerals of dear ones. Your bosses will understand if you have to miss work.

Insert appropriate emoticon indicating ironic jesting here, please.



message 48: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments cheers! i really should get my priorities straight. thanks for schooling me!

you're in a good mood, was santa nice to you for christmas or something?


message 49: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5461 comments I'm always in a good mood. You don't really take these mad rantings of mine seriously, do you?


message 50: by Phillip (last edited Jan 06, 2009 12:52AM) (new)

Phillip | 10751 comments nope. i'm too busy taking myself way too seriously.
; )


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