A few months ago we went to see Rashomon at the Drafthouse. I really enjoyed it. Last night we did the free Victory Screening at the Drafthouse which happened to be Seven Samurai. OMG is that a brilliant movie! So, so good.
It was done in the 1950’s and I can easily see why Kurosawa was a directorial trend setter. There were a couple of brief scenes shot in slow motion. He told a story that was deeply engrained in Japanese culture, using Japanese actors and yet made it approachable to all cultures and times by bringing out the humanity in his characters. The jokes were funny, over 50 years later and in a completely different culture (USA). The drama was relevant and well done. His knack for clever scene framing made his shots beautiful and impactful. He used pacing with complete brilliance; in one scene he showed some actors doing nothing more than looking at other actors and it built the tension to edge of seat levels, and then he released all the tension by letting the pace speed up to keep the action moving along. It was a 4-hour movie that never got boring or tedious and didn’t actually feel long.
I’m a huge Kurasawa fan. Seven Samurai is my favorite, by far.
You should see the samurai movies he made with Tashiro Mifune – Yojimbo (remade as a Fistful of Dollars with Clint Eastwood), Sanjuro, and The Hidden Fortress (which George Lucas famously raided for elements of Star Wars).
I really liked Kagemusha
Although a lot of people like Ran, his take on King Lear, I prefer Throne of Blood, his Japanese take on Macbeth.
If you get a chance, see Dersu Uzala, the movie he made with Mosfilm, about a Siberian hunter/guide.
Lots of other flicks – the classic Ikiru, Dreams, Red Beard. Many of his flicks are available on Criterion Video (which is a bit pricey).
Read Donald Ritchie’s book The Films of Akira Kurasawa.
Weird fact – just as Yojimbo and Seven Samurai were remade as westerns, so was Rashomon, as The Outrage. I’ve never seen this film, but I’d like to – it has an off-the-wall cast:
Paul Newman as Juan Carrasco
Laurence Harvey as Colonel Wakefield
Claire Bloom as Nina Wakefield
Edward G. Robinson as Con Man
William Shatner as Preacher
Howard Da Silva as Prospector
Albert Salmi as Sheriff
Thomas Chalmers as Judge
Paul Fix as Indian
Those* were influenced by, if not full on interpretations of Seven Samurai, yes. I’m not sure if you can enjoy those and really get the Kurosawa “experience”, though. I mean, to do everything that he did, using 1950’s film technology… holy moly!
I would consider him the greatest director alive if he were, you know, still alive.
Besides his samurai costume dramas, I love Dodes’ka-den, his first color feature. I’m not sure enough to edit wiki but it is my understanding that, rather than a nonce word, Dodesukaden is Japanese slang for “How about it?” or “Is this to your liking?” which fits the theme.
Also, the plot summary is a bit off at one point. The drunken day laborers don’t engage in wife swapping per se but are shown coming back to the dump one evening into their cups. They are a bit… vague as to which house is whose but the two women of the house take their guy in without comment. Several days later they wind up back in the house they started the movie in, but there’s no clue as to how many times this cycle might have happened.
I like all the movies mentioned above and will add: The Lower Depths, which was based on a Gorky play, I believe. You’ll see many of the good actors from Kurosawa’s other films, including, of course, Toshiro Mifune.
I don’t have much to add to the commentary other than I’ve probably seen Rashomon twenty times I pick up additional nuances every time. The film is often imitated and referenced, but has never been bested. Throne of Blood is my favorite of his Sengoku era interpretations of Shakespeare, but Ran has some of the most vivid scenes of medieval combat ever put to film.
It is too bad that he struggled for years with health and funding problems, and that we’ve missed out on a larger body of work that could have been, but he is inarguably one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, and should be enshrined with DeMille, Chaplin, Keaton, Lang, Welles, Hitchcock, and Scorsese.
My favorite of all is Ikiru, but I also really like High and Low, and Stray Dog. The jidai-geki (period dramas) are great, but I prefer dramas of contemporary life. It’s interesting how little has changed regarding bureaucrats since Ikiru (1952).