Through the analysis of the social order portrayed in Seven Samurai, the problems that contributed to Japan’s age of warring states are readily apparent. A combination of lawlessness, constant warfare and a lack of central authority are evident within the film. Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s reforms served to address these problems and helped establish a general peaceful order that would last over 250 years. By establishing and freezing the social classes, disarming all but the samurai and conducting extensive surveys of Japan’s domains, Hideyoshi was able to strengthen the ruling class and weaken its subjects, thus putting an end to the strife of the Sengoku period and creating a stable social order that would serve as the backbone of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1991
The script is so contrived that the weight of the atomic bomb and its enduring aftermath is reduced to trifle. Whereas in Drunken Angel similar ideas are broached obliquely yet incisively—with the added advantage of having truly captured an ephemeral postwar existence—this film feels far removed from that time and place and those methods of evincing it. At a ritual honoring the August 9th dead, Richard Gere’s character Clark speaks meaningfully that “seeing these people here… I can feel that day.” But we cannot feel it for Kurosawa has done very little up to that point to provoke us. He has not courted us to the horror and awesomeness of those events the way better documents have.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa, Ishirô HondaJapan, United States | 1990
Kurosawa is very meditative here. I rather like it, but many will disagree. Dreams surely ranks among his most tedious efforts, but if you can manage to focus your attention for the full two hours I think you’ll find it rewarding. Not every moment of each of the eight stories is of visual interest, but collectively this film stands as a dense tableaux of images with salient staging and perhaps the most striking scenery ever photographed by the sensei of cinema.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1985
Hidetora’s life is saved due to the misplacement of his short sword, the only tool that would guarantee him an honorable excursion to the afterlife. But he dies metaphorically in that castle with flaming arrows and rifle shot exploding around him, unable to end his own life or to have someone else end it. Hidetora’s forgetfulness is a sign among a multitude of signs that he has been unmanned as a warrior-king. His senility is first apparent when he fails to see the designs of his older sons or guess the motives of the youngest…
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1980
His identity-struggles, after three long years playing someone else—the grandson loves him and he the child—and his humiliation and banishment when the time comes is heartbreaking. As Nobukado says, “the shadow of a man can never desert that man. I was my brother’s shadow. Now that I have lost him, it is as though I am nothing.” The thief too has given his flesh to another, and his love so wholly that he is a thief no more.
Directed by Akira KurosawaUSSR, Japan | 1975
This is more a film about aging and obsolescence from a personal perspective. It’s also about the smallness of man in the vastness of the universe and man’s inextricable mortality. Despite this despairing message, there is a sort of affirmation of life to be found. The sincerity and beauty of Arseniev’s friendship with Dersu is something to behold; Kurosawa continually revels in their relationship, a dyadic close to that of a teacher and student but also, and above all, one of camaraderie.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1970
…this was one of the most radical experiments with color on film up to this point, perhaps an estranged cousin to Antonioni’s Red Desert. Much like that film, the brilliant use of color here is marked primarily by its variety and diversity. In some sections Kurosawa uses mostly natural light to render the slums as nastily as they are, but elsewhere he uses color like leitmotifs, as in assigning red and yellow to the two drunks, their wives and their houses so the viewer is never confused as to which one is sleeping where and with whom. Occasionally he’ll cast an image in a static, low-contrast, deep-focus shot; elsewhere creating chiaroscuros with spotlights penetrating the darkness.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1965
This film also marks the end of a very long, productive phase for Kurosawa—infancy as a film artist through middle-age—and the beginning of the old man, whose grammar would regress to childhood with 1970’s Dodes’kaden before a failed suicide attempt would spur him towards one of his greatest critical achievements, a masterpiece of colossal bitterness, Ran. Of course, Mifune’s lips are really the master’s, and even by 1965 he hadn’t decided whether humanity was worth salvation or not. Here, the answer is yes. By the time of Ran, affirmatively ‘no’.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1963
This is an inversion of the classic Kurosawa quick-motion pan—this time the cameras are positioned on a moving subject as it darts past the stationary objects of its gaze. After the long static drama of the first half, this four-minute scene is exhilarating with its free cuts and fluid movements. Kurosawa employs nine roving cameras… to capture every gaze and reaction, including Gondo’s pained expression when he finally slides the suitcases out of the narrow washroom window. Expert editing reduces it to the necessary action, giving it the fluidity of real-time and the fixity of crisis.
BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) is featuring avant-garde theater director Ping Chong’s latest venture, a complete adaptation of Kurosawa’s masterpiece Throne of Blood for the stage. The costumes look outrageous in a good way. It will be interesting to see how the film’s visual language will be vitalized in a live performance.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1962
Sanjûrô is perhaps Kurosawa at his most didactic, though like his other preachy works it isn’t heavy-handed. Indeed it is hardly apparent at all. The ostensible major theme is most succinctly expressed by the lady. The character of the lady (and daughter) seems to offer a counterbalance between Sanjûrô and the young samurai… She speaks in bromides: the evident pleasures of sleeping in hay, the beauty of camellias floating downstream. The greatest of these is the advice proffered to the swordsman: “Good swords stay in their sheaths.” This phrase is completely trite yet, to the ronin, eminently profound.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1961
These popular films of which Yojimbo is the keystone are rich in action and metaphor, and ultimately about filmmaking. Lacking in nobler qualities they tend toward the comic, and filmmaking after all can be an amusing process. The presentation of the world of Yojimbo is crystalline. There’s bad, there’s worse and then there’s our hero. He slices his way through a realm whose stupidity and facetiousness is obvious. This is amusing because the kind of heroes we’re accustomed to worshipping on the screen are noted for their ruth and cleverness and nobility in a sea of mystery and intrigue.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1960
Though never acknowledged explicitly by Kurosawa, The Bad Sleep Well parallels “Hamlet” in many ways obvious and subtle. The plot itself should leap from the screen to anyone with a cursory knowledge of Shakespeare’ play: a man driven to avenge his father’s murder by destroying the perpetrator, who becomes his second father (step-father in Hamlet and father-in-law in this film). Nishi loves Keiko as Hamlet loves Ophelia, but the strength of his conviction to revenge is such that she must be sacrificed. Both stories are tragic, ending with a pile of corpses, but for The Bad Sleep Well this is not initially apparent… unless you manage to grasp all of the disparate metaphor in its opening sequence.
There may be a lack of originality in Hollywood these days, but there is no shortage of great source material to remake and adapt to box office appeal. Apparently the Weinsteins have had their sights set on a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai for some time with First Showing reporting their designs back in 2008.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1958
The hidden fortress itself is manipulated through editing to appear as a sort of negative stronghold, with secret channels connecting it to strategic places such as the freshwater pond where the gold is kept by Rokurota. As we travel with our band of knaves, Kurosawa uses twisting avenues and bridges to lengthen his locations; if instead it were open plains, his telephoto lens would effectively collapse all this imaginary space. Really we haven’t gone very far from one province to the next, but Kurosawa makes us believe we have, and we go with him.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1957
The reality of the film itself can be seen as what we (and the characters) experience in the immediate now, but it’s equally the immovable force that gives birth to fantasies about better things, whether they’re in the past or the imagined future. On that theme, The Gambler and The Pilgrim certainly present opposing viewpoints, with The Gambler being the hard-edged cynic that can’t tolerate the fabrications of the other characters… The Pilgrim, instead, chooses to indulge the characters’ fantasies, realizing that, sometimes, they are precisely what people need to survive at all.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1957
Kurosawa renders Washizu as an impotent caricature of Macbeth. Not only does the director take Asaji’s machinations to ridicule and motivate her husband much further than Lady Macbeth’s, but he completely removes Macbeth’s conflicted monologues, his heroism and vehemence, his sense of guilt and his final words of contrition. The sense is that Washizu is compelled to act rather than innately ambitious. He is still a tragic figure, but a wave in a ceaseless tide of human tragedy.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1955
As with Rashomon, Kurosawa prefers to remain fair and balanced on issues concerning such ambiguous and complex morality: even if we agree that Kiichi’s intentions are extreme, are they unjustifiable? Unwarranted? Incomprehensible? Certainly not, considering that even the newspapers are spreading the sensationalist idea of complete extermination.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1954
The fact that social barriers between people of different origins, classes, ages and genders are crumbling, that values are being conceived anew suggest the end of an epoch and the beginning of a new one. The transformative power of history, the rise and ebb of politics here is dramatized in a handful of lives enduring a couple of days. History may appear immanent to the modern observer, but these are big ideas and vast currents that did not form in the same tide, nor overnight. Smart storytellers eschew an infinity of causes for the effects.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1952
The bureaucrats… sometimes have pangs of conscience, but mostly push things down into manifold chasms of subconscious. One of these men rebels, he is appalled at his coworker’s lack of sincerity. This man is us too. Sometimes, we remember those things that stirred us, sometimes we feel called to action, sometimes we are appalled and, when this happens, we find that symbol that so moved us before and, for this man, it’s the park that Watanabe has become.
Due to the immense popularity of Seven Samurai (apparently the top seller for Criterion among Kurosawa’s work) the Criterion Collection has decided to release the epic, period drama masterpiece by Akira Kurosawa on Blu-ray.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1951
There certainly is an impressive tonal note sustained throughout the project, even as the edits sometimes pile on so fast as to reduce the narrative to near tatters. It is surely this quality that has lead some to classify the film as one of Kurosawa’s finest. If you can ignore the narrative lapses and unsure progression of the drama then the atmosphere the film evokes may well carry you through…
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1950
I think many critics these days are willing to shortchange this film because of its distance from the present and its theoretical simplicity. It’s only simple if you think Kurosawa is trying to say something, namely that all truth is relative. That seems to be the consensus these days. Relativism. Case closed. But what Kurosawa and his screenwriter are really much closer to, without totally confronting us with it, is the subtler notion that truth and actuality are separate ideas.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1950
On her death bed she understands that her father has been bought, that he is intentionally losing the case for Aoe and Maiko. She is physically weak and she knows that she will die, but her fortitude, sincerity and compassion soars. She has the emotional strength of a lion, as opposed to her father who is healthy but commands the will of a slug.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1949
It’s no accident that Murakami chooses a soldier’s uniform… In so doing, he not only follows in his thief’s footsteps, but in the invisible corridor of reality forever precluded by the choices he made. His chosen profession means fighting against the very person he might have become which leads to an incongruent degree of passion for a case that might otherwise seem a trifle.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1949
The operation takes place in a small shack, and the intensity of it is palpable. The storm without, the leaking roof within, the pestering flies and the unbearable humidity add up to an uncomfortable situation. These irritants break the doctor’s focus leading him to cut himself and contract the disease. We have a brilliant interplay of light and shadow cutting across the lilly white uniforms of the nurses along with the various aforementioned aural stimuli. This scene is pure Kurosawa, practically a telescoping of his methods.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1948
Born of the considerations of postwar Japan, Drunken Angel marks the first major breakthrough and the opening of an era for Akira Kurosawa. Many consider it to be his “first film,” in the sense that the distinct elements that color the oeuvre we know so well came together for the first time. It incisively and cohesively epitomizes an era of the human condition and it’s amazing the film turned out the way it did. It was filmed in 1948 during the occupation and, though there is no depiction of soldiers, the physical and social ruin of war is visible—in fact it forms the very fabric of the film.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1947
Kurosawa’s paean to young love has to be one of the most underrated films in his oeuvre. What is most striking about it is the camera; it moves and sweeps in ways that would rarely be repeated in future films. When the couple is buoyant they sprint from place to place, Kurosawa tracks them through the streets with his telephoto lens and the whole film is buoyed by these fanciful runs in which the audience is asked to participate in the couple’s joy.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1946
Setsuko successfully embodies a character who evolves: from a mercurial object of worship in her youth to a fragile married woman and finally to a noble ascetic. Not only does Yukie age credibly over the course of thirteen years, but Setsuko’s physiognomy changes in accompaniment: her outer ferocity gives way to an uncertain sensitivity, but by film’s end there is a strength and moral resolve that glows in her aspect.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1945
This sequel to Kurosawa’ debut film is, categorically, the worst of his long career. It shares the same cast as the first and is a continuation of Sanshiro’s life, but it is thematically quite different. Kurosawa was not interested in making this film, and precisely why he did direct it is not clear, though we can assume that the authorities, pleased with the first one, “encouraged” him to do so. However, it could be instructive as its deficiencies may clarify the eminence of the original.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1945
Like most Noh and Kabuki, this film is an exercise in kinesics: that is, nonverbal, physical communication. The truth must be gleaned from various unspoken cues: a raised eyebrow here, a half-smile there and so on. The entire cast excels here, but it is Denjirô Ôkôchi as Benkei and Susumu Fujita (the titular character of Sugata Sanshiro) as Togashi who steal the show. In fact, the central interest of the story (in the theatre as well as the cinema) is the subtle, cerebral interplay of the two characters.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1944
But we have to remember that a key plot element is the girls asking to have their production quotas increased. In one sense it’s admirable that these girls conquer their personal struggles for the sake of their country, but in another sense they are being exploited. Fortunately, Kurosawa’s camera never is. Instead, using the lens the girls have so diligently crafted, he magnifies their personal stories by superimposing the “fight!” wartime ennui upon their lives. This is his humanism.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1943
As daylight breaks, signaled by the crowing cock, Sanshiro notices before him a lotus flower. He is struck by it, by its beauty to be sure but also by its purity. It is illuminated just as Sanshiro’s face is overcome with some powerful idea. He leaps from the pond with resolve and begs his master’s forgiveness. From here on he is a new man; he has resolved to be as pure and gentle as the flower.