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Archive for the ‘Akira Kurosawa’ Category

Akira Kurosawa Dreams

This isn’t what you would call your typical Akira Kurosawa movie, it’s a trip into his own dreams which is presented as 8 short stories. The stories are:

SUNSHINE THROUGH THE RAIN – a young boy wanders off into the woods despite the pleas of his mother. There he sees a group of magical foxes in a wedding procession of some sort. When he returns home, his mother tells him that the foxes want him to either kill himself or ask for their forgiveness. The boy then goes off in search of the foxes’ lair under a rainbow.

THE PEACH ORCHARD – A boy follows a mysterious girl into some woods where the spirits there curse his family for destroying their peach trees. When the spirits see how sorry the boy is, they perform a ceremony which allows him to see the peach trees one last time.

THE BLIZZARD – Two men walk bravely through a blizzard. As the cold threatens to overcome them with death, a snow witch turns up to torment one of the men.

THE TUNNEL – A former army commander is confronted by dead members of his old platoon after he walks through a tunnel.

CROWS – A man is thinking about the life of the artist Vincent Van Gogh. He enters a world inside one of the artists’ paintings and meets up with Van Gogh himself before walking around a colourful landscape.

MOUNT FUJI IN RED – A nuclear apocalypse takes place in Japan. Panic spreads amongst the survivors who contemplate whether to commit suicide or not?

THE WEEPING DEMON – Linked to the previous dream, a wandering man comes across a mutant. They talk to each other near some giant mutated dandelions about nature taking its revenge on mankind.

VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS – The wandering man comes across a Utopian place in a peaceful and beautiful village. After witnessing a ritual, he asks one of the village elders what is going on. He explains that the inhabitants of the village is living in harmony with nature.

akira kurosawa mt-fuji-in-red

It is hard to really know what Kurosawa is trying to tell the viewer in this movie. People can give their own interpretation about each of the dreams but it is only Kurosawa himself that can answer that question and he is no longer alive. It’s his most personal movie – perhaps it is about his journey through life or something else (some say it is all about mankind’s relationship with nature)? Whatever it is, some might see him as being a little bit too preachy in this movie. It isn’t the great man’s most accessible work either to movie fans – it’s a bit arty, too long and with some unanswered questions and symbolism in each story that may leave people frustrated. Each of the dream segments are interesting in their own way but if there was two that really stand out in my mind it would have to be the CROWS and VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS. Some critics have said that this movie is more style over story and I have to agree on that. The cinematography in some of the stories is outstanding. CROWS is a visual masterpiece awash with bright and vivid colours as the viewer is taken on a journey around Van Gogh’s art. The story left me awestruck. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. Every frame in this story is like a painting. The part of Van Gogh was played by none other than Martin Scorscese. VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS has a good message to it about harmonising with nature instead of trying to destroy it. Some anti-nuclear rhetoric is quite easy to be seen in the 2 stories MOUNT FUJI IN RED and THE DEMON. The Mount Fuji story is depicted like a disaster movie and very effective it is as well. The acting in each of the stories is great though there’s never enough time for the main characters to be fleshed out.

Whether you like this movie or not, it is definitely one to experience if only for the technical brilliance of it all thanks to the help from George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic. It is probably the most imaginative movie that Kurosawa ever made. Well worth taking a look but I realise it might not be to everyone’s taste.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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thebadsleepwell

The movie begins with a wedding ceremony between Koichi Nishi (the secretary for the vice president of a company called Public Corp) and Yoshiko, the VP’s daughter who’s lame after an accident that happened when she was a child thanks in part to her brother. Soon after at the wedding reception, a gaggle of newspaper reporters are hanging around the place like vultures waiting for a scoop of some sort. There are rumours of dodgy dealings going on between Public Corp and Dairyu Construction that the newspapers are keen to exploit on. They also think that Nishi is marrying Yoshiko to only climb up the ladder in the company. The wedding reception takes a turn for the worse for some members of Public Corp when the wedding cake arrives. The large cake in the shape of the Public Corp office building has a red rose sticking out of one of the upstairs window. The rose is pointing to a spot in which one of the company’s employees jumped from a window and committed suicide 5 years previously. Two police detectives arrive on the scene and Wada, one of the people involved with contracts is taken away by them for questioning about fraud and embezzlement. He is only one of many people that are questioned. With nobody saying anything out of loyalty to their company, the police have nothing to charge Public Corp. However, there are a couple of suicides and in each case they have been goaded into doing so by Public Corp’s VP president Iwabuchi and his sidekick Miyamoto. Wada is one such man that is about to obey his boss’ orders by throwing himself off a smouldering mountain (looks very much like Owakudani – the volcanic valley near Hakone) when he is stopped by none other than Koichi Nishi, Iwabuchi’s secretary. Wada is confused as to why Nishi is saving him. Nishi though is not the man he has told everybody he claims to be. He has taken another man’s identity, managed to get a great job and married the VP’s daughter to get inside the corrupt company as a tool for his revenge. It was his father Furuya that killed himself 5 years ago and Nishi is fuelled by rage to set things right. His plan is put into motion when Wada is announced to be dead (even though he isn’t) and he is taken to his own funeral where Nishi explains to him how bad to the core his superiors have been over the years. He wants to use Wada as a ghost to scare those who were involved in his father’s death and bring them to justice. Nishi doesn’t really care if his actions will land him in jail. How far is he willing to go with his revenge?

In this underrated masterpiece by Akira Kurosawa , the director goes for the jugular with this story in attacking corporate corruption that was rife in Japan during the late 50’s. It’s quite a brilliant and compelling tale and although it runs for 2 hrs and 30 mins, once you get sucked into the plot it’s hard to turn away from the screen. This movie which has some film noir elements to it has been compared to Shakespeare’s Hamlet by many people. From the beginning with the wedding of Nishi and Yoshiki, Kurosawa directs the movie extraordinary well from the way he ramps up the tension and the feelings of unease amongst some of the Public Corp’s management at the wedding reception. The journalists that are waiting patiently for a story to make the headlines of their newspapers talk about the scandal around Public Corp and give sarcastic comments as they listen to the speeches that some of the guests make to the bride and groom whilst giving the viewer some background information about them. Naturally there are some gasps from everybody when the bride’s brother says he will kill Nishi if he makes her unhappy. It culminates with the wedding cake scene before Kurosawa shows us a montage of newspaper headlines about the scandal. It is only after this that the main revenge plot is unveiled. I enjoyed seeing how Nishi went about in trying to bring down his boss and his cronies. It contains many great set-pieces and he might have succeeded had he not been so soft. As the suspense grows during the movie I was left on the edge of my seat in wondering whether there could actually be a chance in Nishi succeeding in his mission. It is such a gripping and exciting movie which is so well-written and it culminates in a dramatic conclusion. The cinematography is first rate with one such example being when the character of Shirai is walking along a road at night and sees the ‘ghost’ of Wada. The use of lighting and shadows by Kurosawa in these scenes is fantastic.

The Bad Sleep Well screenshot

Toshiro Mifune excels as Nishi who hides behind thick rimmed glasses with quite a reserved personality when the viewer first sees him. He is unrelenting in his quest to take down those responsible for his father’s death even though their relationship before his death was a bit complex. He comes across as being cold and at times a merciless person in order to achieve his aims but the viewer never loses their sympathy for him. Even when he is at his most brutal, there is some good inside him and the fact that he slowly starts to really fall in love with Yoshiko even though he was only using her for his plans shows his tender side. His true character is only revealed when he’s in the company of a childhood friend that’s helping him out with his plans as he smiles and reminisces about the past. Nishi’s masterplan goes smoothly at first but then as Iwabuchi and Miyamoto discover his real identity Nishi is unaware of the power that the company wields in trying to destroy him. It makes his fate at the end all the more bleak and depressing. It would be rather difficult for one man to bring a large company down. One should not forget the stellar acting by the rest of the cast. The standout actor is Masayuki Mori as the chief manipulator Iwabuchi. One of the final scenes of the movie which has Iwabuchi shedding crocodile tears as he explains to the press his sincere sorrow about Nishi’s death shows the depths of his villainry and makes him even more despicable. Ko Nishimura as Shirai who eventually goes insane and is thrown into a mental asylum also gives a terrific performance.

Though The Bad Sleep Well has been overshadowed by other Kurosawa classics, this movie about revenge on a grand scale which ends in tragedy should not be ignored. It really is an amazing movie which comes highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Kyoji Fujisaki is a doctor who makes the mistake of taking off his surgical gloves during an operation. His finger is cut open on a scalpel and in the process contracts syphillis from the patient. He hides the fact he has the disease from his girlfriend Misao and his family and injects himself with medicine in order to be cured. Kyoji even breaks off his engagement to Misao as he does not want to give her the disease. He doesn’t tell her what’s wrong with him but he pushes her away and tell her to find another man. A nurse who works with Kyoji discovers him injecting himself with Salvarsan to treat his syphillis and becomes Kyoji’s confidante to his inner feelings. Kyoji accidentally meets with the man Nakada who has given him syphillis at a police station and is horrified when he says that as he’s now cured his wife is pregnant. The fact is the man still has syphillis and Kyoji rages about his lack of responsibility to his wife and baby who may be born with a disability or even be deformed.

The Quiet Duel isn’t an Akira Kurosawa movie you hear many people talking about. It certainly doesn’t get the attention of his most famous movies. Perhaps it’s because this movie was made early in his career when he was still learning his trade. After watching the movie I can safely say that whilst it may not be a masterpiece it is still a very good well-acted melodrama. At this time in his career, Kurosawa had moved from temporarily from Toho studios because of strike action and was now working for Daiei and the people under him there were inexperienced. This was only his 2nd collaboration with Toshiro Mifune and their working relationship was yet to hit it’s peak. The has got all the style and techniques you’d associate with a Kurosawa movie but he would just use it for greater effect in his later works. The story is adapted from a stage play which means the plot doesn’t really take us anywhere. There are only a handful of locations used in the movie. Even though the storyline about how deadly syphillis is would appear to be outdated now because of the advances in medicine, you can substitute it for a modern day disease such as AIDS. The plot is about a man making a choice about his life and struggling to live with his decision. Kyoji chooses to shut off his feelings from anybody and tries to carry on as normal in his professional career, no matter how painful it might be. He feels it is better for Misao, his girlfriend to not to waste her youth in waiting for him to be cured which might take 10 years and find another suitor. He doesn’t want her to get the disease off him. The story trundles along to a dramatic climax which sees Nakada, the man who gave Kyoji his disease in a drunken syphillis frenzy return to the hospital where his wife has given birth. He demands to see his child and well…….I won’t spoil what happens when he sees the results of his recklessness.

Toshiro Mifune is on his A-game as Kyoji which culminates in an emotional scene as he breaks down in front of the nurse who works with him and pours out his feelings to her about seeing off his former girlfriend who is about to get married. It’s quite heartbreaking to watch. Kurosawa knew how to get the best from Mifune. A regular from Kurosawa’s movies Takashi Shimura who plays Kyoji’s father also turns in a brilliant and underrated performance. The same could also be said about Noriko Sengoku who plays the tough as nails nurse Rui Minegishi.

If you compare this to another Kurosawa medical drama movie Red Beard, it doesn’t quite hit the same heights as it but this is still a solid piece of storytelling by the master which is well worth your time.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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The story is set in post WWII Tokyo amongst one of the city’s slums which has a pool full of diseases close by. Dr Sanada is a gruff alcoholic doctor who is keen to make sure his patients are kept as healthy as possible which is difficult as medical supplies are scarce. A young hothead yazuka named Matsunaga calls at his surgery one day to remove a bullet from his hand. The doctor notices that he has a nasty cough and soon discovers he has TB and that Matsunaga should go and get it treated but Matsunaga refuses. As his condition worsens, he tries to change his lifestyle which is what Dr Sanada advised him to do in order to make his illness better. It doesn’t help that his boss Okada is back on the scene after a spell in prison and intends to reclaim the territory he had before Matsunaga took it over. Okada makes it clear that he intends to get rid of Matsunaga by making him confront a rival gang. Even though the TB in Matsunaga’s body is taking its toll, he cannot let his condition make him appear weak and he sets out to confront his boss……..

This was the first collaboration between Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune which would result in a long and fruitful relationship between the two spanning nearly two decades and 16 movies. Although not one of his classics, it’s still a very good movie and you can see Kurosawa’s flair as director coming to the fore even though its a little rough round the edges – the dream sequence on the beach with Matsunaga being chased by himself is one scene which looks out of place with the rest of the movie. Drunken Angel is also an underrated film noir movie which is sadly overlooked by many people. Kurosawa himself stated that this was the first movie he could call his own due to some interference before and after the war by the studios. In this movie he was free to do as he pleased. It’s a simple and straightforward drama about an uneasy relationship between an angry yakuza man dying of TB and a drunken doctor who is trying to save his life. Their story is set against a background of harsh postwar conditions shown in realistic detail by the festering disease ridden pools in the city. The cinematography is excellent but it’s the two main leads that makes this such a great movie to watch. They work really well together. I would say it’s Shimura more than Mifune that stands out the most in this movie. Their interaction with each other which is full of conflict is also tinged with affection. The highlight for me in this movie is Matsunaga’s fight to the death against Okada who has made everybody turn against him – it is really gripping. Despite the rather short running time compared to his other movies, there’s still some impressive character development on show.

Kurosawa’s brilliant directing along with the fantastic acting of Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura make this a must-see movie. Recommended.

No trailer but here’s a small clip from the movie:

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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In a run-down Edo tenement, an elderly man and his bitter wife rent out rooms and beds to the poor. The tenants are gamblers, prostitutes, petty thieves and drunk layabouts, all struggling to survive. The landlady’s younger sister Okayo who helps the landlords with the maintenance of the place, brings in an old man Kahei and rents him a bed. Kahei quickly assumes the role of the mediator and grandfatherly figure, though there is an air of mystery about him and some of the tenants suspect his past is not unblemished. Sutekichi, the thief and self-appointed tenement leader, is having an affair with Osugi the landlady, though he is gradually shifting his attention to her younger and sweet-tempered sister, Okayo. Okayo thinks little of him, however, which frustrates Sutekichi and sours his relationship with Osugi. Jealous and vengeful, Osugi conspires to seduce Sutekichi to murder her husband so she can turn him over to the authorities. Sutekichi sees through her seduction and refuses to take any part in the murder. The husband discovers the affair, gets into a fight with Sutekichi, and is saved only through Kahei’s intervention. As Okayo begins to slowly like Sutekichi, she is beaten up by her sister and husband. Thankfully she is saved by the tenants and when Sutekichi hears of this he goes ballistic and in the chaos that follows Osugi’s husband is accidentally killed by him. He and Osugi are arrested by the authorities but Kahei whose testimony could clear him has run away. What will ultimately happen to Sutekichi?

The Lower Depths isn’t one of Akira Kurosawa’s best loved movies and it’s easy to see why that is the case. I might be in the minority here but I found most of it to be extremely dull. It’s almost like a stage play with a lot of the movie played out in one location where characters walk in and out. The movie didn’t really hold my attention at all and it was only the great Toshiro Mifune that made it bearable for me. Then again he’s always fantastic. The love triangle between his character Sutekichi and the two females Osugi and Okayo is probably the best aspect of the movie. The first hour just drifted by with nothing of any note happening except for the characters to just talk, talk and talk some more. There are couple of humourous moments to lift the depressing mood of the movie. It’s directed well by Kurosawa and the acting isn’t bad at all, the problem is just with the story itself in that it’s uninteresting.

This is the first movie by Kurosawa that I haven’t really enjoyed and couldn’t wait for it to end. It was so disappointing and unappealing. This movie isn’t a good place to start watching Kurosawa’s movie catalogue. I would definitely seek something else instead.

I can’t find a trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Medical trainee doctor Noboru Yasumoto thinks he’s only visiting an impoverished public clinic where the poor are served but finds out that the magistrate has assigned him to work there and he he as no choice but to stay. Out of spite he refuses to help the good doctor Kyojio Niide known to everyone as Red Beard who runs the place. Yasumoto even refuses to even wear his clinic uniform but eventually becomes interested in the patients particularly an old man dying and a mad woman who’s kept isolated in a special ward. When Red Beard rescues an abused girl Otoya who has been kept by the owner of a brothel, Yasumoto is given the task of coaxing her out of her shell and helping her on the slow road to recovery.

This is the final collaboration between Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and what a belter it is with it’s main theme being compassion. The story is beautiful, touching and shows the redemption of an arrogant young man who thinks he is above working in Red Beard’s clinic but gradually learns what it means to become a human being whilst learning important and worthwhile lessons in life. I enjoyed watching Yasumoto growing from a person who didn’t really give a toss for any of Red Beard’s patients to a man who cares and decides that instead of wanting to become the Shogunate’s doctor he would like to stay on at the clinic. It’s such a memorable movie which is emotionally devastating yet also lifts your spirits at the same time. The patients we meet at Red Beard’s clinic are interesting and each of them has a story to tell which are moving. There are so many moments which stand out but for myself the one which involves the character of ‘The Mantis’ trying to seduce and kill Yasumoto with a hairpin is chilling.

Toshiro Mifune commands a huge onscreen presence as he always does. His portrayal of the grizzled veteran doctor Red Beard is magnificent. Although his character is restrained most of the time, he does get a chance to kick ass when he takes on a gang of thugs and breaks their arms and legs after they try and stop him from taking a girl to his clinic! Yuzo Kayama is fantastic as Yasumoto and I did like Terumi Niki as the mentally scarred Otoya. Kayama and Niki’s scenes together are wonderful.

Akira Kurosawa’s testament to the goodness of mankind is one of his best. It’s such a shame that Kurosawa and Mifune would never work together again after this movie as they brought the best out of each other. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Gondo is a wealthy man who has risen through the ranks from being a humble shoe maker inside the National Shoe company to becoming an executive and share holder in the company. Having been on the shop floor, Gondo knows what it takes to make good quality shoes but his fellow executive wants to save money and make cheaper shoes instead that will fall apart quickly. He refuses to go along with their scheme to oust their boss and has a plan of his own to take over the company. To do this, Gondo has mortgaged everything in his possession including the fancy house that his family have on top of a hill. During this time, somebody kidnaps the son of Gondo’s chaffeur having made a mistake as the kidnapper really wanted Gondo’s son. A ransom is given as being 30 million yen to release the boy and the kidnapper wants Gondo to pay it quickly or the boy will be killed. But if he pays the ransom, Gondo’s plan to take over National Shoe will be in ruins. He would lose everything – his house and most likely his job. At first Gondo is reluctant to pay off the ransom. For his own son he would pay in a heartbeat but for a son of his worker he hesitates. A moral dilemma poses itself for Gondo – does he pay off the ransom or not? Will he do the honourable thing?

Possibly one of the most enthralling police thrillers to emerge from Japan and who else but Akira Kurosawa could weave us a gripping tale that keeps us glued to our seats for 2 hours and 25 mins. From the first scene to the ending, Kurosawa shows us exactly why he is a master of cinema. Most people associate him with great samurai dramas but he could do a contemporary thriller as good as any Western movie. The first part of the movie is dedicated solely to Gondo’s situation as he wrestles with his conscience as to what to do with the kidnapping. He doesn’t want to lose everything that he has worked so hard over the years to achieve if he pays the ransom but he cannot let a little boy be killed by the kidnapper. It culminates in a tense and exciting sequence onboard a bullet train. The second half deals with the police search for the kidnapper and his accomplices as they follow up every lead and clue in order to catch their suspects from using the kidnapped kid’s drawings of where he was taken to background sounds from the telephone calls made to Gondo by the kidnapper. It’s all very interesting and keeps us in suspense. The script is fantastic and the cinematography is outstanding. The pacing is perfect and quite quick. I loved the final scene between Gondo and the kidnapper who’s about to have the death sentence carried out on him. He tells Gondo his reasons for carrying out what he did with his chilling words “your house looked like heaven, high up there. That’s how I began to hate you”. The meaning of the movie’s title I would imagine is this – the “high” is obviously Gendo’s house and his wealthy position in society looking down on the “low” where the everyday common people live. It’s almost as if the kidnapper despised the idea that the wealthy Gendo and his house was almost like a castle lording it over the rest of the town.

Excellent acting from Kurosawa regulars Toshiro Mifune as Gondo and Tatsuya Nakadai as the police detective Tokura. The rest of the ensemble cast (familiar faces from other Kurosawa movies) also do a sterling job in their roles.

A masterpiece on every level. A complex and fascinating crime thriller and whilst different to many of Kurosawa’s other movies, it certainly ranks up there as being one of his best. A must-see.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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