Thursday, April 08, 2010


There's still a few days left of Kurosawa at the Brattle - a double feature of The Lower Depths and Dodes'ka-Den on Friday and Saturday and The Hidden Fortress on Sunday (sadly, no 9pm-hour show for any of those, as the Brattle is wasting using that time on Twin Peaks), and a Yojimbo/Sanjuro double feature on Wednesday and Thursday. I'm kind of disappointed that I couldn't get to more, between BUFF during the first week and things running longer than I thought on other days.

I encourage folks to get to as much as they can. I don't push Kurosawa on people very much, and it's probably for the reason that many people shy away from his works today: It's easy to sound like a snob when doing so. When I describe Kurosawa's work, it starts to sound more and more pretentiously arty: After all, the guy's foreign. He made a lot of period pieces. His films were not just old, but often in black and white. Many were long. Many were adaptations of Shakespeare, transposed into medievel Japan. Now, I'm cool with that; if you're reading this, you probably are too. But imagine running down this list with a friend whose moviegoing habits are more or less restricted to new releases - can't you feel them backing off?

Which is a shame, because Akira Kurosawa made tremendously entertaining movies. Even Kagemusha, which at times moves away from the large-scale action sequences in a very deliberate, artsy manner, is far lighter than it might be in other hands. It's funny and energetic, and it's not really a surprise that George Lucas was an executive producer on it. The common thought process on Lucas being inspired by Kurosawa is often that he cribbed characters and stories but dumbed them down (especially since hating on Lucas became a national sport in the last decade or so), but a look at Kurosawa's work shows that, yes, there's a level and type of artistry more often associated with the film's other America producer, Francis Ford Coppola, but the sheer entertainment that Lucas at his best creates is there too. It's easy to see both being inspired by Kurosawa, and returning the favor by helping him mount this production.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 3 April 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (The Warrior's Camera: Akira Kurosawa Centennial)

Akira Kurosawa would have reached the century mark this year, and while one needs no excuse to dive into this master's work - that so much is fantastic is reason enough - the anniversary is providing us with opportunities and reminders to do so. Hopefully, many will take advantage of the chance to not just revisit favorites, but to perhaps experience some of these films for the first time, as even potentially intimidating films like Kagemusha are brilliant for all, not just some elite.

It does hit the audience with a little exposition right away, on how in 16th Century Japan, leaders factions sought to take the capital of Kyoto and unite the nation under their rule: Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai), Nobunaga Oda (Daisuke Ryu), and Ieyasu Tokugawa (Masayuki Yui). Shingen's brother Nobukado Takeda (Tsutomu Yamazaki) bears a striking resemblance to him, and frequently serves as his double on the front lines. Quite by accident, Nobukado finds a man whose resemblance to the king goes beyond "striking" to "uncanny", and brings the uncouth thief (Nakadai again) into the palace to be trained to imitate Shingen. He is meant to only serve as an occasional decoy, but when a sniper's bullet strikes Shingen, his dying command is that his death not be announced for three years, lest Nobunaga and Ieyasu attack the Takeda clan while it is weak - and, perhaps, lest his son Katsuyori (Kenichi Hagiwara) seize power as the designated heir's guardian.

There's a fair amount of history and politics to this film (more in some cuts than others - 20th Century Fox removed twenty minutes present in the Criterion DVD/Blu-ray; this review is of a Fox print), and it's impressive how clearly it is presented. Kurosawa and co-writer Masato Ide put a lot of balls in the air - not just one, but two rival lords, as well as the contention between Katsuyori and the rest of the court - but it's never overwhelming. Kurosawa is also very respectful of that history; he doesn't suggest that the fate of the nation turned on his fictional creation, although he does build a compelling story around him.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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