Archive for the ‘Kurosawa Centennial’ Category

  • High and Low Remake

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    High and Low

     

    Normally, remakes of damn near perfect films, even ones with lots of potential to set in different cultures and time periods, like Kurosawa’s magnificent High and Low are still a tad redundant. But if you told me that Mike Nichols (Closer, The Graduate, Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) was directing a remake from a script by David Mamet under producer Martin Scorsese – well you would have my attention. And that, surprisingly was the case starting as far back as 1999. But screenplays being what they are, ones in development for A DECADE or more, are subject to being re-written all the time. So colour me un-surprised that Chris Rock is going to re-write David Mamet. Still take a moment and consider that. What mirror world are we living in that Rock re-writes Mamet? Rock happened to mention (so says Black Voices On Movies) it while on the press circuit for his latest film, Death At A Funeral (itself a remake with a famous playwright, Neil LaBute, at the helm.)

    High and Low (our revisit review during the Kurosawa Centenary) is no stranger to crossing cultures. Kurosawa took it from the American noir novel (“King’s Ransom”) from Ed McBain, and it has a couple of Bollywood remakes, a Chinese remake and even a recent version for Japanese TV. Surprising that nobody in Hollywood has gotten to this sooner, and even more surprising in this current age of slam bang CGI studio pictures that a sharp, thoughtful and wide-scope movie like this can still be made. In all fairness though, Zodiac is only a few years old at this point, and owes likely a huge debt to the original High and Low.

    I will be very curious on both the casting of the lead roles (particularly King Gondo) and the city of choice (Chicago? Seattle? Los Angeles?) And yea, with the talent on board, I could warm up to this remake.

    (Via AICN)

  • Kurosawa Centenary: Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema by Peter Cowie

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    In the spirit of the ongoing celebration of Akira Kurosawa’s 100th birthday here at Row Three, I thought I would pass along a relevant book review previously posted at the Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow. It is for renowned scholar Peter Cowie’s brand-new book Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema, which takes a look at the filmmaker’s illustrious career through an insightful text and gorgeous photographs. Read my review below, plus check out my interview with Peter Cowie regarding the book and its legendary subject over at the Pow-Wow.

    When I am in an Akira Kurosawa kind of mood, usually after having re-watched one or two of his films, my thoughts sometimes return to a dream project of mine: a book that would span the entirety of his career. In this ideal tome, I would touch upon the things that draw me to his exhilarating, stimulating brand of cinema (which, lest we forget, has delivered such keystones as Stray Dog, Rashômon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, The Bad Sleep Well, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, High and Low, Red Beard, Dodes’ka-den, Dersu Uzala, Kagemusha and Ran); his recognizable themes and motifs; the fascinating variety and consistency of his films and career; the popular byproducts of his influence (A Fistful of Dollars, The Magnificent Seven, Star Wars, etc.) and his command over the visual and aural elements of cinema. As much as I would have liked to produce something like that, it seems only fitting that in the year – and the month – of the great director’s centennial, there arrives a book that fulfills all of my expectations for such a project, and then some. As a huge fan and admirer of Kurosawa’s work, I don’t think I could have hoped for – let alone hoped to make – a better tribute to him than Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema by renowned film scholar Peter Cowie.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Bookmarks for March 23: Kurosawa Centenary Edition

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    • The Criterion Collection: 25 Films By Akira Kurosawa
      “There’s that old story about the anti-loyalty-oath Director’s Guild meeting where an American master introduced himself by saying “My name’s John Ford. I make Westerns.” Some eager novices in Japanese film appreciation could well imagine Kurosawa introducing himself by saying “I make chambara [sword-fighting] pictures.” But of course, just as Ford proved a master of several genres, Kurosawa too could not be pinned down. And, as with Ford (see, in particular, the wonderful Ford at Fox set 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released several years back), all of Kurosawa’s pictures say things about each other, whether watched in genre-specific groups, by period, or just chronologically across the course of his career as a whole, which mode this set definitely encouraged.”
    • Edward Copeland on Kurosawa
      Edward Copeland overviews more than a dozen Kurosawa flicks in his own Centennial Tribute.
    • Michael Guillen on Kurosawa @ 100
      “There’s nothing like a birthday party to bring out the festive and when that party is to celebrate and honor noted Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa on the 100th anniversary of his March 23 birthday, then it’s very good reason indeed to shout out, “O-tanjôbi omedetô!””
    • And of course our own Centenary Celebration of the Japanese master filmmaker here at Row Three
      Red Beard, Sanjuro, Hidden Fortress, High and Low, Dodes’ka-den, Dersu Uzala, Ran, Kagemusha, Scandal, Ikiru, and more as the Row Three contributors talk at length about some of the Kurosawa films they have loved or recently discovered.
    • Google Has a Doodle
      It does not appear to be in the United States, but it is showing up in the UK Google Site.

     

    You can now take a look at RowThree’s bookmarks at any time of your choosing simply by clicking the “delicious” button in the upper right of the page. It looks remarkably similar to this:

  • Kurosawa Centenary: Dersu Uzala

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    [March 23 1910, legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was born. To celebrate the centennial of his life, his prolific contributions to the world of cinema, and immense impact on the hearts and minds of those quietly mourning his absence, staffers at Row Three are (rather enthusiastically) taking this opportunity to share their own experiences of the Kurosawa catalogue]
     
     

    Dersu Uzala

     
     
    Akira Kurosawa’s only film not shot in Japan essays the civilization of the Siberian Frontier at the turn of the century through the eyes of a Russian explorer and a Mongolian nomad. An unlikely friendship, as these two have little in common beyond a chance encounter in the wilderness, and yet, a combined struggle against natures fury forms a generous bond between men of different worlds. Shot on location (and it most certainly shows) over two years on the Siberian tundra and in the forests, it displays the awesomeness (and cruel indifference) of mother nature reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: Wrath of God (which would be released three years later), while retaining the austere static camera employed in Kurosawa’s earlier work. Despite the epic scope of the photography, the film is nevertheless warm and intimate character study.

    Dersu Uzala was the first film made by Kurosawa after his suicide attempt, and is perhaps interesting that the titular, aging, Goldi hunter has a melt-down at the loss of his ability to see (and therefore ply his trade in the wilderness). Yet there is no lack of talent on display in its evocative capture of nature and a gentle spirit of camaraderie and even humanitarian desire to help those that follow, even if those are the harbingers who bring the very progress that changes everything, irrevocably.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Kurosawa Centenary: Ikiru

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    [March 23 1910, legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was born. To celebrate the centennial of his life, his prolific contributions to the world of cinema, and immense impact on the hearts and minds of those quietly mourning his absence, staffers at Row Three are (rather enthusiastically) taking this opportunity to share their own experiences of the Kurosawa catalogue]

    ikiru-(2).jpg

    Having only seen three Kurosawa films prior to this tribute series (and not “getting” those as much as I would have liked), I embarked on my part of the series with as much a goal of discovery as of celebration. Because the films I’d already seen were all samurai films, I opted to watch and review one of Kurosawa’s contemporary-set films. Review contains some spoilers, but it’s a film that depends far more on mood and character than plot twists, so I don’t think it’ll matter too much.

    “The best way to protect your place in the world is to do nothing at all. Is that all life is really about?”

    The word “ikiru” translates as “to live,” and Ikiru examines what it means to really live, while also acknowledging the difficulty of actually making any difference with your life. Watanabe-san is a civil servant, the section chief for a bureaucratic city government who spends his days in a mountain of paperwork, always busy without ever accomplishing anything. The narration suggests that he’s been dead for nearly 20 years, because he just floats along without really living – he has no passion or ambition; he’s “worn down by the minutia of the bureaucratic machine.” However, when Watanabe finds out that he’s dying from stomach cancer, he has an existential crisis, experiencing flashbacks of his wasted life and punishing himself with sake (poisonous to him with his medical condition).

    Two chance meetings offer him differing possibilities for how to really live in the time he’s got left. A man in a bar takes him out gambling, drinking, and into the red light district. The next day, he meets a young clerk from his office who is resigning her job because it’s so soul-deadening; her joy in life is infectious, and he quickly covets spending time with her – a desire that quickly spreads lascivious rumors though his intentions seem quite benign. When she tells him of the happiness she finds in her new job, he decides to throw himself into his work and really take responsibility for it – to do one really good thing with the position he’s got before he runs out of time.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Kurosawa Centenary: Kagemusha

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    [March 23 1910, legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was born. To celebrate the centennial of his life, his prolific contributions to the world of cinema, and immense impact on the hearts and minds of those quietly mourning his absence, staffers at Row Three are (rather enthusiastically) taking this opportunity to share their own experiences of the Kurosawa catalogue]

    Ksagemusha has the distinction of being the first Kurosawa film I ever saw, and I will forever hold it in high regard and strong affection. The film is a visual, artistic triumph. Though Dodes’ka-den and Dersu Uzala certainly have their merits, Kagemusha seems to me to be the first film in Kurosawa’s colour canon where he fully utilized and exploded the opportunities of the palette, any doubt of which should be immediately quelled Kagemusha’s second sequence – a page running through a seemingly endless forest of different-coloured warriors.

    As the legend goes, when Kurosawa could not initially raise the funds to make Kagemusha, he spent his time painting the sequences as he saw them in his mind. The resulting film has a decadent splendour which only Dreams would eventually surmount. » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Kurosawa Centenary: Ran

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    [March 23 1910, legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was born. To celebrate the centennial of his life, his prolific contributions to the world of cinema, and immense impact on the hearts and minds of those quietly mourning his absence, staffers at Row Three are (rather enthusiastically) taking this opportunity to share their own experiences of the Kurosawa catalogue]

     
     

    Ran1

    After an extraordinarily productive first 25 years of filmmaking (at a clip of about one film a year), Akira Kurosawa’s next quarter century (1965-90) saw only 6 of his films get made. Battling with the rise of television, declining interest in his style of filmmaking and growing health problems, Kurosawa found it difficult to get a film produced. After being let go from the directorial duties of the Japanese portion of Tora, Tora, Tora, Kurosawa attempted to go independent with 3 other cohorts. The venture, however, was unsuccessful when his first film under its banner (1970′s Dodes’kaden) helped bankrupt the company. A suicide attempt followed and he had continuing funding woes after recovering – his next film was the Russian made Dersu Uzala and following films required help from outside Japan (most famously from U.S. directors such as Francis Foird Coppola, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese). More hard luck was still to come for the now ageing director, but after a “trial run” with 1980′s Kagemusha, he completed his crowning achievement in 1985: the gorgeous epic Ran.

    Partially based on King Lear, the story was something Kurosawa had been ruminating upon for at least a decade and manages to dovetail many varied ideas into it (e.g. the Japanese Noh theatrical makeup and acting style for his main character) while also changing some of the basic themes from Shakespeare’s play. Both are tragedies, but Kurosawa hits harder at the human lust for power and our desire for retribution at any cost. The film opens with a wild boar hunt being led by Lord Hidetaro Ichimonji and his three sons. They relax afterwards on the grounds of their vast kingdom and Hidetaro, getting on in years and tired from the pursuit, drifts off to sleep and has a dream. It’s a nightmarish scenario about being completely alone in the world and it prompts him to step down as ruler and hand over the title to his eldest son Taro. Of course, this is met with howls of protest (even from Taro), but it’s only the youngest son Saburo who confronts the old man with a reality check:

     

    “You spilled an ocean of blood. You showed no mercy, no pity. We too are children of this age… weaned on strife and chaos. We are your sons, yet you count on our fidelity. In my eyes, that makes you a fool. A senile old fool!”

     

    For his honesty, Saburo is banished. So begins the unraveling of the kingdom.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Kurosawa Centenary: Dodes’ka-den

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    [March 23 1910, legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was born. To celebrate the centennial of his life, his prolific contributions to the world of cinema, and immense impact on the hearts and minds of those quietly mourning his absence, staffers at Row Three are (rather enthusiastically) taking this opportunity to share their own experiences of the Kurosawa catalogue]

    There are many films that stand out in Akira Kurosawa’s body of work as both essential classics and personal favorites of mine. I am especially a sucker for his period tales of samurai, ronin, bandits and warlords, and while Ikiru was the first film of his I ever saw, it was The Hidden Fortress that really put the hook in me.

    But here, I’d like to write about a film altogether separate from his rousing adventures; one that I did not discover until long after my initial exposure to him, and that often gets lost amid all the shouts of praise for Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and High and Low. This film is Dodes’ka-den from 1970, which Kurosawa made after the lengthy production of 1965’s superb Red Beard and his failed, self-destructive stint on Twentieth Century Fox’s World War II film Tora! Tora! Tora!, for which he was originally going to direct the segments focused on the Japanese military. » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Kurosawa Centenary: The Hidden Fortress

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    [March 23 1910, legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was born. To celebrate the centennial of his life, his prolific contributions to the world of cinema, and immense impact on the hearts and minds of those quietly mourning his absence, staffers at Row Three are (rather enthusiastically) taking this opportunity to share their own experiences of the Kurosawa catalogue]

    The Hidden Fortress is reported (and over-reported) as “the film that inspired Star Wars,” a descriptor which has a technical truth to it only in the most basic plot terms (elder general and two bumbling idiots spirit a fugitive princess across enemy lines). The Star Wars connection likely leads to Fortress being many viewers’ access point to Kurosawa’s canon, however, and a splendid introduction it proves to be.

    The Hidden Fortress is Kurosawa at his most warmly populist. Here, he builds a grand adventure movie around two of his consistently repeating obsessions: the chanbara genre, and Toshiro Mifune. The result is an unabashed crowd-pleaser, but, as one would expect, one built with exceptional craft and narrative verve. » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Kurosawa Centenary: High and Low

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    [March 23 1910, legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was born. To celebrate the centennial of his life, his prolific contributions to the world of cinema, and immense impact on the hearts and minds of those quietly mourning his absence, staffers at Row Three are (rather enthusiastically) taking this opportunity to share their own experiences of the Kurosawa catalogue]

     
     

     
    A mansion on a hill towers over the lives of the serfs below, forming one of several relational images within High and Low. Even though it set in the early 1960s, the mansion belongs to a shoe manufacturer and the source material for the story is taken from a noir-ish American novel, Akira Kurosawa cannot help but craft a Samurai film. In its original Japanese, the film is actually titled Heaven & Hell, but really, the English translation (for once) is far a more apt moniker. Class, honour, and dignity are the clear sign-posts in High and Low not unlike your average chanbara eiga. However, the setting also allows for a fairly overt consideration of contemporary values (at the time) in post-war Japan. Predating, by a few decades, the modern dramatic procedural thoroughness of Zodiac on the big screen and the sticky ethical, moral and professional conundrums of HBO’s The Wire on the small screen – one suspects that David Fincher and David Simon are or would be admirers of the this film – it further underscores the elasticity of Kurosawa’s genre-bending dramas.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Kurosawa Centenary: Scandal

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    [March 23 1910, legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was born. To celebrate the centennial of his life, his prolific contributions to the world of cinema, and immense impact on the hearts and minds of those quietly mourning his absence, staffers at Row Three are (rather enthusiastically) taking this opportunity to share their own experiences of the Kurosawa catalogue]

    Kurosawa’s 1950 film, Scandal, is unfortunately little more than a ghastly weepie, a real low point in a period of the director’s career (1947-1954) which was otherwise marked with career-defining heights.

    The directorial imprimatur of Message overtakes Scandal almost from the outset, as Kurosawa sets out to essay the deterioration of media morality in postwar Japan. His weapon of choice is the story of a libel suit against a tabloid by a young artist (Toshiro Mifune, who is so suave and debonair in this film that he’s a remark shy of James Bond) and a popular singer, who have been wrongly reported as being lovers.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Kurosawa Centenary: Sanjuro

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    [March 23 1910, legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was born. To celebrate the centennial of his life, his prolific contributions to the world of cinema, and immense impact on the hearts and minds of those quietly mourning his absence, staffers at Row Three are (rather enthusiastically) taking this opportunity to share their own experiences of the Kurosawa catalogue]

    It’s a testament to Akira Kurosawa’s skills as a filmmaker that probably the most commercially focused and lightest film he ever made still holds it’s own against his most well respected classics such as Seven Samurai and Ran. Sanjuro was a sequel of sorts to Yojimbo and was produced one can only assume to cash in on the worldwide success of it’s predecessor. Kurosawa originally wasn’t going to make it, he was going to pass the script onto Hiromichi Horikawa to direct, but somewhere along the way he decided to take up the reigns and follow up the adventures of that most famous of ronin.

    And he did an incredible job of it.

    I must admit that I’ve only seen five of Kurosawa’s thirty or so films, so I’m not an expert on the director’s work, but Sanjuro has always stood out for me as being his most enjoyable film (which is saying a lot from the man that brought us Rashomon and Yojimbo). It fires along at a blistering pace, throwing the audience straight into the story from the first shot as a group of nine fledgling samurai band together to fight corruption in their province. Our dirty, unshaven hero who calls himself Sanjuro (translating to ‘thirty years old’ and played by the incomparable Toshirô Mifune) soon makes an appearance and, spotting their incompetence a mile away, he reluctantly becomes their sage leader. To give too much more of the plot away would spoil the fun as this comedy of manners unfolds. Basically the audience sits back and basks in the joy of watching Mifune run circles around the stuck up and foolish inhabitants of the town.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

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