Friday, March 19, 2010

A Crash Course in Kurosawa

TCM is suddenly showing a whole lot of Akira Kurosawa movies; if you haven't seen them (as I haven't), you might want to set your Tivo. Included in the bunch are well-known movies like Rashomon, Yojimbo and Seven Samurai, as well as lesser-known movies like I Live In Fear, Scandal, Drunken Angel, and one I'm really looking forward to, Stray Dog. From what I understand, Stray Dog is about a cop who loses his gun in the line of duty, and has to track it down again. I first heard about it on the Filmspotting podcast, which recently had a Kurosawa marathon.

I can't watch all of them, but I've got a few on the agenda. I've just started watching I Live In Fear, about an industrialist who's worried about a nuclear holocaust and wants to movie his family down to South America. (This is 1955 Japan, so "worried about a nuclear holocaust" isn't necessarily shorthand for paranoid; it's like being worried about a terrorist attack in 2010 New York.) Coming up for me are Stray Dog, Yojimbo, and possibly a judo film I can't recall the name of if I can squeeze it in. I've already seen Seven Samurai, but I still won't have seen Rashomon, since its showing conflicts with Lost. From what I can tell, TCM isn't showing Throne of Blood or Ran, unless I've already missed them.

The first was I've caught has been 1957's The Lower Depths, a movie set in absolute squalor. It's based on a play by Russian author Maxim Gorky, and it follows a group of drunks, beggars, thieves and low-level merchants in this one decrepit boarding house. The version I saw had very modern subtitles, which I would bet are from a recent translation. It took a while for me to get some of the characters straight, but when I did, it was very rewarding. The landlady is trying to convince the thief (Toshiro Mifune) to kill her husband; there's some intrigue from that, but there's a counterbalancing force, in an old priest (Bokuzen Hidari)who comes to live with the group, and starts showing them a little hope, and teaching them a little self-worth. But when things start to really go to hell, the priest makes a surprising move, setting up one of the bleakest endings I've ever seen. This play was also filmed by Renoir two decades earlier, although its ending was apparently softened considerably. Oh, those romantic French. Criterion sells both films in a 2-disc set.

Anyway, if Kurosawa is a gap in your filmic experience, you might want to check your listings for TCM. There's some good stuff on.



Dave said...

thanks, Rob... off to check my listings. i'm not proud to say i've not seen enough Kurosawa for my own good.

Dave said...
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Dave said...

Looks like there's a bunch on the 23rd, this coming Tuesday.

and then again on the 30th, the following Tuesday. that's when Kagemusha and Ran are scheduled.