We are moving from England all the way to Japan this time for four movies that weirdly enough are all from the same director, the great Akira Kurosawa. Akira Kurosawa is kind of the legend of Japanese cinema. Working prolifically from the 40s to the mid-sixties, with a break in between due to his attempted suicide, and then finishing off with two masterpieces and some other fine work. Most of his films involve Samurai. His most famous works, such as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo, have all had countless effects on the art of filmmaking. His films are epic in scope, with many of them being close to three hours long, but they are usually simple in story. Seven Samurai, which runs over 3 hours long is simply about a village who hires the samurai to protect their town. His films focus on nature, power, class, and the contrasting of reality and illusion. The four films that I watched of his, though I own around 10, include 3 in his prolific time and one of his “late masterpieces” as they are so called.
Regarded as one of the best film adaptations of Shakespeare, Throne of Blood, is less of an adaptation of Macbeth and more of simply using its famous story. Starring Kurosawa’s favorite actor, Toshiro Mifune, Throne of Blood follows a great general who is urged by his wife to follow a prophecy in order to become lord of Spider’s Web Castle. Noh is a form of acting where the actors wear masks and paint and use their movements and appearances to convey the theme of the tale because it is assumed the viewer is already familiar with the story. The film is exceptional. It is full of haunting cinematography and a gruesome conclusion.
Up next is probably the one I would recommend to watch out of all of these. Why, you ask? Because it is one of the major inspirations for something you wouldn’t entirely expect: Star Wars. Yes, George Lucas (who we will see again in our final film today) drew heavy inspiration from this as well as several other Kurosawa films. The Hidden Fortress is not a sci-fi. It is an exciting adventure though, about two bumbling peasants (essentially C-3PO and R2-D2) who must assist a general and princess across enemy lines so as to earn money. It is full of exciting battles, witty banter, and more Mifune.
One of the last great films of his prolific era, High and Low, is a bit of a departure from his previous films. Old Feudal Japan is replaced by modern city-life and swords are replaced by guns. High and Low is a thriller about a wealthy executive who becomes the target of an extortion scheme when a kidnapper mistakenly kidnaps the son of his chauffeur rather than his actual son. At first it is believed that the kidnapper got his son, and he is willing to pay anything to get him back, but once he learns it is not his son, a question of class comes into play. The film is very procedural, but it raises enough questions and is very innovative for a detective movie to keep it an excellent flick.
Finally, the first of two “late masterpieces” in the 80s, Kagemusha, almost did not make it off the ground due to Kurosawa’s previous films. He desperately needed funding for his three-hour-long epic about a warlord who hires a thief who looks identical to him, only to have the warlord die and have the thief take his place in order to maintain the illusion. To his rescue, in thanks for the inspiration for his film Star Wars, George Lucas (along with Francis Ford Coppola) helped fund the film and get distribution in America. The film helps return Kurosawa to his roots. An epic full of thousands of extras, extraordinary sets, and magnificent cinematography, Kagemusha is also about power and illusion vs. reality, and it is a tremendous film.
So there we have it. Only 5 more movies to go, and what better place to end than America? Be on the lookout for John Wayne, an “epic comedy,” the reason for the lack of creativity in studio systems, exploding heads, and then a time-warp back to the 70s.