Tuesday, March 23, 2010

100 Years of Kurosawa

That's not exactly accurate, but it's a good title. Today would have been Akira Kurosawa's 100th birthday. Well, technically it is his birthday, he's just not alive to celebrate it. But we sure as hell can.

Kurosawa was a brilliant director, and has directed some of my very favourite movies. I certainly haven't seen ALL the movies he's directed, but in my eyes, he's kind of like John Ford or Martin Scorsese: picking through their filmographies at random, you have a better-than-average chance of picking a masterpiece. If you want to celebrate his birthday by watching one of his movies, or are just looking for a recommendation, here are my top five Kurosawa films:

5. Yojimbo - The movie that inspired both A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing, and probably one of actor Toshiro Mifune's most famous roles. Mifune made sixteen movies with Kurosawa, and this is the one that made him famous in the West. If you haven't seen it: remember how awesome Clint Eastwood was in Dollars. Now, multiply that by about a factor of a thousand, and make him a samurai. Yeah. That's how good Mifune is. A deceptively simple story, masterfully told.

4. Stray Dog - The only movie on my list that isn't a samurai movie, Stray Dog is a contemporary (for post-War Japan) crime movie, about a young detective (Mifune once again) who loses his service revolver to a pickpocket and needs to hunt it down after it was used in a murder. It's both a Japanese "film noir" (or close enough) and a fascinating look at Japan in the aftermath of World War II, and a gripping suspense to boot.

3. Rashomon - It's probably Kurosawa's most well-known movie, but just because it's popular doesn't mean it's bad (a lesson that would have served me well in high school...). A simple story complicatedly told, Rashomon is a master-class in filmmaking, and it has Mifune chewing scenery like a pro. It's probably the most accessible of Kurosawa's movies, too, a good movie to watch if you're just starting out.

2. Throne of Blood - As much as he influenced Western filmmaking, Kurosawa took his influences from all over, and did no less than three adaptations of Shakespeare's plays: Ran (King Lear), The Bad Sleep Well (Hamlet), and my favourite of the three, Throne of Blood (MacBeth). This is a brilliant adaptation of the story, and Kurosawa was using all his techniques to brilliant effect. It made me sit up and gasp at a number of times, and I thought I was immune to all that trickery. Just a brilliant movie.

1. The Seven Samurai - Not just my favourite Kurosawa movie, but my favourite movie of all time. Yes, it's got Mifune, but the standout performance is from another one of Kurosawa's frequent collaborators, Takashi Shimura (a.k.a. Dr. Kyohei Yamane from Godzilla). Sure, it's over three hours long, and the pacing and style might take a little getting used to, but it's well worth watching. Particularly if you have an afternoon to kill.

Well, there you go. My idea for a Kurosawa film fest might bore some people to tears, but I honestly believe that if you give him a chance, I really believe that any stereotype you might hold of of black-and-white foreign movies. Or at least you'll understand the Rashomon joke in The Simpsons. Any other thoughts on Kurosawa are highly encouraged!

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