Monday, February 18, 2008

72. Akira Kurosawa

It was 2 A.M. sometime in 1999.

I was flipping channels and came to rest on Turner Classic Movies and what looked like an interesting Japanese film. It seemed to be about this cool, compassionate doctor (who could also beat up the local thugs) and his relationship with a younger intern at a 19th century medical clinic for the poor.

I was watching Akahige (Red Beard) (1965). I probably missed the first 30 minutes or so, but I sat enthralled until the end.

Low and behold, as Robert Osborne introduced the next film, I realized I had stumbled onto a Kurosawa marathon! I managed to tape eight or nine films, including Shubun (Scandal) (1950), and Dodesukaden (1970), both of which remained commercially unavailable for years. I was thankful to have them.

As I posted here, watching these films helped me out of a writer's block I had been going through. I experienced an unusual sensation watching Kurosawa, unlike any I'd ever experienced with most other filmmakers: the feeling of being carried along in a magnificent story, while at the same time being aware of how the auteur's distinctive imprint is conspicuously apparent in the storytelling.

Kurosawa’s use of the wipe fascinated me from the start. It was a big part of that “distinctive imprint” that seemed to make the films so unique.

So I’ve been studying these films for nearly ten years. They continue to inspire me, and to that end I have made literal (or near-literal) transcriptions of the first ten films and "review"-type posts for 28 of the 30 films, for my own edification and amusement, hoping of course to introduce his genius to newcomers and share with the like-minded Kurosawa fanatic.

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Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) directed 30 films between 1943 and 1993 -- 17 gendai-mono (modern dramas) and 13 jidai-geki (period films). All of them can be considered shakai-mono (films with “social” themes)...

The list is color-coded per the above two genre distinctions, and the films in which Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura appear are marked [TM] (16 films) and [TS] (21 films).

  1. Sugata sanshiro (Judo Saga) (1943) [TS] (Review)
  2. Ichiban utsukushiku (The Most Beautiful) (1944) [TS] (Review)
  3. Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail) (1945) [TS] (Review)
  4. Zoku sugata sanshiro (Judo Saga II) (1945) (Review)
  5. Waga seishun ni kuinashi (No Regrets for Our Youth) (1946) [TS] (Review)
  6. Subarashiki nichiyobi (One Wonderful Sunday) (1947) (Review)
  7. Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel) (1948) [TM] [TS] (Review)
  8. Shizukanaru ketto (The Quiet Duel) (1949) [TM] [TS] (Review)
  9. Nora inu (Stray Dog) (1949) [TM] [TS] (Review)
  10. Shubun (Scandal) (1950) [TM] [TS] (Review)
  11. Rashomon (In the Woods) (1950) [TM] [TS]
  12. Hakuchi (The Idiot) (1951) [TM] [TS]
  13. Ikiru (To Live) (1952) [TS]
  14. Shichinin no samurai (The Seven Samurai) (1954) [TM] [TS]
  15. Ikimono no kiroku (I Live in Fear/Record of a Living Being) (1955) [TM] [TS]
  16. Kumonosu jo (Throne of Blood) (1957) [TM] [TS]
  17. Donzoko (The Lower Depths) (1957) [TM]
  18. Kakushi toride no san akunin (The Hidden Fortress) (1958) [TM] [TS]
  19. Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru (The Bad Sleep Well) (1960) [TM] [TS]
  20. Yojimbo (The Bodyguard) (1961) [TM] [TS]
  21. Tsubaki Sanjûro (1962) [TM] [TS]
  22. Tengoku to jigoku (High and Low) (1963) [TM] [TS]
  23. Akahige (Red Beard) (1965) [TM] [TS]
  24. Dodesukaden (1970)
  25. Dersu Uzala (1975)
  26. Kagemusha (The Double/Shadow Warrior) (1980) [TS]
  27. Ran (Chaos) (1985)
  28. Yume (Akira Kurosawa's Dreams) (1990)
  29. Hachigatsu no kyoshikyoku (Rhapsody in August) (1991)
  30. Madadayo (Not Yet) (1993)

The following is a list of some of my source material:

Stephen Prince: "The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa," (Princeton University Press (1991/1999) [SP]

Stuart Galbraith IV: "The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune," Faber and Faber (2001) [SG]

Donald Richie: "The Films of Akira Kurosawa," University of California Press (1998) [DR]

Akira Kurosawa: "Something Like an Autobiography," Vintage Books (1983) [AK]

James Goodwin: "Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema," The John Hopkins University Press (1994) [JG]

Kyoko Hirano: "Japanese Cinema: Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo under the American Occupation, 1945-1952," (1992) [KH]

Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto: "Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema," Duke University Press (2000) [MY]

3 comments:

Vili Maunula said...

Wow, how long did it take you to produce those transcriptions? Quite a herculean achievement that is!

You mention that you have transcriptions for all the movies. Are you planning to add the rest in as well?

As I just discovered your site, I have actually not gone through all of the material yet, but will certainly do so. I did notice though that in The Most Beautiful you are unsure what the Mei Ah transfer's mention of the 1990 Oscar refers to. It is the Honorary Academy Award that Kurosawa received that year "for cinematic accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained worldwide audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world".

In case you are interested, I run a Kurosawa website at http://akirakurosawa.info/ , and you are of course welcome to join us there.

Lewis Saul said...

I'm thrilled you appreciate my work.

Look for updates on these first ten films, with additional edification by my source authors...

Eventually, I'll post the next 20 films!

LS

Dylanfreak said...

A Birthday Gift for Akira Kurosawa:

As Akira Kurosawa's centennial birthday will occur on March 23rd of this year, I propose that the biographic article on the filmmaker on Wikipedia.com be extensively revised so that it can be submitted to be upgraded to feature article status, and can thus be presented as the featured article on Wikipedia's home page on March 23rd, 2010. It is only right that one of the greatest directors who ever lived -- and the most famous Asian director who ever lived -- should be accorded this honor.

The current rating, according to Wikipedia's quality scale, of the Kurosawa article is, rather shockingly, "C-class," even though Kurosawa's biography as a topic has been rated of Top importance in the category of WikiProject Japan and of Core importance in the category of WikiProject Biography/Actors and Filmmakers. (It also appears in the WikiProject Screenwriters category.) Thus, the article would need to be upgraded pretty substantially in a hurry. I would like to consult with other Kurosawa experts (I definitely can't do this alone) about what needs to be done to bring this piece up to featured article status in two months.

I have reviewed the article and the following are some ways that I feel it can be improved:

(See my blog at http://cinegems.blogspot.com/2010/01/birthday-present-for-akira-kurosawa.html for the rest of the challenge.)