Thursday, January 21, 2010

192. KUROSAWA 7: Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel) [1948]

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.

191. KUROSAWA 6: Subarashiki nichiyobi (One Wonderful Sunday) [1947]

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.

190. KUROSAWA 5: Waga seishun ni kuinashi (No Regrets for Our Youth) [1946]

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.

189. KUROSAWA 4: Zoku sugata sanshiro (Judo Saga II) [1945]

Zoku sugata sanshiro (Judo Saga II) [1945]

This is Kurosawa's fourth film!

There are a few very cool moments! There are some interesting shots. A few of the characters are memorable. It is a sequel.

But it was made during the last year of the war -- a time when defeat was finally acknowledged (if not completely openly); when a filmmaker considered himself lucky to be able to make a film at all (and after all, how do you say no to the Emperor?); when said filmmaker considered himself lucky to have a small lighting rig which his man had cobbled together from shoelaces...

Kurosawa claims that he was not very enthusiastic about making the sequel, and it definitely shows.

Most AK fans consider this to be his worst film. Go see it!

It is 1887, five years later. Sanshiro (Susumu Fujita) is back from his travels. He witnesses a brutal American sailor (Osman Yusef, a Turk) beating up a young rickshaw boy, Daisuburo (Ko Ishida). As in the original, someone gets thrown into the river. In Sugata I, the villain was the westernized Gennosuke Higaki (Ryunosuke Tsukigata); in II the evil is combined into Gennosuke's two younger brothers, Teshin (played by Tsukigata) and the crazy, Noh-influenced Genzaburo (Akitake Kôno). After winning the big fight at the end, Genzaburo tries to kill Sugata with an axe, but Sugata smiles in his sleep and Genzaburo and his brother suddenly see the light. Sugata smiles even more broadly...

For a detailed, frame-by-frame analysis of this film, click here.

SsII1 This is funny because Sugata said the same thing about judo in the first film!

Until just a few weeks ago, the only available version of this film featured subtitles which were created in Hong Kong by Chinese who apparently were not well acquainted with either the Japanese or the English language!

But help is on the way (I am told). This link takes you to the new AK 100 box, which (I am told) contains a brand new translation of this film and the others with similar problems. If you make it to the Film Forum on Monday, you should also see a new, readable translation.

Other than that,
  • The boxing matches are beautifully edited ~ you feel like you're getting a glimpse of what he would achieve in later years. Kurosawa's editing was always a major factor in what made his films so great and so captivating...
  • A nice dramatic moment: Sugata is trying to get away from the horrible boxing match; he lingers by the door as he watches (the Sugata theme is playing) -- finally he opens the doors, turns to face the camera, and slams them shut, with the music crashing on a chord as the doors slam shut...
  • The scene where Yano enters the room where Sugata has been drinking (against rules) and kicks the sake bottle around is precious! Great editing/timing...
  • Daisuburo (the rickshaw boy) wants to learn judo. At his lesson with Sugata he is thrown no less than 14 times.
  • He faces the camera and bows. As he rises from his bow, another image of the boy enters the room (it is the same boy), as the first boy dissolves and the second repeats the action. The third dissolves as before, and bows as before. However, one can begin to detect very slight differences in each version of the boy. By this third version, he seems a bit more cocky in his walk, a bit more confident in his bows! The fourth version of the boy walks in much slower, tugs at his kimono belt, and sits. He picks up something in front of him and tosses it to his right; something else to his left; and then faces the camera. He bows. Very beautiful sequence...
  • The scene with the priest (Kokuten Kôdô) and Sugata is wonderful: Sugata can't sleep; the priest says he'll stay up and think with him. Sugata starts to talk, but the priest interrupts, shouting: "don't make noise." Sugata is still. "You must look at those who tackle you -- until he disappears. Understand?" Close on Sugata. He is staring straight ahead, trying achieve satori. The "Sugata" theme begins. POV behind the two, a fire burning. A gorgeous dissolve has Sugata (and the fire) disappearing from their former positions, and dissolving into Sugata prone on the floor. The priest never changes. The music tells us it is morning (trilling flute) and we change angles to a prone, sleeping Sugata, shot from above, his arms outstretched as he sleeps...his eyes open; his head turns. He sits up with a start. "I still can't do that," he says, bowing his head quickly. He turns to look at the priest. He stares. He moves closer. Cut to opposite angle, Sugata on the left staring at the sleeping priest on the right, in profile. The priest moves his mouth, as if to indicate he had always been awake. Sugata smiles -- perhaps because he is relieved the priest did not attain satori when he could not; or perhaps because he is amused by what he knows is a deception on the part of the priest; or both; or neither ... but it's a cute scene in an otherwise dreadful film ...
  • The final fight scene would have been beautiful if Kurosawa had had any decent film stock and/or lighting equipment. As it is, it looks like a play of shadows...
  • There are no wipes in this film.

188. KUROSAWA 3: Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail) [1945]

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.

187. KUROSAWA 2: Ichiban utsukushiku (The Most Beautiful) [1944]

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.

186. KUROSAWA 1: Sugata sanshiro (Judo Saga) [1943]

A Sugata sanshiro (Judo Saga) [1943]

This is Kurosawa's first film!

With world war raging around him, and the Japanese censors making the choice of material nearly impossible, Kurosawa read a book, convinced his bosses at Toho to purchase the rights, begged for the chance to direct his first feature film and against all odds made a hit!

The year is 1882. Sugata sanshiro (Susumu Fujita) witnesses a fight between two rival judo sects and makes himself a disciple of the winner, Yano (Denjirô Ôkôchi). However, he fails to understand his sensei's teachings and, like an obstinate baby, throws himself into the dojo's pond and spends the night shivering, clinging to a wooden stake. Seeing the lotus blossom at dawn, he "awakens" and asks Yano's forgiveness. He then faces a series of tests and judo matches culminating in the "ultimate showdown."

Before we begin, please understand that there existed a very definite difference between a print of a film coming out of Hollywood in 1943, as opposed to a film coming out of Japan!

There are severe lighting problems throughout -- although you lucky folks who will see this at the Film Forum will get a much better view than us poor slobs who have to sit through the old VHS (only very recently did this release find its way to DVD via this 25-film Criterion set).

In addition, the Japanese censors made cuts (necessitating intertitles) before the film's premiere -- and two years later, the Occupation authorities banned the film due to its depiction of feudalism. It was not seen again until 1952 and is obviously missing chunks of storyline, mostly concerning the two women in Sugata's life!

A lot of you (I hope) will simply be curious to see what AK's very first effort was all about ~ but the truth is -- this is a very good film on its own merits (other than the technical deficiencies) and is fun to watch, even 67 years later!

A few tidbits that always come to mind when I watch this unique debut:

  1. Kurosawa was a painter before he became a filmmaker. I still gasp at the way he "paints" the very first scene in his very first film: the credits are shown against a black background. Under a background of sky with three points (left, center and right) barely visible at the bottom of the frame, a subtitle: "1882." These points are actually the very tops of buildings and after four seconds, the camera pans downward and stops at street level. We now see the structures in their entirety, on either side of the street which divides them. The camera faces the structure in the center. Basically, he drew three simple vertical lines (left, center and right) and a gentle vertical pan down these lines to set the scene.
  2. I count at least 24 people in this first scene and their movements are "drawn" onto the film quite beautifully. Before the camera even reaches the bottom of its pan, we see a man in a cap exiting the frame on the left. Two men are walking slowly on the left, coming towards the camera. A rickshaw boy pulls a well-dressed lady in front of the two men. A two-horse carriage sets an entirely different tempo on the right side of the screen. A one-horse vehicle now appears and the children who had been playing at the back of the left side of the frame now scatter towards the camera.
  3. Seiichi Suzuki's score comes to a halt. The camera begins a slow, methodical pan to the left, down an alley, showing close architectural details -- two women working, and finally coming to rest on some older children (two of them have babies on their backs), who we have heard singing since this shot began.
  4. My blog post goes into quite a bit of detail concerning the wipe.
  5. In order to drive Yano's rickshaw, Sugata tosses his getas (clogs) away."There is a Japanese phrase, 'geta o azukeru,' which literally means to hand over the wooden clogs but has the figurative meaning of putting oneself in the hands of others. Perhaps this was in Kurosawa's mind when he constructed the sequence which follows. Sugata, having put himself in the hands of the judo teacher, and made himself barefoot to do so, pulls the rickshaw off down the road" [Richie, p. 21].
  6. Kurosawa sure knew how to pull a particular type of expression out of his actors: "While on location for Sanshiro Sugata Kurosawa discovered Fujita had been sleeping with a local woman. When Kurosawa learned of the tryst, he used Fujita's embarrassed expression for the scene where Sanshiro is scolded by Yano. Fujita, even into his seventies, was fairly notorious as a ladies' man"
[Galbraith, pp. 42-43]).
  • Richie does an excellent job of helping us keep things straight. One intertitle reads: "Sanshiro is still young. The girl's denunciation shocks him. Yano trains him in the moonlight. Sanshiro is like a spiritless dummy. But as he is thrown by the instructor, he regains his courage and understands. Yano has taught him what life is. Sanshiro is strong-minded, once again." Richie: "(This girl is, of course, different from the temple-girl [Sayo] though the story obviously parallels these two daughters. Since all existing prints of Sugata are mutilated and sections of the original negative are missing, she disappears after an aborted attempt on Sugata's life. The negative was only reconstructed in 1952 and this also accounts for the lavish use of titles in existing prints. The later editors decided to explain everything while they had the chance and many of the major sequences are separated by needless continuity titles telling us that so many months have passed or that such and such has happened.)" [p. 23]
  • There are eight wipes in this film; four horizontal (2/2) and four vertical (all top to bottom). Notice the beautiful effect as the vertical wipes accentuate the downward movement of Sugata as he descends the steps!
  • 185. KUROSAWA flm reviews, Part II

    Click on Film/KUROSAWA1 to see my "frame-by-frame" analyses of the first ten films.

    The following links will take you to my most recent reviews (January 2010) for my friend David Lehman's blog, The Best American Poetry:
    1. Sugata sanshiro (Judo Saga) [1943]
    2. Ichiban utsukushiku (The Most Beautiful) [1944]
    3. Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail) [1945]
    4. Zoku sugata sanshiro (Judo Saga II) [1945]
    5. Waga seishun ni kuinashi (No Regrets for Our Youth) [1946]
    6. Subarashiki nichiyobi (One Wonderful Sunday) [1947]
    7. Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel) [1948]
    8. Shizukanaru ketto (The Quiet Duel) [1949]
    9. Nora inu (Stray Dog) [1949]
    10. Shubun (Scandal) [1950]
    11. Rashomon (In the Woods) [1950]
    12. Hakuchi (The Idiot) [1951]
    13. Ikiru (To Live) [1952]
    14. Shichinin no samurai (The Seven Samurai) [1954]
    15. Ikimono no kiroku (I Live in Fear/Record of a Living Being) [1955]
    16. Kumonosu jo (Throne of Blood) [1957]
    17. Donzoko (The Lower Depths) [1957]
    18. Kakushi toride no san akunin (The Hidden Fortress) [1958]
    19. Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru (The Bad Sleep Well) [1960]
    20. Yojimbo (The Bodyguard) [1961]
    21. Tsubaki Sanjûro [1962]
    22. Tengoku to jigoku (High and Low) [1963]
    23. Akahige (Red Beard) [1965]
    24. Dodesukaden [1970]
    25. Dersu Uzala [1975]
    26. Kagemusha (The Double/Shadow Warrior) [1980]
    27. Ran (Chaos) [1985]
    28. Yume (Akira Kurosawa's Dreams) [1990]
    29. Hachigatsu no kyoshikyoku (Rhapsody in August) [1991]
    30. Madadayo (Not Yet) [1993]