Category Archives: Foreign

Seven Samurai (1954, Kurosawa Akira)

Seven Samurai is about a farming village, under imminent threat of bandits raiding and stealing their crop–and possibly doing much worse–who decides to hire samurai to defend them. They send four men–Fujiwara Kamatari, Kosugi Yoshio, Tsuchiya Yoshio, and Hidari Bokuzen–to town to hire the samurai. They can’t pay them, but they can feed them. The villagers will subsist on millet, the samurai will get rice. Not a great deal and the men don’t have much luck to start.

However, they soon find Shimura Takashi, an older ronin, who’s able to convince others to take up the cause. There’s young Kimura Isao, who looks up to Shimura and the other samurai, but hasn’t got any real experience yet. Katō Daisuke plays an old war buddy of Shimura’s who happily joins up. Inaba Yoshio is the second-in-command, Chiaki Minoru’s the funny one, Miyaguchi Seiji’s the serious one. Then there’s Mifuno Toshiro as the wild one.

After an hour or so–the film runs just under three and a half–the Seven Samurai head to the village. The first hour has the village setup, then the four farmers quest in the city, then Shimura recruiting the other samurai. There’s an intermission halfway, but the period after the samurai get to the village and before the bandits return, which takes up some of the time after the intermission too, is it’s own phase in the film. Then there’s the battle. A little while before the battle, the villagers–who aren’t just providing room and board for the samurai, but are also being trained to fight alongside them against the bandits–wonder if the bandits have forgotten about them.

And it certainly does seem possible. Seven Samurai’s first few minutes promise this bloody showdown between the villagers and the bandits, which then becomes the samurai and the bandits, but then it’s really just a lot of character study. Sure, they’re all training for the impending battle, but it’s character study. Kurosawa and co-writers Hashimoto Shinobu and Oguni Hideo subtlely explore the villagers and the samurai, with Mifune and Kimura getting the most emphasis on the latter, Tsuchiya and Fujiwara getting the most emphasis on the former. Turns out even though the village decided to hire samurai, they didn’t really think about what it meant for samurai to be living among them. Their only previous experience with samurai being samurai attacking and pillaging villages.

Mifune’s character development throughout the second portion–he shows up in the beginning, then disappears until the night before they leave for the village (the first hour takes place over about a week)–plays off the other samurai. Even though Shimura and company think they’ve got Mifune figured out, they really don’t. And he’s able to transcend the class divisions built into their interactions with the villagers.

Meanwhile Kimura begins romancing Fujiwara’s daughter, Tsushima Keiko, and it becomes clear he doesn’t really understand what it means to be a samurai either. Not from the perspective of a villager, who’s always a potential victim in one way or another.

There’s a whole lot to Seven Samurai. Kurosawa and his co-writers don’t introduce a lot more in the last hour… wait, never mind. Yes, yes they do. Amid the multi-day battle sequence, they do introduce a lot more. Mifune has a whole other subplot, as Kurosawa reveals he’s actually juxtaposed against Kimura, which never seemed to be a thing but was a thing the whole time. Going back to their first scene together (with Shimura). Only they were subplot to the villagers pursuing Shimura at that point.

But I was really trying to get to the violence thing. In the first hour, whenever Kurosawa shows violence, it doesn’t have any sound. There are the sounds behind it, but the violence itself–the steel of the swords cutting into flesh–has none. It’s uncanny and directs the viewer’s attention. When it comes time, in the third part, for the battle… Kurosawa handles violence differently. His original approach to it, what he emphasizes, is baked into what he does later, but it’s evolved. Kurosawa’s constantly perturbing Seven Samurai’s style. Like his editing. At the beginning, there are some sharp cuts to bring the viewer back in time to sixteenth century. He doesn’t keep them going once he’s got the time period established; he just takes time and gives attention to getting it established.

Especially since he later calls back to those cuts in a seemingly unrelated sequence, which then informs a bunch of other things as far as character development and revelation.

There’s not a wasted frame in Seven Samurai. Kurosawa’s precise. The film never drags, never dawdles. The three and a half hours sail by. Even the subplot introductions–after the film shifts over to Shimura and the samurai–are seamless. The pacing is just another of its master-strokes.

Technically, Samurai’s singular. Kurosawa’s direction–which changes stylistically as the plot progresses–is otherworldly. The way he and cinematographer Nakai Asakazu are able to frame the action horizontally make Samurai feel like an Academy ratio Panavision picture for the first two hours. Nakai’s photography is fantastic. Ditto Hayasaka Fumio’s music and Matsuyama Takashi’s production design. It’s all breathtakingly faultless.

Then there are the performances. Shimura and Mifune get the flashiest roles. Mifune in a loud way, Shimura in a quiet. They’re fantastic. Kimura’s good; he’s sort of the viewer’s point of entry for the samurai, but also the villagers. Though Mifune turns out to have similar avenues of insight. Both Miyaguchi and Katō have some excellent moments. But the villagers. Tsuchiya and Fujiwara are awesome; they get the big arcs running throughout, just under the surface; constant. They’re heartbreaking in different ways.

Hidari eventually becomes a sidekick to Mifune, which gives some of the very necessary comic relief once things get intense. And Tsushima’s good as Kimura’s love interest. She, Shimura, Tsuchiya, and Miyaguchi have the most pensive parts. They have these amazing internal experiences only relayed through expression; Kurosawa’s editing, not to mention his composition, showcases their silent thoughtfulness.

Seven Samurai is a masterpiece. It’s nigh impossible to imagine a way it could be even minutely improved.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Kurosawa, Hashimoto Shinobu and Oguni Hideo; director of photography, Nakai Asakazu; music by Hayasaka Fumio; production designer, Matsuyama Takashi; produced by Motoki Sôjirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Shimura Takashi (Shimada), Kimura Isao (Katsushirō), Mifune Toshirō (Kikuchiyo), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Rikichi), Tsushima Keiko (Shino), Inaba Yoshio (Gorōbei), Miyaguchi Seiji (Kyūzō), Katō Daisuke (Shichirōji), Fujiwara Kamatari (Manzō), Chiaki Minoru (Heihachi), Hidari Bokuzen (Yohei), Kosugi Yoshio (Mosuke), and Kōdō Kokuten (Gisaku).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE "NON-ENGLISH" BLOGATHON HOSTED BY THOUGHTS ALL SORTS.


RELATED

Advertisements

Through a Glass Darkly (1961, Ingmar Bergman)

At eighty-nine minutes, Through a Glass Darkly never has a chance to get tedious, which is part of the problem. Writer-director Bergman has just introduced the characters, just established the ground situation, when he tries a graceful segue into the characters and their relationships being familiar in the second act. They’re not. They’re still being established, which makes the purely expository relationship between Gunnar Björnstrand and Max von Sydow something of a time suck. A beautifully acted, beautifully directed time suck.

Glass takes place over twenty-four hours. Popular but intellectually bereft author Björnstrand has returned home to his family after finalizing the draft of his latest novel. There’s twenty-something daughter Harriet Andersson and seventeen year-old son, Lars Passgård. von Sydow is Andersson’s husband. Presumably von Sydow and Andersson have had to take care of Passgård, as Björnstrand seems a rare presence in Passgård’s life.

Andersson is recently out of a mental hospital. It’s unclear, initially, what’s going on, only it’s incurable (or likely incurable). That discussion is von Sydow and Björnstrand’s first scene together alone. Bergman plays it more for character development than exposition, which is far different from the second half of the film, when he eschews character development for exposition. He doesn’t need much character development second half because it turns out to be action packed.

Before Bergman identifies it as schizophrenia–which is made somehow less terrifying by the tranquil isolated island setting (there’s not running water, electricity maybe)–he’s got the rest of the character setup to get done. So a half hour at least because Andersson gets a scene to herself, experiencing her symptoms.

While the film never looks stagy–quite the opposite–Bergman’s script feels not just stagy, but a little too pragmatic. Like he was adjusting around actors schedules. Andersson and Passgård get paired off for scenes whenever von Sydow is busy with Björnstrand. Otherwise it’s von Sydow and Andersson. Björnstrand gets like a scene and a half alone with his kids, the full scenes coming right at the end for the emphasis. He’s a bad dad, who isn’t a particularly good writer. There’s more exposition later, but never time for Björnstrand to do anything with it as far as character development. It’s filler. It’s that time suck.

Because Bergman’s actually got some big time drama in store for the family and he’s got to pace it right.

The problem with the big time drama is it turns out to be a MacGuffin. All the action in the second and third acts turn out to be MacGuffins, since the point of Glass is Andersson and how Bergman presents her character. The film drags a little in the second act, before it’s clear just how well Bergman’s made Andersson seem reliable. The more unreliable Andersson gets–always precisely essayed, in performance and presentation–the more effective Bergman’s initial pacing becomes.

Bergman makes the boring bits essential.

Until he gets to Björnstrand’s big confession scene to von Sydow; it proves as narratively inert as it does for character development. Because then it’s action time, because Andersson’s not just shattering her reliability, she’s going to stomp it into dust.

And it works, no doubt. Bergman sells it. He’s got a great cast. Andersson, Björnstrand, von Sydow, Passgård until the third act. There’s some phenomenal acting in Glass.

Bergman’s not really interested in the characters, he’s interested in the reveals. It’s all kind of melodramatic, actually. As melodramatic as Bergman can get, actually.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Ulla Ryghe; music by Erik Nordgren; production designer, P.A. Lundgren; produced by Allan Ekelund; released by Svensk Filmindustri.

Starring Harriet Andersson (Karin), Gunnar Björnstrand (David), Max von Sydow (Martin), and Lars Passgård (Minus).


1961-5

THIS POST IS PART OF THE 1961 BLOGATHON HOSTED BY STEVE OF MOVIE MOVIE BLOG BLOG.


RELATED

The Great Monster Varan (1958, Honda Ishirô)

The only thing more tedious and lethargic than the first half of Varan is the second half of Varan. The first half has a motley crew of lepidopterologists awakening a giant monster. The second half has these lepidopterologists consulting with the military to destroy said monster.

Not sure why the military thinks a bunch of butterfly scientists will have good ideas about how to kill a giant monster. Eventually Hirata Akihiko shows up with the solution. Hirata killed the original Godzilla, which is only appropriate in Varan, since the monster has the exact same roar as Godzilla. Varan is done on the cheap. The real cheap.

The film has its share of behind-the-scenes drama. It was originally for television–a coproduction between Toho and an American company, but then the American company went bankrupt. So the two-part TV movie became a single eighty-six minute feature, in “TohoPanScope,” which had them cropping the television framing. I suppose that cropping is why a lot of director Honda’s shots are so bad. Even still, it doesn’t explain away the bad acting or godawful pace.

Or the lousy giant monster suit, which always seems in danger of coming apart onscreen.

There are numerous… well, they’re not exactly plot holes but narrative skips. Like when there’s a forest fire all of a sudden, or how–in the second half–the military attacks have nothing to do with what the Secretary of Defense orders. It makes sense as the Secretary of Defense (Yamada Minosuke) is utterly out of his depth. Yamada’s acting is bad, the script is bad, but even so, when he listens intently to the ideas of chief lepidopterologist Senda Koreya, there’s no plausible reason for Yamada to be listening to Senda. Senda’s writing is probably better, but his performance is so much worse. It’s a risible performance amid some decidedly unimpressive ones. Senda comes up with the solution at the last minute for saving the day, which is another of the film’s narrative skips. He all of a sudden remembers something–which the film doesn’t actually show, but should’ve–as the deus ex.

The first half makes Nomura Kôzô the hero for a while. He’s the intrepid lepidopterologist who dares to return to the giant monster’s territory after it kills two of his colleagues. He brings along Sonoda Ayumi; she’s a reporter and sister of one of the dead lepidopterologists. Varan has so little character establishing, her job is never important. There’s some stuff with newspapers reporting the monster, but it’s before she even shows up.

Bad editing from Taira Kazuji, piddly photography from Koizumi Hajime–though, really, who knows how Varan is really supposed to look (Toho apparently destroyed the original aspect ratio version of the film). But what remains isn’t adequately, much less impressively, photographed. The constant use of stock footage makes the experience even worse.

Ifukube Akira’s score is bad. Though he revised some of the music for later Toho kaiju movies to far better effect. Taira doesn’t really cut with the music in mind. Or sound. Maybe it’s because there are supposed to be commercial breaks. Seeing Varan cut into with commercials might help the overall viewing experience.

It’s an awful film. Especially when it refuses to end; the second half just goes on and on and on. There’s one single good miniature effects shot–and one good composite shot–but otherwise all the effects are bad. I suppose some of the matte backgrounds at the beginning are good. They aren’t godawful at least.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Sekizawa Shin’ichi, based on a story by Kuronuma Ken; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Shimizu Kiyoshi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nomura Kôzô (Kenji), Sonoda Ayumi (Yuriko), Senda Koreya (Dr. Sugimoto), Matsuo Fumindo (Horiguchi), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Fujimora), Murakami Fuyuki (Dr. Majima), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Katsumoto), Yamada Minosuke (Secretary of Defense), and Sera Akira (High Priest).


RELATED

Delicatessen (1991, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Delicatessen is often adorable. There’s a romance between Dominique Pinon and Marie-Laure Dougnac; they’re both adorable, so Delicatessen is often adorable. They’re star-crossed, though Pinon doesn’t know it (Dougnac does), living in a post-apocalyptic future where people eat people (though there are some vegetarians, but they’re considered terrorists).

I suppose they’d actually be vegan, give all the animals are gone.

Anyway, Pinon works for Dougnac’s father–Jean-Claude Dreyfus–as a handyman in Dreyfus’s building. Dreyfus is mainly a butcher. He hires handymen, kills them, sells their meat to his tenants. Delicatessen is rather dark, but never too dark. Darius Khondji shoots the film with a haze (mostly greenish) and directors Caro and Jeunet are extremely expressionistic with their composition. But even without that visual distance, the film never tries harder than farce. Peculiar farce to be sure, but farce.

Dougnac isn’t happy with her father–who doesn’t care his daughter’s falling for his next victim and is more than happy to foist her off to the gross postman (Chick Ortega). The mail service’s fascist, post-apocalypse. Ortega’s dimwit. Dougnac doesn’t welcome the dimwit fascist’s violent affections. She much prefers Pinon, who used to be a clown with a chimpanzee sidekick.

Delicatessen has a lot of style. But it never wants to talk too much about that style. For instance, it would appear the apocalypse happened sometime in the fifties, but it’s immaterial to the story. It does provide some mood–particularly for Pinon, who’s excellent and able to find a lot of nuance in the part. Of course, he does have the most thoroughly realized part in the script. But he’s just one of the many excellent performances.

Caro and Jeunet get some phenomenal performances of Delicatessen’s cast. Dougnac, for instance, is better than Pinon, even without as much nuance. She’s got the family problems with Dreyfus, but they don’t get anywhere near as much attention as Pinon’s backstory. His backstory crosses subplots, bringing in Dreyfus’s lover Karin Viard (she’s his lover for free meat), for example. Pinon’s the mystery to be discovered, even though he’s the one in danger from the mystery he has yet to discover.

Most of the first half deals with Pinon getting situated at the building and the film introducing the various other residents. Silvie Laguna, who keeps trying to kill herself with these Rube Goldberg contraptions, gets a lot to do even though she doesn’t really figure into the main plot. Delicatessen is always willing to meander, especially in the first half. In the second half, there’s just not enough time because it all of a sudden becomes very intense. Even with the film played for humor–the revolutionary force of de facto vegans are silly looking guys (all guys) in raincoats–once Dreyfus decides it’s time for Pinon to go, Delicatessen all of a sudden gets rather dangerous.

Because for all the cannibalism and post-apocalyptic whatnot, it’s always a lot of fun. Not even gross fun. There’s more hinted gore in the introduction than in the rest of the film. It primes the viewer, gets them on edge, but Caro and Jeunet use that attention for other things.

Like that touching love story between Pinon and Dougnac.

So Pinon, Dougnac, and Dreyfus are great. Viard’s good but she doesn’t have much of a part (she’s excellent in the situational stuff). Ortega’s good. Anne-Marie Pisani is real good. Laguna’s great. Rufus is great (he’s got a crush on married Laguna). All the revolutionaries are fine. They’re played a lot broader than anything else. How could they not be with the raincoats and headlamps.

Technically, the film’s marvelous. Caro and Jeunet’s composition, Khondji’s photography, Caro’s production design, the costumes, all of it. But then there’s Hervé Schneid’s editing, which is exquisite. And might be why the film can get away with what it gets away with. The cuts, especially in the third act action sequence, smoothly move between the contrary, exaggerated shots. It’s marvelous.

Delicatessen is beautifully acted, technically marvelous, imaginative but unfocused farce.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet; written by Jeunet, Caro, and Gilles Adrien; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Hervé Schneid; music by Carlos D’Alessio; production designer, Caro; produced by Claudie Ossard; released by Union Générale Cinématographique.

Starring Dominique Pinon (Louison), Marie-Laure Dougnac (Julie Clapet), Jean-Claude Dreyfus (Clapet), Karin Viard (Mademoiselle Plusse), Chick Ortega (Postman), Ticky Holgado (Marcel Tapioca), Anne-Marie Pisani (Madame Tapioca), Silvie Laguna (Aurore Interligator), Jean-François Perrier (Georges Interligator), Rufus (Robert Kube), Jacques Mathou (Roger), Boban Janevski (Young Rascal), Mikael Todde (Young Rascal), Edith Ker (Grandmother), Patrick Paroux (Puk), Maurice Lamy (Pank), Marc Caro (Fox), and Howard Vernon (Frog Man).


RELATED