Tag Archives: Akira Kurosawa

Scandal (1950, Kurosawa Akira)

Scandal presents an incredibly humane side of Kurosawa, one his historical pictures don’t convey. He shows the desperate sadness of people and offers little visible hope throughout. There’s one scene, when the protagonist (played by Mifune Toshirô) and the main character (Shimura Takashi) come across a pond reflecting the stars and Mifune comments about the frequent beauty one finds in daily life. Scandal isn’t so much about those aesthetic moments, rather the type of person who can fully appreciate them. Mifune’s character, a painter, has it a little easier than Shimura, the alcoholic, gambling lawyer, but that scene equalizes them and allows them to communicate.

Mifune kept reminding me of Gregory Peck in this film–maybe because of the pipe (though I don’t think Peck had the pipe until later than 1950). He’s handsome and kind and he’s definitely the protagonist–but he’s not the main character. Or maybe he’s the main character and Shimura is the protagonist. I can’t remember… The Oxford says the main character and the protagonist used to the same, but in the modern sense, there’s room for a main character and a protagonist. In a Kurosawa film of this era, there’s definite room. He’s not as loose as usual with his character emphasis, but again, until forty minutes into the film, I didn’t know who the story was going to track. Shimura is in lots of Kurosawa films (in addition, of course, to Godzilla), but Scandal is his finest work. His role is the fallen character Renoir never could work out and Kurosawa does it instinctively. Instead of using the character sparsely–as the viewer painfully watches him repeatedly fail everyone he cares about–Kurosawa keeps it going, keeps bringing him back, keeps the viewer in as much pain as the character is in… and he or she is just as able to change the character’s behavior as the character is able to do.

Scandal is really early, so Kurosawa hadn’t gone over to scope yet and watching the film, one can see him pushing the frame. I’ve never seen Kurosawa projected and I realized almost immediately, these squarer images were just as breathtaking as his other framings. I suppose it’s one of the drawbacks of letterboxing–you realize what you’re missing by not seeing it in the theater. Since Scandal is so early, since the story is so traditional (a magazine slanders a romantically innocent pair of celebrities), and since Mifune is such a traditional leading man, it’s shocking when Kurosawa breaks the film out of the traditional form. There’s a wonderful scene at the end: on the right side of the frame are the two heroes and their amiable sidekick and on the left is Shimura. Kurosawa keeps it all in focus–Scandal has no relieving close-ups either–and the scene just goes on for a little while. Something about the positioning of the actors while surveying the desperation… in that shot, it is immediately clear how important a storyteller Kurosawa already was and was going to be.

Scandal is, of course, not readily available in the United States. I watched the UK Masters of Cinema DVD release, which–just like the last Masters of Cinema release I watched–had video problems, this time with interlacing. The film was available on VHS in the States, from Criterion’s parent company’s VHS arm, so maybe there’s a nice region 1 edition in the works.

The most pleasant part about Scandal is it gets better as it goes along, constantly building toward its final achievement.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Kurosawa and Kikushima Ryuzo; director of photography, Ubukata Toshio; music by Hayasaka Fumio; produced by Koide Takashi; released by Shochiku Company.

Starring Mifune Toshirô (Aoye Ichirô), Yamaguchi Shirley (Saijo Miyako), Katsuragi Yôko (Hiruta Masako), Sengoku Noriko (Sumie), Ozawa Eitarô (Hori), Shimura Takashi (Attorney Hiruta), Himori Shinichi (Editor Asai) and Shimizu Ichirô (Arai).


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The Bad Sleep Well (1960, Kurosawa Akira)

I had no idea it was Mifune Toshirô (nor did I get the Hamlet subtext).

Kurosawa mixes genres a lot with The Bad Sleep Well. It’s an incredibly romantic film, but not from the start. The start is a twenty minute wedding scene, all told from reporters’ points of view. It creates a distancing effect, it makes the narrative peculiar. It keeps the audience removed from the characters–in fact, the protagonist isn’t revealed until forty minutes into the film. I know what Mifune looks like, I’ve seen him in quite a few films, but since I wasn’t looking for him (another advantage to going into a film unaware), I let myself get caught up in what was going on.

The distancing–which continues into a police investigation into government corruption–isn’t off-putting. The film follows multiple characters around in a procedural manner Kurosawa used again in High and Low (to much less effect) and manages not to disengage the viewer. This device is successful because no one–not even the viewer–has inkling of what’s going on until a very specific point in the film. It’s not a short, 150 minutes, and this point happens reasonably early… forty-three minutes in or so.

The film develops awkwardly. Significant events occur and the film doesn’t stop. It keeps going after these impossible situations, resolving them, building on them. Besides it not being much like Hamlet, I think it didn’t occur to me it might even be Hamlet because of the feeling. It’s an incredibly tender film and playful film and I’ve never thought of Hamlet as tender or playful. The Bad Sleep Well probably has more feeling in it then any Kurosawa film I’ve seen.

It’s a great film and a perfect example of why writing about great films isn’t any fun. I mean, I don’t have anything to bitch about and its quality wasn’t a surprise. It’s kind of exciting to have seen it, found it (the Criterion DVD only came out a couple months ago, meaning it’s not one of Kurosawa’s best known works in the U.S.), but I really shouldn’t have been expecting anything but a great film. It’s just been too long since I’ve seen Kurosawa in his prime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed and edited by Kurosawa Akira; written by Oguni Hideo, Hisoita Eijiro, Kurosawa, Kikushima Ryuzo and Hashimoto Shinobu; director of photography, Aizawa Yuzuru; music by Sato Masaru; production designer, Muraki Yoshiro; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki and Kurosawa; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Mifune Toshirô (Koichinishi), Koto Tokeshi (Itkaura), Mori Mosayuki (Iwabuchi), Shimura Tokashi (Moriyama), Nishimura Akira (Shiroi), Fujiwara Kamatari (Wada), Kogawa Kyoka (Keiko) and Mihashi Tatsuya (Tatsuo).


Kagemusha (1980, Kurosawa Akira)

When I was a kid, I was always curious about Kagemusha because of the VHS box art. It was a silhouette of the battle armor, giving it a real eerie feel about it. Like it was a sequel or remake of Night of the Demon. Later, I learned it was not a supernatural samurai movie. I started getting into Kurosawa about the same time I discovered aspect ratios and laserdiscs and I never got around to seeing much… Most Kurosawa discs were Criterion and expensive or Fox and expensive. I actually just came across my laserdisc copy of Kagemusha, still in shrink-wrap, which I got on remainder.

It’s an incredibly impersonal film. IMDb confirmed it’s based on historical events, which explains why much of it feels like a history lesson. It’s a long two hours and forty minutes too, but I don’t think anything could actually go. Actually, I think the film would probably benefit from more. There are a handful of human relationships that work in the film–most of them since there are so few–and there are a lot of moments that work. But these moments often interrupt expository scenes and lecture moments.

Kagemusha is still a good film, it’s just not very deep. It was apparent, an hour in, the film could only end one way (and it did). But this realization made the next hour and a half a little labored… Just because we know it can only end one way doesn’t mean the film should treat us like we know it. There’s also an attempt at commentary on warfare that pops up in the third act and, while it could start a different film, it certainly doesn’t rightly end this one. But, it’s still good… it’s just not exciting (it’s no Night of the Demon, for instance).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Kurosawa and Ide Masato; directors of photography, Saitô Takao and Ueda Masaharu; music by Ikebe Shinichirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nakadai Tatsuya (Takeda Shingen / Kagemusha), Yamazaki Tsutomu (Takeda Nobukado), Hagiwara Kenichi (Takeda Katsuyori), Nezu Jinpachi (Tsuchiya Sohachiro), Otaki Hideji (Yamagata Masakage), Ryu Daisuke (Oda Nobunaga), Yui Masayuki (Tokugawa Ieyasu) and Momoi Kaori (Otsuyanokata).