Tag: akira kurosawa

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Two stylized shots from Akira Kurosawa's "Ikiru" and Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life", focusing in on the portraits of each film protagonist, set side by side.

Imagined Shores: on Frank Capra and Akira Kurosawa

What does it mean for someone to give to the world? To live their life as to leave an imprint? It’s easy to contemplate this concept as it relates to the types of figures who are name-dropped in the history books. The means to this is relatively straightforward (in idea if not execution) if you are an artist, or a scientist, or an activist, leader, even an athlete. You do what you’re best at and do it as well as you can (to put it simply). But what about the rest of us? For the majority of the human race, any individual’s scope of influence is a narrow groove, constrained to those immediately around them. Any impact is going to be brief and light-handed.

With this idea on my mind, I recently rewatched two films that explore the impact of the non-Exceptional individual- Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) and Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). In my opinion, both are great films (Ikiru is more complex, especially structurally, but that is not to dismiss the fact that It’s A Wonderful Life is of a higher quality than it is often given credit for). But right now, I don’t care so much to embark on a work of intricate criticism. Sitting at the brink of a new year, I just feel like pulling a few of the threads presented by both films. […]

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A shot from Kurosawa's Throne of Blood

Importance of Movement: On Akira Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” (1957)

The difficulty in transcribing Shakespeare is in the stylistic qualities. Shakespeare’s characters and themes are endemic to culture, so a straight adaptation risks being old-hat. This necessitates either a gimmick like Baz Luhrmann’s insufferable Romeo + Juliet, with its .45 calibre thumb-biting, on the one hand, or potent cinematography on the other. Throne of Blood (Kumonosu-jō) by Akira Kurosawa is widely held to be the best adaptation of Macbeth, and is in the latter category of cinematic potency. While the context is moved to feudal Japan, the real elevation of its source material occurs in its ethereal, dream-like and unsettling atmosphere.

Adaptation can fall flat when the focus is purely on transferring the plot of the source material – what makes a great adaptation can be found in retelling a story using a different toolset and collection of stimuli. By translating a work of dramatic prose, you have to eliminate statements and replace it with implication, and texture. This is true in all the widely regarded great adaptations, from The Shining and Apocalypse Now to Naked Lunch. While keeping the elusive soul of the work alive, they can’t ever hope to imitate its manner of expression. That’s where the director’s own proficiency comes into play and becomes pivotal.

And this is where Throne of Blood shines – in its recognition of the vital qualities and the complete exerting of its own voice over the tertiary qualities. Kurosawa recognises the strength of acting required from each player and gives them ample room to manoeuvre. The camera floats lazily, some beautiful shots including the Lady Macbeth analogue, Asaji, walking from shadows with a basin of poison. By allowing a still and uninterrupted capture of an actor’s performance, it almost stimulates a different lobe of the brain from normal cinema-imbibing. There’s the unreal, and the real, and the highest achievement of the movies is to make the former feel like the latter. […]

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Three stills from chanbara: Seven Samurai, Twilight Samurai, Harakiri

Dissecting Chanbara: The Evolution of the Samurai Film Genre

There are samurai films, and then there are films that, while falling into this genre by happenstance, become the high points of cinema itself. I intend to examine three films in the chanbara tradition, and, in doing so, I will show how they’ve helped evolve the genre, advancing it into high art by building on previous achievements.

Perhaps the most important (even if not the best) film in the chanbara genre is Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), which tells the story of a group of warriors recruited by a village aiming to free itself from harassment by local bandits. It is a great action/adventure film that manages to transcend that label because of its pristine characterization and Kurosawa’s skill as a storyteller. The village farmers have only rice to offer in exchange for the service of the samurais, so that the viewer knows the only warriors who will agree to help are those righteous enough to sympathize with their struggle, or those desperate enough to take the job.

From its opening, one of the film’s few limitations becomes clear: Kurosawa’s proclivity for melodrama. As one of the farmers (Bokuzen Hidari) overhears bandits planning their next raid, the villagers whine and scream, worried about their future. However, even this aspect of the film is ameliorated by two things: 1) although the presentation is a bit cheesy, it makes sense for the farmers to be upset, since their lives are at risk; 2) the film is extremely concise and well-paced, with this scene an immediate point of departure. In fact, although Seven Samurai is three and a half hours long, it feels more like two. This is partly due to Kurosawa’s editing, which often cuts amid a character’s movement to maintain seamlessness in the flow of each sequence, then alternates loud and quiet scenes, so that they rarely feel monotonous. […]