Tag Archives: Akira Kurosawa

Challenge Week 1: Stray Dog

I mentioned on my post about Babette’s Feast that I wasn’t inherently that excited about seeing it, though I ended up very glad I had. I was very excited about Stray Dog, and I wasn’t let down a bit. I typically have some trouble connecting with Japanese film, even Kurosawa, who’s generally considered to be among the most Western-accessible Japanese filmmakers. Though someday I’m going to have to stop saying that, as I’m getting more and more acclimated to Japanese filmmaking – the real test will be Tokyo Story, which is coming up later in the challenge.

Anyway, I was hoping Stray Dog would work well for me because it’s basically a noir, and noir is one of my favorite genres. And now I totally understand the thing about Kurosawa being more influenced by Western film than many other Japanese directors. It shows through much more clearly in this modern day detective drama than it does in, say, his samurai films, right down to the chorus girls that would fit in any 1940s American nightclub. Yet it still shares stylistic and thematic concerns found in other Kurosawa films, especially High and Low, also a modern-day crime film that I enjoyed quite a bit.

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In Stray Dog, Toshiro Mifune is rookie policeman Murakami who gets his gun pickpocketed on the bus. Desperate to get it back, he infiltrates the underworld and gets some leads, but soon finds that it was used in a robbery and homicide. Wracked with guilt, he and veteran cop Sato (Takashi Shimura) team up to find the suspect. The detective work itself is a lot of fun to watch, but the whole thing has a depth due to Murakami’s guilt first over just losing his gun, then having it be used to kill.

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Letterboxd Season Challenge: High and Low (1963)

Film 3 for the Letterboxd Season Challenge. The other films I plan to watch for the challenge are here.

Week 3, Sept 20-26: Master of the East
Challenge: Watch an unseen film directed by Akira Kurosawa
Film I Chose: High and Low (1963)

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I’ve been keeping up watching the films for the Letterboxd challenge; less so writing them up, and even less so posting my thoughts over here! So expect an onslaught of posts ever the next few days as I catch up. Japanese film is troublesome for me, and I often have trouble with even the most well-known and accessible films, like those from Kurosawa. That said, more exposure is definitely helping, and I’ve really been looking forward to High and Low, which was my first non-samurai Kurosawa film.

Maybe this is the direction I need to go, because I loved this. I knew the basics of the premise, that Toshiro Mifune played a businessman who has his son kidnapped and held for ransom, but then discovers that the kidnapper made a mistake and kidnapped his chauffeur’s son instead – will he still jeopardize his long-planned company takeover and risk losing everything in order to pay the ransom on the boy?

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Blindspot: Sanjuro (1962)

My difficulty getting into Japanese film is no big secret, but I’m chipping away at it, film by film. I enjoyed Yojimbo a couple of years ago (even though I was in a too-tired frame of mind and really need to rewatch it), so I had hopes that Sanjuro would follow in its footsteps.

I won’t deny that the opening had me fearful – it drops us right into the middle of a somewhat heated discussion, with one man telling a bunch of other men that his uncle wouldn’t agree to help them take down some corruption, which is seen as a great betrayal, but that the superintendent would. It’s all a bit abrupt and you’re left wondering exactly who the uncle is, how this government is formed, what place a “superintendent” has in it, what the power relationship between the uncle and superintendent is, who exactly the men think is corrupt and why, how that corruption is affecting them, who they owe their allegiance to, what their status is (are they samurai, or just regular guys who happen to carry swords around – other reviewers are calling them noblemen, which makes sense), etc. Most of this is never really answered, so either it’s just a total McGuffin, or it’s assumed that the viewer has a knowledge of Japanese social and government structure that I lack. You do learn that the uncle is a chamberlain, which is presumably a higher position than superintendent, but with the chamberlain and the superintendent the only officials really mentioned, it’s unclear where the noblemen originally thought the corruption was coming from.

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The good news is, Sanjuro (an apparently assumed name, played to perfection by Toshiro Mifune) pops out of the next room pretty quickly and takes the situation in hand. He’s a ronin, which I DO know what is – a Samurai who has lost his master, so he’s roaming around without clear allegiance. It’s not really an honorable position to be in, but it does leave Sanjuro free to do whatever the hell he wants, which, thankfully for our hapless noblemen, is help them out of their predicament. He immediately clues into the fact that it’s probably the superintendent that’s corrupt rather than the chamberlain, and he carries out a series of plans (most of which are screwed up by the impatient and highly unstrategic noblemen) to catch out the superintendent and rescue the uncle, whom the superintendent has had arrested and framed for corruption.

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Happy 100th Birthday, Akira Kurosawa!

Today would’ve been legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s 100th birthday, were he still with us. I’m the first to admit that I’m not the biggest Kurosawa fan, and this day probably would’ve passed by me unnoticed had it not been for the writers at Row Three putting together a site-wide review retrospective devoted to Kurosawa films, which has taken up most of the posts over the past week. Reading those reviews has gotten me all enthused to revisit Kurosawa more myself, and the film I reviewed for the series definitely proved to me that I had been missing something the first time around and it’s now time to move more in-depth into both Kurosawa and Japanese film in general.

Check out all the Kurosawa posts from all the writers here; and here’s an excerpt of my review of Ikiru:


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Having only seen three Kurosawa films prior to this tribute series (and not “getting” those as much as I would have liked), I embarked on my part of the series with as much a goal of discovery as of celebration. Because the films I’d already seen were all samurai films, I opted to watch and review one of Kurosawa’s contemporary-set films. Review contains some spoilers, but it’s a film that depends far more on mood and character than plot twists, so I don’t think it’ll matter too much.

“The best way to protect your place in the world is to do nothing at all. Is that all life is really about?”

The word “ikiru” translates as “to live,” and Ikiru examines what it means to really live, while also acknowledging the difficulty of actually making any difference with your life. Watanabe-san is a civil servant, the section chief for a bureaucratic city government who spends his days in a mountain of paperwork, always busy without ever accomplishing anything. The narration suggests that he’s been dead for nearly 20 years, because he just floats along without really living – he has no passion or ambition; he’s “worn down by the minutia of the bureaucratic machine.” However, when Watanabe finds out that he’s dying from stomach cancer, he has an existential crisis, experiencing flashbacks of his wasted life and punishing himself with sake (poisonous to him with his medical condition).

Two chance meetings offer him differing possibilities for how to really live in the time he’s got left. A man in a bar takes him out gambling, drinking, and into the red light district. The next day, he meets a young clerk from his office who is resigning her job because it’s so soul-deadening; her joy in life is infectious, and he quickly covets spending time with her – a desire that quickly spreads lascivious rumors though his intentions seem quite benign. When she tells him of the happiness she finds in her new job, he decides to throw himself into his work and really take responsibility for it – to do one really good thing with the position he’s got before he runs out of time.

Read the rest at Row Three, and read all the other Kurosawa entries here (most of them far more knowledgeable and authoritative on Kurosawa than I am, which is not at all).