Akira Kurosawa – A Master of Legends

Akira Kurosawa is one of my favorite filmmakers ever, and is one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema. His movies have provided countless inspiration for many latter directors from Sergio Leone to Sidney Lumet to Quentin Tarantino to Yoji Yamada to David Fincher and countless others. His movies are defined by the gravity and density of their narratives, the very heavy influence of traditional Japanese culture mixed with 20th century modern sensibilities, dynamic and powerful characters and an heir of mysticism and mythical folklore. His movies stand up just as well today as they did nearly 50 years ago and they are a source of countless wonder and entertainment. Here are the films I watched on my Kurosawa marathon:

7 Samurai – Brilliantly captured and the suspense and anticipation of the invasion is palpable even as the samurai is calmly sipping some tea or munching on some rice cakes in a shack. There are some really heartwarming sequences, including the one where the Samurai are ready to give up and have some internal struggle, then Toshiro Mifune’s character (the jovial, irritable slacker) raises their banner up above the roof. This is cinema at its finest.

Rashomon – The film’s characters tend to go a bit over the top, and that can really annoy a viewer who is not accustomed to Japanese melodrama, but you also have to realize that the lack to truth to each witnesses story is amplified by this preposterous melodramatic bit. Here, the ending is what really sends you packing with thoughts racing in your mind. “Truth” is not only the question, but draws upon man’s inherent “morality” as a discussion starter. Is a human being moral enough to even tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Yojimbo – This is my favorite Kurosawa, by and far. Yes, I mentioned “7 Samurai” was cinema at its finest, and from a standpoint of craft, it still holds true. But if you want Kurosawa’s most enjoyable film, one which you will want to watch again and again and every time you return to it, you are just excited and in awe as the last viewing, “Yojimbo” is where it’s at. Now I understand why Leone and Tarantino were so inspired.

Sanjuro – I found “Sanjuro” to be a strong, but not as exciting sequel. It was too paced and the tricks and games that Mifune’s “Samurai with No Name” (he only invents a name based on what flower his eyes happen to fall on at the time) have now become rather too predictable and for a narrative in where you’re in on the joke the entire time, you need at least a little bit of visceral action to help you get by. “Sanjuro”‘s final samurai showdown in the blazing sun at the end is a real eye-opener for the “Dollars Trilogy”, “Kill Bill” and “Django” fans. But the rest of the movie is all too familiar.

Ikiru – Perpetually depressing, and featuring a character Watanabe who grows so mopy and regretful of his ‘wasted life’, “Ikiru” was hard for me to sit through. It’s not a ‘disturbing’ or ‘tough’ film necessarily, but one which feels like it’s marinated and soaked in a pool of sadness for hours on end. The character dialogue and examination is something worth listening to, but this isn’t a film I will watch again anytime soon.

Throne of Blood – Kurosawa takes on Shakespeare. The way he embodies the bard’s tragedies to Japanese mysticism and exudes an air of mythical, almost legendary folklore reminds me so much of Vishal Bharadwaj’s early career with “Makdee” and “Maqbool”. The prophecies, the conniving in the dark, rumors, whispers, empty walls that hold secrets and a singular ominous figure possessing everyone’s interest. There’s some really interesting things going on in this movie.


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