Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Life in the World of Kurosawa

As I sat here reading some old reviews of Kurosawa films, I started reminiscing on my years spent watching Akira Kurosawa films. For me, counting in everything it takes to be a director, nobody I've ever witnessed better combined all the elements necessary than Kurosawa.

The first, and by far most lasting, Kurosawa film I ever saw was Seven Samurai, way back in 2005. To say I was mesmerized would be simply an understatement. By the end of that day it was on my top 10 films list (behind then #1 Glory), it struck every cord. The perfect characters, the great acting, the amazing cinematography, the beautifully written dialogue, the unique social study, the true epic stature... I nearly hopped out of my seat in the end to give it a standing ovation. From then on Takashi Shimura was the acting god as far as I was concerned, something that has not changed till this day.

The following year I took a film class, in which we watched Rashomon, the film that inspired the Best Foreign Language category. The unique design, the wonderful characters, and above all the great setup that allowed Kurosawa to succeed where Hitchcock had failed years earlier. The movie just pure brilliance, there's no arguing it, no debating it, I was simply hooked like a crack addict, I couldn't stop.

I followed up Rashomon some time later by vowing to one day see every single Kurosawa film ever made. This task has been very difficult, and I've still got quite a few to see. I can't say they were all pictures of perfection, some of his earlier work (pre-Rashomon) have become impossible to find real translations of (mostly online syndicated gibberish). And yet even in his most boring, most struggled films, I sit there in absolute awe, eagerly awaiting the next scene like a little kid.

Throughout my journey I've encountered so many of his films. Yojimbo and Sanjuro are powerful and intriguing looks at a character who seemingly has all the talents any Samurai would ever want. Ikiru is a truly beautiful film that every human being should watch at least once in their life. The final 2minutes sprints to the top 5 most moving scenes on cinema. Drunken Angel is a testament to the flaws of man, the bad decisions we make, and the consequences of them if we don't take advantage.

Scandal is a powerful attack on the media, with a brilliant Takashi Shimura portrayal as corrupt gambling addicted lawyer. The Bad Sleep Well is a fun, if not heart breaking, look at revenge, and the consequence it can have on those unintended. Kagemusha is another powerful, often overlooked due to Ran, tale of misdirection and how it can destroy an empire.

Red Beard, High and Low, and The Lower Depths are all powerful to the core looks at the effects of poverty on people, both mentally and physically. The Silent Duel is a dreadfully slow tale that follows a mans fight with a disease gained while saving the life of a patient, so boring but so memorable for the perfect ending (easily Mifunes shining performance). I Live in Fear takes your breath away with tough, hard hitting characters that strike at your very gut with every move.

Throne of Blood is unintentionally a bit cheesy, but still such a in intriguing adaptation of Macbeth I'd watch it again at the drop of a pin. Rhapsody in August is a powerful look at the effect the Nagasaki bomb had on those who survived it as we follow the tale of an unassuming grandmother years later living with her grandchildren. The Hidden Fortress, not only known for its impact on Star Wars, but for its pure entertainment value, funny, action packed, a great well rounded film from Kurosawa.

Everytime I think of movies I think of Kurosawa, the man from top to bottom truly has changed not only the way I look at films, but the way they impact me. I no longer look for meaningless entertainment, Kurosawa's films showed me movies have the power to show so much more. They can make you feel all the ranges of human emotions, and above all they can show you to care for characters you'd never know in your normal life. This connection, that is what separates movies from film, blockbusters from classics, that is where the true love of movies exists.

In the end I write this as a declaration to my love for everything Kurosawa. A thank you to a man I'll never meet, the man who made me see the beauty in films. So as I continue my treck through his movies, and through movies in general I'd just like to say:

Dear Akira Kurosawa,

Thank You.

- Ryan Helms.

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