Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 film The Lower Depths is set in Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868), and is about the poor tenants of a rundown residence. In this featured scene we see three, and then four, men circle dance using traditional hand movements. From their simple “stage” to the faux flautist, these peasants are performing their own rustic version of Noh Mai, which is a form of Japanese dance theatre typically enacted to music made by hand held drums and flutes.
Tag: Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa’s storied career is exemplified not just by his cinematic masterpieces, but also how he subverted genre film. From detective noir like Stray Dog to thrillers like High and Low, he never shied away from challenging how audiences experience familiar genres. Never is this more on display than in his 1961 film Yojimbo.
The film is part of the jidaigeki genre, which encompasses period pieces set during the Edo period (1603-1868). More specifically, it is part of the chanbara (samurai) subgenre. Typically, films in this subgenre follow valiant warriors, whose moral code shines through from the very beginning and never wavers. The violence on screen is meant solely to entertain. Rarely do we see critiques of this, but in Yojimbo, Kurosawa steps up and calls this into question.
First published in 1623, Shakespeare’s Macbeth has seen a myriad of adaptations, stemming from its cultural relevance within political history. The great Orson Welles, a decade before turning to the silver screen, directed Macbeth for the Negro Theatre Unit in 1936, which stirred controversy within the black community of Harlem, accused of mocking black culture. Though on a grander scale, Welles’ production can be viewed as a telling tale of evil abroad, as Europe became engulfed in strife with the rise of Hitler’s regime, it quickly became an imperative reflection on the duality between reality and fantasy – how difficult it must be to sympathize with a character that so greatly reflects a tyrant’s hysteria.
What does one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century, who witnessed a devastating earthquake, several world and regional wars and the use of the world’s first atomic bomb, dream about? Perhaps unsurprisingly, devastation–in its most absolute and anxiety-ridden forms. AKIRA KUROSAWA’S DREAMS imagines the existential questions humans must face as a consequence of their capacity for annihilation, and the answers are remorselessly pessimistic. Though the oneiric segments of DREAMS may contain glimmers of beauty, particularly in the earlier episodes, ultimately, they leave the viewer as unsettled as the mind of Kurosawa.
The film RASHOMON (1950), directed by Akira Kurosawa was heavily influenced by the short story ‘In a Grove’ by Ryunosuke Atkutagawa. Investigating themes consistent with human nature, the film explores the philosophical questions Atkutagawa poses. The storyline revolves around the differing perspectives of the characters, which differ so immensely, that it is difficult to decipher what is fact or fiction. The characters’ each tell elaborate stories of the same event, to suit their own fate and protect their honor, while selfishly abandoning the objective truth.
Yojimbo – 1961 – dir. Akira Kurosawa
It’s common Kurosawa knowledge that Japan’s greatest director was a huge fan of American westerns. The wandering warrior often casually walks into a village at war. What Kurosawa delivers in Yojimbo is a western all its own. Complete with stand offs, hostages and a local brewery, the film encompasses a variety of talents at work. Along with the usual duo of Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, Yojimbo exemplifies the valiant efforts that go on behind scenes, raising the film above most western/gangster stories to an experience so entertaining, it illustrates the significance it plays in later American cinema.
By William Benker
The Bad Sleep Well – 1960 – dir. Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa’s neo-noir The Bad Sleep Well is a hybrid examination on the evil of revenge. Drawn by a thread of vengeance, each turn of events show that evil only grows more complex when driven by a sense of justice. While the film’s protagonist Nishi (Toshiro Mifune) reveals his vengeful pursuit through an embezzlement scandal that consumes his company, Kurosawa unravels the evil dimension that has trapped each and every character involved. It proves in the end that no matter what type of justice is sought after, the dirt it always on someone else’s hands. When all is said and done, the cleanest hands suffer the greatest loss.
By William Benker
Seven Samurai – 1954 – dir. Akira Kurosawa
The philosophical insight Akira Kurosawa unleashes in his epic Seven Samurai stands above most war films ever produced. Though the portrayal of war is common among films, the true essence of conflict itself is often times overlooked. The manner and tempo with which Kurosawa delivers his epic is where the message emerges. With a steady pace and extensive view into every facet of struggle, the director breaches the threshold of cinematic philosophy into a new realm of artistic meaning. In 16th century Japan, the framework of conflict is embodied within seven selfless warriors who use all of their abilities to defeat a clan of bandits. Kurosawa’s stark vision of life itself is extrapolated in the picture. Constantly put into question by smaller battles along the way, the director paints a decadent landscape of morality, giving audiences the very essence of cinema and story in its most ancient form. Seven Samurai is a perfect step-by-step guide into the very heart of conflict.