Archive for October 4, 2018

In the realm of the sensei

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 4, 2018 by dcairns

This is the kind of thing I might try to teach in a class if only there were time.

Akira Kurosawa had an unconventional attitude to exposition: he liked it. He would cheerfully stage long scenes where the characters draw a map in the sand and make their battle plans, as in THE SEVEN SAMURAI. Kurosawa felt the audience liked to know what was going on and what was going to happen next (though drawing a plan also creates suspense: WILL things go to plan?) and would enjoy watching the characters explain it. As long as one character has motivation to exposit to another, the scene can set up plot points without trampling character credibility.SANJURO opens with a very long sequence of exposition to get its plot going. First, a group of very Earnest Young Men explain to one another what they think is going on. This gets a little dull, beautiful though the staging is, but boredom is not altogether Kurosawa’s enemy. He has HIGH AND LOW open with ten minutes of discussion about the shoe business just so we can be more surprised and excited when the movie abruptly turns into a gripping kidnap drama. Here, the tedium generated by the Very Earnest Young Men is upturned by the arrival of Toshiro Mifune, who is inherently not boring. Better yet, he’s playing the title character, previously seen in YOJIMBO, who is very far from earnest. Though he takes certain things seriously, and can get quite cross about some of them, he has an overall ironic attitude to life.The throng of VEYM have barely been characterised. They have a leader, but other than that they’re all dopey youths in kimonos and tonsures. If we were meant to be able to tell them apart, we’d be somewhat sunk. But they are basically just one character. The reason for having so many of them is contrast: their multiplicity contrasts with Mifune/Sanjuro’s singularity, just as their seriousness contrasts with his irony. So this exposition — which continues, albeit in a new direction, now that he’s joined us — is also an opportunity to show how unique he is.

And so from here on, when the VEYM stand up, he sits down. When they kneel, he stands. When they tense up, he relaxes. When they bow, he picks his toes. Very good work. Kurosawa is the true teacher.

 

 

Advertisements