Archive for Akira Kurosawa

Pacific War is a contradiction in terms

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2021 by dcairns
The chairman is thinking about Taiwan

Last night I started watching THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA (1971), subtitled A TEMPESTOUS CHRONICLE OF THE SHOWA PERIOD, “tempestuous” being the understatement of the period, and I hope to finish it today (bad viewing habits, huh?).

It’s directed by Kihachi Okamoto, whose stuff I haven’t got into before, and it has a zip to it. After David Lean’s embrace of direct cutting in LAWRENCE added a spring to the step of the lumbering epic form, new possibilities opened up, largely ignored in the west. Compare this to those dreadful Mirisch Company war movies, huge, flat and lifeless, cinematic Saharas of imagination.

In principle, it’s doing the same things as a piece of oily flotsam like BATTLE OF MIDWAY — archive footage is blithely intercut with modern pyrotechnics and star cameos (Tetsurô Tanba, Tatsuya Nakadai). You know they’re serious because they show you actual corpses before the main titles roll. (Being serious can lead to worse violations of taste than being flippant.) The stock shots are anamorphically stretched to fit the Tohoscope frame and look miserable.

But but but. The cutting is both nimble and eccentric. Surprising details are emphasised in surprising places and at breakneck speed (a scene ends, almost nonsensically, on an ECU of a sex worker’s toes). The characters are all finest quality Japanese cardboard with very emphatic playing in the A. Kurosawa manner, which works fine as they all need to make an impression in nothing flat.

The music is constantly lighter and more playful than the situation seems to warrant — none of this is going to end well — perhaps the same national tendency that gave us Gojira’s jolly march and Sanjuro’s baby elephant walk. Masaru Satô so that makes perfect sense and is personal more than national. In fact, now that I check, it’s by But the counter-intuitive choice imparts a grace and lightfootedness that propel the film forward without the usual grinding of gears.

An obvious comparison would be TORA! TORA! TORA! but the auteur of that one is Twentieth Century Fox and so it plods pachydermic through its history lesson, a literal-minded behemoth. Okamoto can dance.

I know some of this story, though. It’s going to get really horrible, isn’t it?

Sagebrushamon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2021 by dcairns

Retrospectively THE OUTRAGE, Martin Ritt’s western version of RASHOMON, is so nakedly a bad idea it’s hard to imagine intelligent adults not seeing it, but they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight until after they’d made it, when it was too late, and anyway, it’s kind of amazing as an example of what John Waters might call a failed art movie. The amazingness is mostly to do with James Wong Howe but the film didn’t direct itself.

Claire Bloom as “the wife” throws herself off a cliff and her underwater experience looks like this —

–and furthermore the soundtrack is a whistling wind with a trace of coyote howl. Absolutely mad, and even more extreme than anything in Kurosawa’s original, which is already a stylistic tour de force with only a few equals in all of cinema.

There’s something weirdly academic about it all, maybe because I know the original so well, so there’s a “Well, here’s this bit,” feeling about it all. Much of it is even more shot-for-shot faithful than Leone’s take on Kurosawa, even with extreme widescreen and a lot of really interesting shallow focus stuff added to the mix. The story gimmick is so dominant that I began to suspect that Kurosawa was walking a precipice with a rather dry film threatening to result if he lost his footing. But he had Mifune.

Ritt has Newman, wearing a William Tuttle nose and trying very hard to be a Mexican bandit. Mifune was theatrical as hell but he did it all physically, there was no disguise. It’s interesting to see Newman attempt this, but it’s bad for the movie and the obvious answer — hire a Mexican — is in this case the correct one. Hell, Martin Ritt had friends who weren’t Mexican but wouldn’t have been embarrassing — Yul Brynner, Anthony Quinn… It’s not meant to be a racist caricature but how would you feel watching it with a Mexican?

Still, it is an unreasonably gorgeous-looking thing. Was William Shatner’s mother startled by Laurence Olivier or something? What’s with his strange faltering, rising pitch delivery? His Captain Kirk did all that without making me think he was about to burst into song, but here…

Edward G. Robinson has all the best lines. Shatner has the best closeups.

THE OUTRAGE stars Fast Eddie Felson; Raymond Shaw; The Lady Anne; Dr. Clitterhouse; James Tiberius Kirk; Chickamaw; Smerdjakov; and Teeler Yacey.

Vermithrax Laudative

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2020 by dcairns

DRAGONSLAYER is pretty good, should appeal to the Game of Thrones/LORD OF THE RINGS people. It’s better than bloody WILLOW or LADYHAWK. It’s interesting to me for the influences it displays, too.

Setting aside the very satisfying priest-frying, which stems from George Pal’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, there’s the death of a major character early on, falling out of close-up, then completing his tumble via stand-in) with a match cut that takes us into slomo — clearly a nifty SEVEN SAMURAI swipe. Matthew Robbins, like George Lucas, has learned his Kurosawa lessons well.

But let’s look at the main plot, which forms part of a strange, twisted trichobezoar of influences. Young Galen, the sorcerer’s apprentice, takes his slain master’s place, fraudulently presenting himself as the old man’s equal. He seems to score a success against the besieging dragon, but screws up and makes everything much worse. Then it’s up to him to make things right again. (Since he’s a white male and the hero, he repeatedly gets another chance, and another…)

An incredibly influential film, though you might not think it, is THE THREE AMIGOS, and not just for the title’s role in the Donald Trump impeachment trial. The movie is a comedy spin on THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which is itself a remake of Kurosawa’s THE SEVEN SAMURAI (this gets more complicated). 3 AMIGOS has three movie stars being mistaken for real heroes by the people of a beseiged Mexican village, and hired to fight off bandits. They screw up, because they’re Hollywood phonies, as Chevy Chase might say, and then they have to put things right…

The guy in the right has been in more Polanski films than anyone

Is it possible that the earlier DRAGONSLAYER (not a hit) influenced THE THREE AMIGOS, perhaps by way of the shared Kurosawa influence? What about GALAXY QUEST, which is EXACTLY the same plot as THE THREE AMIGOS? What about A BUG’S LIFE, which is the same again? MYSTERY MEN is kind of similar too.

Fiona points out that DRAGONSLAYER has very strong female characters, by the way: the virgin who’s been disguised as a boy for her own protection is another SEVEN SAMURAI trope; the spunky princess meets a fate that probably cost the movie the STAR WARS crowd; and the dragon itself lives in a cave entered by a vaginal slit in the cliff face, and has a nest of eggs. Vermithrax Pejorative is a lady dragon. And a really good design! Not just her look, but her way of moving — she crawls like a bat.

A shame the climax is all matte lines, and nobody really being where they’re supposed to be. Thinking about it afterwards, I realized the deeper problem — apart from the sequence just not being exciting — is that it’s all about the execution of a perfect plan, in which the dragon is doomed and the hero once again doesn’t get to be heroic. Most of the time in this movie, its refusal to do the normal pseudo-mythic thing (real myths are much weirder than the Joseph Campbell/George Lucas versions) is thrilling, whereas here it’s flat.

But the political cynicism of the coda is pretty bracing.

DRAGONSLAYER stars Renfield; Simone; Supreme Being; Luro; Lord Halifax; Rory Poke; Diddler; Sarah Churchill; and Emperor Palpatine.