Happy 100th, Kurosawa-san

Tonight’s quickie movie news notes have been called off in commemoration of the fact that this is Akira Kurosawa‘s 100th birthday.

What follows, then, is a fairly random assortment of trailers and scenes from key films, some personal favorites, and a couple of lesser known films by the Emperor. If you’re not familiar with the great Japanese director, one of the movies’ strongest storytellers and masters of imagery who was also the first Asian director to become widely known in the west, you might start with that Wikipedia entry I linked to above. Or, simply take a look at what follows. Pay just a little attention and I think you may be intrigued.

We’ll start with the worldwide art-house hit that made first made Mr. Kurosawa’s name outside of Japan way back in 1950.

Several more videos after the jump.

Few of Kurosawa’s samurai films were, by today’s standards, even remotely action-fests, though they all had stunning action sequences. Still 1961’s blackly comic “Yojimbo” starring Kurosawa’s best known leading man, Toshiro Mifune — later remade without permission by Sergio Leone as “A Fistful of Dollars” — is, in many respects, the first modern-style high body-count action film to be seen in the west. Lots of people indirectly owe their careers to this one. Here’s one of the movie’s best scenes as the “bodyguard” disinfects a village run by murderous thugs in his own semi-heroic style.

And here’s a trailer for another film which set the template for many a genre film to come, 1954’s “The Seven Samurai,” which became “The Magnificent Seven” and “A Bug’s Life,” among many others.

Just to show you that Kurosawa did keep up with the times slightly, a very bad woman meets her fate as we see his brutal yet artistic take on the splatter genre from his final epic masterpiece, 1985’s “Ran.”

Most people associate Kurosawa with period films, but some of his greatest films were set in his own time. Below are two of my personal favorites, both looking — in very different ways — at the cost of the 20th century obsession with money and success. This U.S. produced trailer for 1963’s “High and Low” is almost a work of art of its own.

1960’s “The Bad Sleep Well” is a film about business corruption and a “Hamlet” like revenge plot. Considering what this country has been through recently I, personally, would not object to a U.S. remake.

And here are two rather astonishing sequences from a couple of lesser known Kurosawa films that I actually haven’t managed to see yet but, well, my God, they’re amazing. First, Kurosawa explores his usually well-hidden hep-cat side.

That was from 1948’s “Drunken Angels” and this is from Mr. K’s take on Dostoyevsky in modern dress in 1951’s “The Idiot.” So, how do you translate “Prince Myshkin” into Japanese?

And, finally, an indescribable sequence which Roger Ebert nevertheless describes beautifully in his “Great Movies” essay on probably Kurosawa’s most beloved modern dress film, “Ikiru,” from 1952. It’s about what it means to be dying when your life has been wasted but you have a “bucket list” of only one item.

  

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