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.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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The Pacific war in the movies, pt. 3

There’s absolutely no denying the reality of racism in the war between Japan and the United States. While the Japanese military dictatorship was in many respects almost as virulently race obsessed as their Nazi allies, it’s easier for an American viewer to see the fact that the U.S. was guilty of  race hatred of its own, starting with the imprisonment of thousands of innocent American citizens on the west coast who happened to be of Japanese ancestry,  many of them parents and grandparents of friends of mine. Meanwhile, Italian-Americans and German-Americans were accepted as the loyal citizens of this nation that nearly all of them were.

And so it took decades for Western filmmakers to begin to treat the Japanese side of the war with any complexity.  As we continue with a series of film clips inspired by HBO’s “The Pacific,” which premieres Sunday night, we have a brief but haunting and beautifully composed scene from John Boorman’s 1968 two character war film, “Hell in the Pacific.” The film stars Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as two stranded soldiers who, in a plot that may remind science fiction buffs of the story and 1985 film “Enemy Mine,” are forced to work together in order to survive despite their enemy status.

Also, of course, no Western filmmaker that I know of explored the Japanese side of World War II with more depth or compassion than Clint Eastwood did in his bold, masterful “Letters from Iwo Jima” from 2006. Apparently, it took an icon of American toughness to illustrate the pain of some of the deadliest, most implacable, and bravest enemies this country ever faced.

  

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The Pacific war in the movies, pt. 2

Continuing our look at film about the allied war against Imperial Japan inspired by “The Pacific“, which debuts on HBO Sunday night, we’ll start with a movie that isn’t as well known today as you might think considering that it’s directed by Howard Hawks one of the most rousing of the wartime-era propaganda/action films.

Did that seem a bit familiar? If so, it could be that “Air Force” is often cited as a major inspiration for “Star Wars” and that briefing scene certainly seems like a tell to me. Still, I’d probably argue that “Air Force” is — cultural/geek impact aside — the far better film objectively.  Hawks had a very personal connection with aviation, the topic of one of three or four greatest works, “Only Angels Have Wings” and no one in his time was better at expressing the visceral thrill and danger of flight. The film also benefits from a screenplay written by one of the greatest of classic Hollywood-era writers, Dudley Nichols (“Stagecoach,” “Bringing Up Baby“) with an uncredited assist from William Faulkner and two lesser known scribes,

So why isn’t “Air Force” as well known as the two classics I discussed yesterday?  Well, John Wayne‘s not in it, so there’s that. No, this film was made in the throes of the deep U.S. anger created by the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the kind of anger we would not see again in the U.S. until September 11 of 2001, and there are some disturbing, though historically understandable, moments in the film that might seem both callous and racist to modern audience because they kind of are. Still, “Air Force” remains one of the best films of its type from an era when making a war film that was also kind of fun  didn’t seem as borderline obscene as it does in our post “Saving Private Ryan”-era.

But that’s not to say that Hollywood never tried to make an slam-bang action-oriented World War II film set in the Pacific again. They just did it with more bloat in 1976.

Toshiro Mifune, the only Japanese film star to really become a household name to American audiences, gets a mention here. Now, however, the great Japanese-American James Shigeta. Shigeta is probably the equal of Mifune in terms of acting talent and presence but being an American of Asian ancestry seems to severely limit your acting possibilities somewhat no matter how talented and charismatic you are, even today — just ask Harold John Cho. Shigeta did get to play a male romantic lead in an actual tough-guy film in his first film and one kind of fun/silly/embarrassing musical, and that was it. You don’t get to be an actor of Mifune’s stature by being the token Asian in Elvis Presley movies.

  

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