Daily Archives: Tuesday, May 28, 2013

  • Akiro Kurosawa Reconstruction Project (Japan)

    P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; } Akiro Kurosawa Samurai
    Season at the Star and Shadow

    The Seven Samurai, Hidden Fortress,
    Yojimbo, Sanjuro shown between 5 May13 and 26 May 13

    Ticket price for each screening: £5

    P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }

    Mostly we see films piecemeal, drip fed
    to us by the cinema release system. Of course that’s the way the
    industry works, everyone wants to see the latest movie. But some
    directors make us catch our breath: we may have clocked Darren
    Aronofski, Sofia Coppola, George Romero, Alfred Hitchcock and
    realised that these guys make films we like to see.
    And seeing a number of films close
    togather by the same director can take appreciation to another level.
    Buying the box set and spinning the discs is sometimes the only
    way. But the small screen can fail to do justice to some films, so
    the best way to see retrospectives is at the cinema.
    Today this is a rare treat. In
    Newcastle, however, we are lucky enough to have cinemas that do
    programme retrospectives.

    With director retros, the pleasure lies
    not just in viewing some good films but also having the chance to
    understand the concerns, obsessions and beliefs that drive particular
    directors to make the films they do. What method might lie in the
    madness of movie making?
    For Instance! I am intrigued by the
    way Hitchcock’s films constitute a discrete mapping of his psycho
    sexual disturbamce. His beautifully sublimated scenarios probe his
    own repressed feelings: his need to rage against his mummy, to
    control and mentally torture woman, his castration and his
    inferiority complex.

    Akiro Kurosawa, the Japanese director recently had a retrospective
    season of his Samurai films at the Star and Shadow Cinema, curated by
    Chritian Barron.

    I went to see: the Seven Samurai,
    Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and Sanjuro and I wondered if the claim for
    Kurosawa being a great director might extend beyond histechnical
    prowess. Was some ulterior deeper vision in his output?

    I was not disappointed.

    As I watched his movies I became aware of an underlying concern
    worked into the grain of these films. These Samurai movies are epic
    in scale and handsomely photographed, the scene on the prison camp
    steps in Hidden Fortress is jaw dropping. But what struck me most was
    the intrinsicly Japanese quality of Kurosawa’s material. These films
    in their imagery represent the quintessential the spirit of Japan.
    This is Japan!

    First and foremost Kurosawa’s sets. The dwellings with their screens,
    shutters, lattice work, eaves, and opened rooms, these constitute a
    full depiction of the traditional spaces that lie at the very heart
    of Japanese life and identity. Yojimbo is outstanding in this
    respect, and these sets also provide Kurosawa’s camera with stunning
    opportunities both to frame and to light his shots.

    The costumes also have a symbolicly essential Japanese quality all
    made using traditional Japanese designs. These patterns on the
    shirts and shifts worn both by peasant and the samurai most notably
    in Sanjuro, refer back to and affirm ancient Japanese ornamental
    traditions. And the erotic style in which the men’s garments are
    worn, tucked up to reveal the flesh, signifies a culture that is not
    ashamed of the body. By the way first in the roll of honour here is
    Toshima Mifune whose bared bottochs and thighs, particularly in
    Hidden Fortress, provide a feast for the eyes.

    Factor in the role played by rice, by rain of tropical intensity, by
    fire and finally by the people. The people Kurosawa depicts are men
    of short stature. At times the screen is filled almost to bursting
    with small bald headed little men. But they run – at full speed! It’s
    as if Kurosawa is saying: “Yes! We are: little people, but we have
    the energy!”

    These expressive visuals extrude in imagary the essential symbols of
    Japan: its soil, its culture its people, a representation of
    traditional Japan that Kurosawa then proceeds to subvert.

    Kurosawa was the son of a samurai, but knew the traditional order of
    Japan had to change. In the mid twentieth century, Japan an
    industrialised nation was still ruled by a Mediaeval militarised
    power structure. This lag in social change led to the disaster of
    Hiroshima, American occupation and the forced adaptation of an alien
    culture and democratic political system.

    Kurosawa determined to use his position
    and ability as a film maker to support these democratic political
    changes, which he saw as being necessary.

    I imagine Kurosawa having an Eurika moment as he watched John Ford
    movies and realised that Samurai could be transformed into a kind of
    cowboy! Korosawa’s genius was to recreate the Samurai as a cowboy,
    appropriating the form of the Hollywood Western, as a means of
    recasting Japan’s past as mythe.
    Over his symbolic elequent images of
    old Japan, Kurosawa castes the shadow of the Samurai. The Samurai
    represents the new man, epitomising the new values needed to remake
    Japan: individualism, lack of repect for authority, the refusal to
    accept fate, and In short Kurosawa’s Samurai got attitude big time,
    and Toshiro Mifune was to Kurosawa what John Wayne was, to John
    Ford, without of course the exposed thighs and bottocks, to John

    And the music! Kurosawa uses
    traditional Japanese music to good effect, but at the most dynamic
    moments, particularly in the Seven Samurai he cuts to jazz, an
    uncompromisingly modern sound created by black of slaves and released
    into the world as everyone’s music. It’s the sound that liberates
    the action from the past.

    So that’s it. I think the four Samurai films were intended as a
    project conceived to resolve the innate Japanese tensions between her
    traditions and her need to develop democratic social relations. As
    if Kurosawa was saying that Japan should always be grounded in her
    traditions, but never in such a way that she be hostage to this past.

    I think Kurosawa’s claim to be a great
    film maker rests on one key insight: cinema creates mythes and in
    making his Samurai movies he stays constant to this realisation.

    Of course the ultimate fate of these films was to be reimported back
    into the tradition of making Westerns, this time to Italy and Sergio
    Leone and the man who has no name. But there again we never catch
    sight of Clint Eastwoods naked buttocks or thighs.
    adrin neatrour