Akiro Kurosawa Reconstruction Project (Japan)

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
Ford.

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
adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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