Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Home-Made Film Festivals (4): Kurosawa Without Swords

Filing under the Redundant Department of Redundancy, I'm simply continuing to empty a non-active website I started late last year. I've written about all of the following before, but someone's gotta satisfy my search for order ("the compulsion to repeat," as The Good Doktor Freud put it)--and in true OCD-fashion, that someone is me.

As influential as his samurai/historical epics may be, Akira Kurosawa mastered other genres, from noir to fantasy to social drama. But throughout his films he continued a conversation between Stoic acceptance and mystic transcendence of things as they are, resulting in films that look with sympathy on human weakness without ignoring the price we pay.

High and Low (1963)
While this sustains more than enough tension for any kidnapped child story, its focus is on personal loss and public responsibility, as well as class divides, as kidnappers mistake a chauffeur's son for his industrialist employer's boy, and the rich man has to gamble everything as he weighs the cost of doing the right thing.

Ikiru (1952)
Kanji Watanabe, a bureaucrat (played by Takashi Shimura with excruciating blankness/despair), learns he is dying of stomach cancer and feels he has wasted his life. Constantly pained, Watanabe follows a circuit, from fear to mercy to death to victory, that not only rescues him from hopelessness but ennobles those around him. A heroic triumph expressed in small gestures.

Red Beard (1965)
While there is an air of the samurai to this film--it stars Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa's John Wayne, so to speak—it's actually a story of healing as well as honorable service, as the gruff doctor, nicknamed "Red Beard," urges his high-born intern to bow low to the poor he tends to. An "epic" of the transformative power of compassion.

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