A year ago this week, I was in Kyoto, Japan enjoying blooming cherry trees and Zen Rock Gardens. Prior to the trip I watched a number of films by the great Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998). I consider Kurosawa to be one of the greatest directors of the second half of the 20th century along with Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, and Federico Fellini.
These are my five favorite Kurosawa films and I recommend them all to you. (All are available through Netflix.) What comes through is the quality of Kurosawa's writing (top notch), and his concern with the different moral dimensions of human beings. These films give you much to think about. They also showcase the fine acting skills of Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura.
Seven Samurai (1954). With Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. This film is absolutely stunning. I felt the virtue and nobility of the leading characters wash over me (it will happen to you, too). The film is about a veteran samurai who answers a village's request for protection from bandits. He gathers six other samurai to help him. The film culminates in a huge battle when the bandits attack the village. This film was basis of the Hollywood film "Magnificent Seven" (1960) with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, but the original Kurosawa version is far superior. This film is nearly four hours long, and I watched it over two sittings.
Rashomon (1950). With Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. The classic example of "point of view" means just about everything. This film is set in 12th century Japan. A samurai and his wife are attacked by the notorious bandit Tajomaru, and the samurai ends up dead. The bandit is captured and is put on trial, but his story and the wife's are so completely different that a psychic is brought in to allow the murdered man to give his own testimony. And then a whole different story emerges. Finally, the woodcutter who found the body tells his version, and it's completely different from the others. Mifune is wonderful in this film!
Ikiru (1952) Starring Takashi Shimura. This was the first Kurosawa film I saw, and I can't recommend it highly enough. The title "Ikiru" means "to live." A longtime bureaucrat learns he is dying of cancer and wants to find some meaning in his life. He finds himself unable to talk with his family, and spends a night on the town with a writer, but that leaves him unfulfilled. He next spends time with a young woman from his office, but finally decides he can make a difference through his job. This film has many plot turns, and the music is wonderful. The final scene of the protagonist sitting in a swing at night in the falling snow is haunting, and will stick with you for a long time.
Throne of Blood (1957) With Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. Kurosawa transports Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' to medieval Japan. This film made me see and understand "Macbeth" in a whole new way. A very fine adaptation and production.
Ran (1985). This is one of Kurosawa's final films. It's also the only one I saw in color (all the others from the 1950s were in black in white). Kurosawa borrows the story from Shakespeare's "King Lear." Kurosawa's insights into human relations are displayed in full glory. A story of greed, a lust for power, and ultimate revenge. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like the "burning castle" scene. Very colorful, but the tone is dark and pessimistic. Kurosawa gives you a lot to think about regarding the human condition.
Question: What are your favorite Kurosawa films?