Eclipse Series 7: Postwar Kurosawa

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Michael Kerpan
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#51 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Jan 22, 2008 10:05 am

Watched One Wonderful Sunday. It looked pretty good overall, image-wise (given its age). I thought Chieko Nakakita did a fine job here -- in one of her only lead roles ever (surprisingly pudgy here -- looking very different from her roles a few years later for Naruse). The film itself struck me as a bit problematic. Kurosawa clearly didn't know how to deal too well with such slow-paced, "action-less" material. Sort of a noble, well-intentioned failure. (One problem -- I don't get a sense that he actually understood the lives and problems of real working poor people -- one aspect of Kurosawa's work that NEVER really changes).

I peeked at No Regrets -- what a refreshing change from the ancient Mei Ah DVD.

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#52 Post by teddyleevin » Tue Jan 22, 2008 6:40 pm

I just got it in the mail. I probably won't watch anything for a while as I've seen all of the films already. The set does look great though especially now that I have all 7 current Eclipse releases lined up.

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#53 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:42 am

I Live in Fear -- yet another impressive film that was far better than received wisdom would have it.

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#54 Post by ByMarkClark.com » Wed Jan 30, 2008 10:31 am

I LIVE IN FEAR (or, as I prefer to think of it, RECORD OF A LIVING BEING) has long been a favorite of mine. Definitely one of Kurosawa's most underappreciated films.

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#55 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jan 30, 2008 10:34 am

ByMarkClark.com wrote:I LIVE IN FEAR (or, as I prefer to think of it, RECORD OF A LIVING BEING) has long been a favorite of mine. Definitely one of Kurosawa's most underappreciated films.
Mifune's performance as an old many is utterly uncanny. If the film had nothing else to offer, it would be worth seeing for this aspect alone. But, to tell the truth, on first watching, I found almost nothing to criticize. I simply don't understand the near universal slagging off of this film by Kurosawa experts (ditto for lots of other supposedly sub-standard AK films).

(I hate the English title of this film, too -- but was simply following the title Eclipse used).

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#56 Post by ByMarkClark.com » Wed Jan 30, 2008 3:50 pm

I definitely think that Mifune's performance in this one ranks among his career-best. As for why many Kurosawa aficianados consider this picture second-rate, I am clueless. Perhaps the film's lack of samurai? Then again, I don't understand why DRUNKEN ANGEL isn't immediately mentioned among AK's best, either. For that matter, I don't get why so many people are so enamored with RAN.

But anyhow, I'm delighted you were so pleased with I LIVE IN FEAR. (See, I can use the crappy American title, too.) I am looking forward to checking out the Eclipse DVD. I have the POSTWAR KUROSAWA it on my shelf, to get to once I finish a batch of Mizoguchi and Naruse films I've been watching lately.

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#57 Post by yoshimori » Wed Jan 30, 2008 4:11 pm

ByMarkClark.com wrote:As for why many Kurosawa aficianados consider this picture second-rate, I am clueless. Perhaps the film's lack of samurai? Then again, I don't understand why DRUNKEN ANGEL isn't immediately mentioned among AK's best, either. For that matter, I don't get why so many people are so enamored with RAN.
I'm not a Kurosawa aficionado, though I have seen 31 of his films, and I don't in general like samurai pictures either. But perhaps I can speak for some of those who prefer Ran to stuff like Record. It's a preference for mystery and beauty over the movie-of-the-week. For Nakadai's stylization over Mifune's Tom Cruise-like (low blow, I know, but Mifune spoils pretty much every movie he's in for me) "effort".

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#58 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jan 30, 2008 4:28 pm

yoshimori wrote:It's a preference for mystery and beauty over the movie-of-the-week. For Nakadai's stylization over Mifune's Tom Cruise-like (low blow, I know, but Mifune spoils pretty much every movie he's in for me) "effort".
I really don't know how to respond to this without sounding nasty.

{Many additional remarks written and then deleted before posting}
ByMarkClark.com wrote:I definitely think that Mifune's performance in this one ranks among his career-best. As for why many Kurosawa aficianados consider this picture second-rate, I am clueless. Perhaps the film's lack of samurai? Then again, I don't understand why DRUNKEN ANGEL isn't immediately mentioned among AK's best, either. For that matter, I don't get why so many people are so enamored with RAN.
I liked Drunken Angel quite a bit, but I think I liked the generally disregarded Quiet Duel equally well.

Must resist commenting on Ran.
But anyhow, I'm delighted you were so pleased with I LIVE IN FEAR. (See, I can use the crappy American title, too.) I am looking forward to checking out the Eclipse DVD. I have the POSTWAR KUROSAWA it on my shelf, to get to once I finish a batch of Mizoguchi and Naruse films I've been watching lately.
I really didn't expect to like this nearly as much as I did. On the other hand, I was less enthused by One Wonderful Sunday than I anticipated (but Chieko Nakakita did a fine job -- though not so fine as her later work for Naruse).

I still have one obscure Naruse film to watch (but with nothing else on the horizon I keep putting off watching this). I also have some miscellaneous Mizoguchi stuff to check out.

I will watch No Regrets soon -- but don't feel any immediate urge to tackle the Eclipse versions of Idiot and Scnadal.

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#59 Post by tryavna » Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:06 pm

yoshimori wrote:For Nakadai's stylization over Mifune's Tom Cruise-like (low blow, I know, but Mifune spoils pretty much every movie he's in for me) "effort".
Comparing Nakadai and Mifune is a bit like comparing Marlon Brando and John Wayne -- totally different training, acting styles, and (generally speaking) audiences.

I happen to like all four actors, by the way....

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#60 Post by Antares » Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:10 pm

While I enjoyed Mifune's performance, you can't help but wonder how Shimura would have interpreted the character.

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#61 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:45 pm

Antares wrote:While I enjoyed Mifune's performance, you can't help but wonder how Shimura would have interpreted the character.
I love Shimura -- but can't see how he could have done better than Mifune.

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#62 Post by yoshimori » Wed Jan 30, 2008 10:21 pm

tryavna wrote:Comparing Nakadai and Mifune is a bit like comparing Marlon Brando and John Wayne -- totally different training, acting styles, and (generally speaking) audiences.
Good point.* And that's why I think it shows a bit of a failure of imagination to "not get" why someone might prefer one over the other.

I certainly didn't want to stop anyone from enjoying some postwar Kurosawa. Many folk's tastes are more catholic than mine. I bought the set to give these films another chance. And, fwiw, the most interesting for me the second or third time through was probably the bizarrely butchered Idiot. While watching it, I once in a long while got the sense that it could have been one of the better AKs (along with his adaptations of Macbeth - which a more stylized Mifune doesn't destroy for me - and King Lear).

*On the other hand, though I'm not such a big fan of Wayne's films, my sense is that his performances came more naturally to him than Mifune's did. Whenever I see the latter I feel I'm watching someone trying very very very hard to hide the fact that he's lost. For me, the immediate comparison is, sadly, Cruise.]

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#63 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jan 30, 2008 10:32 pm

yoshimori wrote: And that's why I think it shows a bit of a failure of imagination to "not get" why someone might prefer one over the other.
I'll keep this in mind.

Of course, saying one "prefers" one actor to another is not quite the same as saying the presence of a particular actor in a film spoils it.

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#64 Post by yoshimori » Wed Jan 30, 2008 10:48 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:
yoshimori wrote: And that's why I think it shows a bit of a failure of imagination to "not get" why someone might prefer one over the other.
I'll keep this in mind.
OK. Was quoting byMarkClark.com (see above), btw. Are you, too, mystified when people praise Ran but not Ikiru or Quiet Duel? If so, THAT surprises even me! :)

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#65 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jan 30, 2008 11:00 pm

yoshimori wrote: Are you, too, mystified when people praise Ran but not Ikiru or Quiet Duel? If so, THAT surprises even me! :)
If I kept a list of "most disliked films", Ran would contend for a top spot on that list. Its charms totally elude me.

On the other hand, Idiot is my favorite Kurosawa film. I have been told (in the past) that, given these preferences, I have no business voicing opinions about Kurosawa in anything resembling a public forum. ;~{

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#66 Post by montgomery » Wed Jan 30, 2008 11:10 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:
yoshimori wrote: Are you, too, mystified when people praise Ran but not Ikiru or Quiet Duel? If so, THAT surprises even me! :)
If I kept a list of "most disliked films", Ran would contend for a top spot on that list. Its charms totally elude me.

On the other hand, Idiot is my favorite Kurosawa film. I have been told (in the past) that, given these preferences, I have no business voicing opinions about Kurosawa in anything resembling a public forum. ;~{
Most disliked Kurosawa films, or films in general? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about Ran. Especially if it's your least favorite film ever.

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#67 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jan 30, 2008 11:20 pm

montgomery wrote:Especially if it's your least favorite film ever.
It is certainly one of the my least favorite ever. (Only "great" films make it onto this list; trivial films need not apply).

To do a detailed critique, I'd have to watch this yet again -- which I have no plan to do (unless I were to get paid to do so).

Undetailed critique. (1) King Lear is one of my favorite plays ever -- and this AK adaptation is dreadful -- as an adaptation (unlike that of Macbeth. (2) I hate the performances here, even from actors and actresses I like. (3) Too much aimless busy-ness. Those are the major objections, in any event.

Points 2 and 3 also apply to the last part of Kagemusha. (I liked the beginning -- but it lost me when it started turning into a dress rehearsal for Ran).

I suppose one should try to stick to the films in this box set in this thread, however.

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#68 Post by ByMarkClark.com » Thu Jan 31, 2008 10:26 am

yoshimori wrote:But perhaps I can speak for some of those who prefer Ran to stuff like Record. It's a preference for mystery and beauty over the movie-of-the-week.
Movie of the Week? I think RECORD and certainly DRUNKEN ANGEL have a lot more going for them than that. Not sure where the "mystery" comes in with RAN (unless one has never read KING LEAR), but I understand that most of the film's devotees are ga ga for Kurosawa's visuals. RAN is, indeed, eye-catching, but to me it all seems too precious -- storyboarded, color-coordinated and set decorated within an inch of its life.

For the record, I AM a Kurosawa aficianado, and as such I'm happy whenever anyone expresses interest in any of the director's films. Unlike Monsiuer Kerpan, I don't hate RAN by any stretch, but neither do I believe it approaches Kurosawa's best work (SEVEN SAMURAI, IKIRU, DRUNKEN ANGEL, YOJIMBO, RASHOMON, RED BEARD, etc.). THRONE OF BLOOD is a far better Shakespeare film and, for me at least, a more visually interesting picture as well. I've always suspected that RAN is so popular because it was the first Kurosawa film seen by many fans of a certain generation, so for them it has a nostalgic value. That wasn't the case for me. Whatever the reason, RAN simply doesn't connect with me as strongly as many other Kurosawa films.
yoshimori wrote:For Nakadai's stylization over Mifune's Tom Cruise-like (low blow, I know, but Mifune spoils pretty much every movie he's in for me) "effort".
Ah, I think I'm going to just leave that alone.

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#69 Post by Tommaso » Thu Jan 31, 2008 10:27 am

About Mifune: I always liked him, though I really only began to regard him as a GREAT actor after I saw him outside of the period pictures. If one only knew "Rashomon", "Hidden fortress" or "Yojimbo", one would believe that his fame only came from his 'masculine', all-powerful performance and would seriously doubt that he could actually speak without shouting and bullying people. Seeing films like "Stray dog", "Drunken angel" and especially "I live in fear" revealed an almost totally different actor for me. A sensitive, multi-faceted man, who could be both emotional and incredibly 'cool' (for want of a better word) at the same time. I find him much richer and varied than Wayne (whom I also like), and the Cruise comparison is indeed embarassing.

As to "Ran" (although I also think we should basically restrict ourselves to the films in this set, but I just can't resist...):
Michael Kerpan wrote:Undetailed critique. (1) King Lear is one of my favorite plays ever -- and this AK adaptation is dreadful -- as an adaptation (unlike that of Macbeth.
Both plays are among my favourites too, but I don't consider it important for a film whether it manages to be a good adaptation or not (I think that "Ran" is, but that's not my point). The original text is always just a starting point, a catalyst for a specific vision, something that triggers the filmmaker's own thoughts ideally (and "Ran" is also based on some Japanese historical tale, and Kurosawa only noticed the similarities to "Lear" later). Even if you think that Shakespeare's points in "Lear" are completely different from those that "Ran" makes, Kurosawa has enough of his own points to make here, and these are those that fascinate me.
Michael Kerpan wrote: (2) I hate the performances here, even from actors and actresses I like.
Equally undetailed: I find the performances gorgeous, almost all of them, but especially Nakadai and the guy (simply called Peter) who plays Kyoami, the fool. Mieko Harada as Lady Kaede is also frighteningly intense, but at the same time acts restrained, Noh-style. It's a perfect convergence of energy and almost 'static' acting.
Michael Kerpan wrote: 3) Too much aimless busy-ness.
I don't understand this. There's not overmuch going on, I think it's a very slow and in places almost meditative film. The big battle scenes are an exception, and of course they hit hard. But they are absolutely necessary for transporting Kurosawa's vision of doom and chaos. It's gloomyness and hopelessness are not for everyone, surely, but somehow "Ran" leaves me awestruck.

EDIT, as MarkClark's post and mine crossed: I admit being 'gaga' for Kuro's visuals in "Ran", especially for the colours, but if that was the main reason why the film got so much admiration: where is the craze for "Dod'eskad'en" and for "Dreams"?

By the way: as various people have voiced reservations against the translation "I live in fear": what would be a direct translation of the Japanese title? 'Record of a living being', then?

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#70 Post by ByMarkClark.com » Thu Jan 31, 2008 10:51 am

Tommaso wrote:I admit being 'gaga' for Kuro's visuals in "Ran", especially for the colours, but if that was the main reason why the film got so much admiration: where is the craze for "Dod'eskad'en" and for "Dreams"?
Well, I prefer DODES'KA-DEN to RAN! Not so DREAMS, however. :-) As stated above, I am NOT the person to explain the appeal of RAN. But if you love RAN, great. More power to you.

And now, I think we should get back to our regularly scheduled POSTWAR KUROSAWA topic before the moderators box our ears...

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#71 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jan 31, 2008 10:57 am

I don't much enjoy discussing films I don't at least like -- so I will pass on any further commentary on Ran.

I think this set provides a wonderful showcase of Mifune. One scarcely recognizes him from one role to the next -- in the three films he appears in in this set. Indeed, I would say these are some of my most favorite Mifune performances. The breezy, utterly cool motor cycle riding painter of Scandal, the brooding, dangerous obsessive of Idiot and the troubled old man of Living Being.

My introduction to Mifune (in Rashomon) would never led me to believe he was one of the best actors ever. I don't see the comparison with either Cruise or John Wayne. I can think of few actors who exhibited a wider range than Mifune. I wish more people could see his very nice performance in Naruse's A Woman's Heart -- where he plays a character totally unlike any he did for Kurosawa.

As to the title of AK's bomb film

ikimono = living thing, animal
no = of (shows that "ikimono" is associated with the word that follows)
kiroku = record, minutes, document

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#72 Post by Tommaso » Thu Jan 31, 2008 11:50 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:I don't much enjoy discussing films I don't at least like -- so I will pass on any further commentary on Ran.
Okay. :wink:
Michael Kerpan wrote:One scarcely recognizes him from one role to the next -- in the three films he appears in in this set.
When I first saw "I live in fear" on the BFI disc, I didn't read the cover blurp, and after 30 minutes into the film I was beginning to wonder where the hell Mifune was... I actually didn't recognize him at all! Fantastic performance and mimicry. His performance in "Scandal" is fine, too, but perhaps a little too schematized (unlike, say, "Stray Dog"), but that objection would go for the whole of the film, which I find the weakest in the set, despite of "One wonderful sunday", which is somewhat uncharacteristic, but easily likeable in its somewhat more direct but less over-didactic emotional approach.

Thanks for the title translation. I always thought "Record of a living being" must have been a Western invention, because I find it somewhat 'stilted', and "I live in fear" much closer to the point the film makes, but if it's the other way round, fine. I just don't understand why CC did not opt for it, then. A minor point in any case.

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#73 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jan 31, 2008 12:24 pm

Scandal is actually one of my favorite unsung AK films. I had no expectations for this (just as with Quiet Duel) -- and was completely captivated. Is it perfect? Hardly? Do I care? Not especially. Scandal may be dramatically a bit schematic -- but its execution is so magnificent so often that it scardely mattes.

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#74 Post by ByMarkClark.com » Thu Jan 31, 2008 2:02 pm

Tommaso wrote:I just don't understand why CC did not opt for it, then.
Criterion seems to alternate, with no discernible rhyme or reason, between using the American release title, an English translation of the original foreign language title and the original foreign language title (untranslated).

Look at the Bresson Criterions, for instance, why is it LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOLOGNE and not LADIES OF THE PARK? Or THE LADIES OF THE BOIS DE BOLOGNE? Or, for that matter, why is it DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST and not JOURNAL D'UN CURE DE CAMPAGNE? I mean, shouldn't it be one way or the other? Then we're back to AU HASARD BALTHAZAR instead of BALTHAZAR! At least MOUCHETTE makes sense.

I would love to hear Criterion explain how decisions are reached regarding what titles to use.

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#75 Post by Tommaso » Thu Jan 31, 2008 2:04 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:Scandal is actually one of my favorite unsung AK films.
Yes, I know. And I'd say it's by no means a bad film or something. It has a lot of atmosphere and can be quite gripping in places, too. I just find the end clumsily tear-jerking, and perhaps the whole topic of yellow press journalism combined with the typical Kurosawa 'crime and punishment' stance in the role of Shimura is a little too much for me. But, as MarkClark said a few posts ago: if you like it, great.
As has often been stated here: everyone seems to disagree about which films of Kurosawa are the best and which are the least; apart from "Sanshiro Sugata II", which everyone seems to dismiss, and I quite heartily agree.

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