After writing about the BFI’s celebration of Japanese cinema earlier this month, it still took a little while before I renewed my subscription to the BFI Player and started indulging in some classic films. Over the weekend, I rewatched Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, which absolutely holds up as a portrait of Tokyo in its sweltering summer heat, and that left me hungry for more of the director’s work. In truth, I didn’t actually expect much from The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail; I had a suspicion that the story around its banning in 1945 by occupying forces would be more interesting than the film itself. Fortunately, I was wrong.Continue reading “Review: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945)”
Barring any late-breaking delays – and really, anything could happen with the coronavirus pandemic not going anywhere any time soon – 2020 will be the final year of the PS4. The final year of a platform is often when developers deliver their finest work, able to leverage a whole console generation of technical know-how. This summer just gave us two swansongs in quick succession: Naughty Dog’s gruelling The Last of Us Part II, closely followed by Sucker Punch’s samurai cinema-inspired Ghost of Tsushima.Continue reading “Ghost of Tsushima Impressions”
Looks a little quiet around here. I haven’t updated for months, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping busy. Over on Letterboxd you can find my Lockdown List of the films I’ve been watching since the UK went into suspended animation.
It’s an eclectic mix, but extremely light on Japanese cinema – so how about something a little more relevant to this blog? Not so long ago, the BFI announced BFI Japan 2020 to celebrate Japanese cinema. I compiled their list of the best Japanese films since 1925 into another Letterboxd list (and if you’re looking for other critically acclaimed Japanese films, you’ll find links there to lists of winners of both the American and Japanese Academy Awards, as well as Kinema Junpo’s film of the year selections).
If you actually want to watch some of those movies, the BFI Player currently has collections of organised into “Classics”, “Cult”, “Yasujiro Ozu”, and “Akira Kurosawa”. You’ll find plenty of films I’ve reviewed earlier on Kino 893, including some personal favourites like Stray Dog, Female Prisoner Scorpion, and Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss.
Right now, with all the stresses of dealing with the pandemic, films are a welcome escape. Writing reviews can turn them into work, even if I enjoy analysing them, so I’m not going to hold myself to any update schedule just yet. Still, I’m not abandoning Kino 893. Not when I’ve still so many films to see.
With my native UK sweltering in a heatwave that makes the weather more reminiscent of my time in Tokyo, what better time to revisit a hot and humid classic – Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog? Check out this breakdown from the BFI over how Kurosawa wields the weather in his films, with a shot by shot approach to the heat in Stray Dog.
Here’s my review – has it really been two years since I watched it? Time for a revisit of my own…
Coming from Kurosawa’s prolific early period, Stray Dog easily stands up next to some of his later classics. It’s a fascinating look at post-war Tokyo: the ruined city slowly coming back together, the American influence under occupation, the fashions of the late 1940s (including some truly outrageous collars). Yet the story itself is equally valuable; a gripping detective story and prototype for countless genre conventions.
Opening 2018 with another Akira Kurosawa classic seems like a good way to get started, so here’s Rashomon (1950). An inventive story that retells the same event from the point of view of multiple unreliable narrators, Akutagawa’s storytelling and Kurosawa’s interpretation echo through pop culture – with my personal favourite being the King of the Hill Episode, “A Fire Fighting We Will Go”. The film presents multiple layers of narratives within narratives as a wandering traveller happens upon two other men seeking shelter from the rain in the huge, cyclopean ruin of the titular Rashomon gate.
Two felons break out of an Alaskan maximum security prison in the middle of winter. When they find come across a train leaving a depot it seems like their ticket to freedom and escape from the snow and the cold – but a freak accident traps them aboard as the unmanned train picks up speed, out of control and unable to be stopped. This is Runaway Train (1985). Starring Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Heat) and Eric Roberts (The Pope of Greenwich Village, The Dark Knight) as the escapees and directed by Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky, Runaway Train is an unexpectedly brilliant thriller – but why is it on Kino 893?
Because it was based on an undeveloped screenplay than none other than Akira Kurosawa.
The synopsis for Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949) simply reads, “During a sweltering summer, a rookie homicide detective tries to track down his stolen Colt pistol.” That could seem like a reductive description, but Stray Dog might be the sweatiest film ever made. Set in a broiling Tokyo summer in 1949, Kurosawa drenches the film in atmosphere. No scene is complete without cops mopping sweat from their face and necks, people fanning themselves, or characters just slumped lethargically in the heat, unwilling to move. Toshiro Mifune, in one of his very early Kurosawa collaborations, stars as newly-minted detective Murakami. In the opening moments of the film a pickpocket lifts his service weapon from his jacket pocket and kicks off a hunt that stretches all across the post-war city.
Akira Kurosawa is surely one of the most well-known Japanese filmmakers, and it was exploring some of his classic samurai films that prompted me to create this blog. I wanted to explore more of his work and that led me to Kagemusha (1980). While I hope to watch some of his films from other genres soon, Kagemusha is nevertheless interesting even though it’s another samurai epic. It marks the first Kurosawa film I’ve seen in colour – only his third overall, following Dodeskaden and the Soviet-Japanese production Dersu Uzala. Even though colour film seemed to arrive late in Japan, Kurosawa continued working in black and white well into the 1960s. Kagemusha is also striking to me for the absence of Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa’s longtime collaborator. The 1965 film Red Beard was their last work, but instead Kagemusha features Tastuya Nakadai as the lead – unrecognisable from his earlier appearances as villains in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sanjuro.
To the best of my knowledge, Kurosawa only made two sequels in his career. The first was a sequel to his debut movie Sanshiro Sugata. The second was Sanjuro (1962), a follow-up to Yojimbo. It wasn’t originally meant to be that way – Sanjuro was intended to be a straight adaptation of an existing novel, but the success of Yojimbo led to it being reworked, with lead character Sanjuro returning. It’s not unlike the many Die Hard sequels, each an existing treatment, reimagined with John McClane as the lead character (ironically, all except for the dismal Die Hard 5, the only movie actually written and intended to be a Die Hard movie from the beginning).
It’s back to Kurosawa for Yojimbo (1961). I was a little apprehensive after The Hidden Fortress, but any worries were misplaced: this is a samurai gangster action comedy masterpiece.