Kurosawa

My Movie Year: 1957

Fandango Groovers Movie Blog is having a day were bloggers post about their favorite year in movies. It is not the “best” year as deemed by others, but rather it is my personal choice. I had a lot of fun participating and I think you’ll have fun reading!

Here goes nothing:

Being a very indecisive girl, picking just one year was really hard. I tossed and turned over the decision more than I should have. As if somehow the neglected years would be offended by my choice (I’m a bit odd at times). After much research and thinking about what I really like, it was clear, 1957 is the year for me. It has a little sample of everything I love about film. The following five movies really speak to me, all in very distinctive ways. Here I will post little mini reviews on these films (and link to my longer ones as I write them). Enjoy!

12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet

12 Angry Men is not an “action-packed” film. 12 men basically just sit around a room and talk for the whole movie. And somehow you are still on the edge of your seat. The level of tension is equivalent to a Hitchcockian thriller. Our hero, Henry Fonda, plays a juror who feels that there is not sufficient evidence to put a defendant to death. The other 11 just want to get it over with and head home, but Fonda takes his duty seriously. Each juror has a distinct personality and justification for their decision. Fonda goes to great lengths to convince these men, performing monologue after amazing monologue. Lumet also does a great job with the direction. Every camera movement is so efficient and subtle that you almost don’t notice how brilliantly it’s done.

Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa

While 12 Angry Men is driven by witty and powerful dialogue, Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood does not put the same weight on the spoken word. This film’s visuals make it a masterpiece. Kurosawa took my favorite Shakespearian drama, Macbeth, and transported the narrative back to medieval Japan. He did not worry about translating every line perfectly or making it all in iambic pentameter, but rather he really captures the “feel” and emotion of the Scottish play. The cinematography and mis-en-scene are among the best that Kurosawa has ever done (and if you know his work, you know that is high praise). I love a film that embraces the fantastical and poetic, like Throne of Blood does.

Also, it has Toshiro Mifune in it, how can I not love it?

[My full review]

Witness for the Prosecution, Billy Wilder

This is probably my favorite movie ever. Along with Laurathis film is one of the reasons I am such a film buff today. I watched Witness for the Prosecution when I was little and it really stuck with me. It has a special place in my movie loving heart. It’s not an accurate portrayal of the British justice system, but who cares? Charles Laughton plays a crotchety, old lawyer. He was always a brilliant defense attorney, but now is ill and should not take difficult cases. Of course, that lasts all of 5 minutes and he ends up taking a fascinating murder trial where nothing is what it seems. The film is worth watching for Laughton alone. The rest of the stuff is just icing on the cake. (I do have to give kudos to Wilder, he got great performances out of all the actors, wrote the witty screenplay and captured it all wonderfully)

Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman

This is one of those “must see” films for any fan of cinema. Whenever people say things like that it just sounds like a boring, preachy, pretentious film. Seventh Seal, however, is anything but. Believe me, it will be one of the most profound and beautiful movies you will ever see. It is a story of the calamities of medieval Europe and the struggle to find peace between life and death. The visuals are so striking, you will remember them long after the credits roll. After watching it, the most interesting conversations will arise between you are your fellow viewers. You could talk about it for years and not run out of things to say. Even if it just consists of “I need to learn some chess, so I  can cheat death, y’all,” you will have a great time.

Nights of Cabiria, Federico Fellini

Guilietta Masina gives a brilliant performance as a naïve, optimistic prostitute in Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria. Her life is one tragic disaster after another, but she keeps moving on. She is so adorable and goofy in the film. You know the men are conning her, but you can’t help but hope that this time around it will be okay. The story will break your heart, yet is somehow inexplicably uplifting. Also, just look at the picture I put up there. It is so beautiful. When I was picking a screen cap I was having a horrible time. There are so many great shots it was overwhelming, in a good way :P! This is the only Fellini movie I’ve seen (I know, it’s bad), and this film makes me want to watch a whole lot more!

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Throne of Blood [蜘蛛巣城-Kumonosu-jô]

Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa (1957) [110 minutes]

I adore watching adaptations. Some are truly awful, taking the original work and tearing it to proverbial shreds. On the other hand, some are brilliant. These take a familiar story to a new, fascinating place. I love seeing how different cultures, generations, or mediums interpret the tale. In Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa takes Shakespeare’s Macbeth (If you need a summary/refresher on the Scottish Play click on that link) and transports the play  to Feudal Japan. Macbeth is probably my favorite of the Shakespearean dramas. Watching one of my favorite directors, Kurosawa, make it a film, is a true delight.

Kurosawa takes many liberties with the plot of Macbeth. He crosses this masterwork of British drama with his native Japan’s Noh theater. Noh is a medieval form of extremely stylized, high theater. The basic story of Macbeth remains in the film, as well as the themes that drive through it, but the visuals are unlike anything we would see on Shakespeare’s stage. The acting illustrates this beautifully. While watching the film the facial expressions seem a little exaggerated. The performances may appear over the top to American eyes, our theater tends to be more naturalistic. In Noh the actors wore masks to represent different characters and emotions. In Throne of Blood, he doesn’t go that far, but he told his actors to mimic those masks with their expression and they wore makeup to further highlight that. You will see our Macbeth, called Taketoki Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), and his Lady (Izuzu Yamada) use this hyper expressiveness a lot throughout the film. Until I found out about the Noh and the masks, I found it all enjoyable but still rather confusing. This is one of those cases that the more you know, the more you can enjoy the film. You don’t need to know much! Just a little bit about Noh and a little more about Macbeth and you’re good to go!

The narrative is structured in a circular format. That’s not necessarily a big deal, many movies start and end in the same place. The way that Kurosawa weaves this tale is different from most of what I’ve seen. It’s not just the final scene that is “repeated”, but many scenes throughout the film. In the beginning, there is a scene in deep fog, a conversation with the demon (who replaces the three witches from Macbeth) and a montage of the characters riding through the forest. You will see those scenes again at the end, but with a completely tone and context.

This storytelling technique, along with the Noh influence make you hyper-aware of the narrative structure. Nothing in the film is realistic, and there is no attempt to make it seem so. Personally, I find this kind of refreshing. Throne of Blood fully embraces that fantastical, poetic tone, which makes the film such a delight. The problem I have with many Shakespeare adaptations is that they really suck all the fun out of it. They’re so worried about the dialogue and how faithful they are to the play. It becomes a bunch of people showing off how great they are at acting and British accents. You watch them in high school just so you don’t have to struggle through the written play. With Kurosawa’s version you may not get an A on that English paper on Macbeth, but hey, that’s what sparknotes is for!

Nerdy Linguistics Moment: The Japanese title literally means “Castle of Spider’s Web/Spider’s Web Castle.” I can see why they changed the English one, though. Throne of Blood sounds more enticing.

Famous Fans: According to this article T. S. Eliot said that this was his favorite movie! If you don’t buy my recommendation, you’ve got to believe him 😛

Commentary Critique: The commentary for this film is among the best I’ve ever heard. It was so informative and entertaining. A little tip: I generally watch commentaries while doing some menial task (like laundry); that way you are getting something done and learning something in the meantime!

How to watch: The dialogue isn’t too important in the film. Sometimes I noticed that I hadn’t been reading the subtitles for the last few minutes… oops! This film is so visual, though, that you really don’t miss a beat. You learn much more by what you can see, rather than what you hear.

Who to watch with: Again, this film won’t help you with your English test on Shakespeare, but I found that I learned more about what the play is truly about by watching this. So watch this with Shakespeare fans and non-Shakespeare fans (hopefully this will convert them!).

Final Verdict: You will have a good time watching this. Especially if you keep that Noh theater stuff in mind; the film will make much more sense. And even if you still don’t “get it,” just enjoy it. I still don’t understand why most of the stuff that happens goes on, but it didn’t take anything away from the experience. If anything, the mystery made it more entertaining.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! 🙂