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Home > Festivals & Events > AKIRA KUROSAWA: THREE FILMS
AKIRA KUROSAWA: THREE FILMS
July 11, 2009 until July 25, 2009

”Being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes.”

Akira Kurosawa

There are few who do not know the work of Akira Kurosawa (1910 - 1998), one of the most celebrated Japanese filmmakers of all time.  To those who know his work, he is one among the select pantheon of truly great masters of cinema, taking his place alongside such names as Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir, and Bergman, not to mention his Japanese forebears Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujirō Ozu.  However, those who do not know Kurosawa, are the fortunate ones, as critic Roger Ebert once said, for they have the opportunity to experience his electrifying films for the first time.  Indeed, watching a Kurosawa film is an event, an engagement with pure cinema. 

Kurosawa’s cinematic career spanned five decades, from the 1930s to the 90s, and the combined insight, depth, and craftsmanship exhibited in his immense oeuvre testifies to his continued relevance and inspiration throughout the better part of the twentieth century and beyond.  Indeed, his influence on generations of filmmakers runs far and wide, including such luminaries as Sergio Leone, Robert Altman, Walter Hill, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Quentin Tarantino, and his presence can be felt in genres ranging from the historical drama to the gangster pic, and forms as divergent as gritty realism to nightmarish, lyrical fantasy.  However, while Kurosawa energetically worked in a wide variety of modes and forms, creating art of the highest caliber in both popular and high culture, his philosophically nuanced vision of the world remained remarkably consistent.  If one were to hazard boiling it down to its essence, one might say that Kurosawa’s vision of humanity is one of dark, humanistic skepticism, a vision of man adrift in a world of often bewildering emptiness and violence, yet who is capable of stunning acts of friendship, valor and love.  It is the measure of man in Kurosawa’s universe that he struggles that testifies to his fundamental nobility.  Of course, there is also Kurosawa’s humour.

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This series presents three highlights from a period spanning seven years, 1954 -1961, which consolidated the presence of Kurosawa in world cinema.  The films presented can all be said, one more contentiously than the other two, to belong to his collection of “samurai epics,” or chanbara films, the style he is best known for.  Certainly, however, these films are so much more:  for instance, Seven Samurai (1954), arguably Kurosawa’s most renowned film, is at once a dramatic action film of epic proportions and an incisive allegory about unjust social divisions in Japanese society.  Throne of Blood (1957), the second film presented, hailed by critics around the globe as one of, if not the definitive film adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, is Kurosawa’s masterpiece, an exhilarating and imaginative retelling of the Bard’s famous study of human folly set in feudal Japan, brilliantly combining elements of Japanese Noh theatre with apocalyptic, dreamlike imagery that could only exist somewhere between Kurosawa and Shakespeare.  Lastly, Yojimbo (1961), another deeply influential film, also finds the director in top form, this time imagining the samurai film in a whole new light, taking its action to new heights of ballet-like grandeur and precision while charmingly introducing elements of the comic as well as the cosmic.  All of this is to say that these three Kurosawa films not only treat the eyes and the imagination to a visual feast, but they offer equally as much to the mind. 

If, as Kurosawa once stated, “being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes,” then we the audience are the all the richer for Kurosawa’s penetrating and generous gaze.  Because Kurosawa did not avert his eyes, we have the privilege of seeing, indeed thinking, his world - our world - all the better.

It's also worth noting that these three films all star the “incomparable” Toshiro Mifune, an actor of towering importance in the history of Japanese and world cinema, who, over the course of sixteen films, established himself as the quintessential Kurosawa protagonist.

- Scott Birdwise

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Program:
Akira Kurosawa  •  Japan  •  1954  •  207 min
Saturday, July 11, 2009, 7:00 pm, Auditorium, 395 Wellington St.
English Subtitles
 
Akira Kurosawa  •  Japan  •  1957  •  105 min
Saturday, July 18, 2009, 7:00 pm, Auditorium, 395 Wellington St.
English Subtitles
 
Akira Kurosawa  •  Japan  •  1961  •  110 min
Saturday, July 25, 2009, 7:00 pm, Auditorium, 395 Wellington St.
English Subtitles