What’s Screening: March 12 – 18

Slim pickings this week. If it wasn’t for the Stanford’s Kurosawa series, there would hardly be anything.

I hope to soon get back into the festival routine, which would give me much more to write about for weeks like this one. The Asian American Film Festival continues through the week. And the Tiburon International Film Festival opens Thursday.

World Premiere: Remembering Playland at the Beach, Balboa, Tuesday. I moved to the Bay Area in 1975—three years too late to have ever experienced Playland at the Beach. This documentary, which I have not seen, examines the history of this long-gone amusement park.

A Double Bill: The Hidden Fortress & Yojimbo, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. Kurosawa has made samurai movies that were epic tragedies, existentialist dreams,yojimbo and black comic westerns. But The Hidden Fortress is just plain fun–a rousing, suspenseful, and entertaining romp. It was also his first widescreen film, and  contains two comic peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) who were the inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO. Yojimbo is the above-mentioned the black comic western. A masterless samurai (who else but Toshiro Mifune) wanders into a small town torn apart by two gangs fighting a brutal turf war. Disgusted by everyone, he uses his wits and amazing swordsmanship to play the sides against each other. My Kurosawa Diary entries on these two are yet to come—although The Hidden Fortress is next on the list..

A Mary Poppins, Lark, Sunday, 3:00. The best live-action movie Walt Disney ever made, and one of the great all-time children’s pictures. Julie Andrews may have won the Oscar through a sympathy vote, but she really lights up her first movie appearance, managing to upstage Dick Van Dyke and some wonderful special effects. So what if it takes liberties with the books.

A Double Bill: The Bad Sleep Well & Throne of Blood, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday. In The Bad Sleep Well, Mifune plays a young executive who leaps up the  corporate ladder by marrying the boss’s crippled daughter. But the company has a suspicious past, including a throneblood2 possible murder, and this new hotshot may have an agenda of his own. Kurosawa stands Shakespeare on his head with Throne of Blood, his haunting, noh- and kabuki-inspired loose adaptation of Macbeth. Toshiro Mifune gives an over-the-top but still effective performance as the military officer manipulated by his wife (Isuzu Yamada) into murdering his lord. The finale–which is far more democratic than anything Shakespeare ever dared–is one of the great action sequences ever. You can read my Kurosawa Diary entry on Throne of Blood now, but you’ll have to wait for The Bad Sleep Well.

A Double Bill: High and Low & I Live in Fear, Stanford, Friday. High and Low is one of the best crime thrillers of the 1960’s. Toshiro Mifune stars as a successful businessman who thinks he’s off the hook when a kidnapper snatches the wrong boy, leaving his own son safe. But the kidnapper still insists on receiving the ransom (large enough to destroy Mifune’s tenuous hold on his company), forcing the man into a moral dilemma. I Live in Fear (also known asRecord of a Living Being), while a good film, is easily the worst work from Kurosawa’s best period (1952 – 1965). The story concerns an aging industrialist (Toshiro Mifune, made up to look twice his 35 years) driven insane, or at least irrational, by his fear of the the atom bomb. His family is trying to declare him mentally incompetent before he ruins them financially. You can read my Kurosawa Diary entry for I Live in Fear, but it will probably be a few months before I post one for High and Low.