A lot of Kurosawa this week—hardly surprising with his centenary. But this puts me in an interesting spot as far as my Kurosawa Diary project is concerned. I’m trying to watch all of his films in chronological order. If I get a chance to see one theatrically, do I step out of sequence? Watch it out of sequence now and revisit it again in the proper order later? I’ll have to figure this out as I go along.
I’ve put the few non-Kurosawa screenings at the beginning of this newsletter. As far as the Kurosawa screenings are concerned, I’ve given priority to the rarely-screened titles.
A The Gold Rush, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Of all the important works of the silent era—at least the preserved ones—none is more difficult to see properly than Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 masterpiece (his own personal favorite). The fault lies in Chaplin himself, who re-edited The Gold Rush and added narration in 1942, then insisted that his own desecration was the definitive version (see The Altered Charlie Chaplin Problem). This past April, Bay Area residents got their first chance in many years to see The Gold Rush in its original form with live music by the San Francisco Symphony (read my report). If you missed that, couldn’t afford symphony tickets, or just want to see it again, here’s your chance—for only $5 and with Bruce Loeb on the piano.
B The Day the Earth Stood Still, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. They made a lot of science fiction movies in the 1950s, but few as good as this left-leaning Christian parable. An alien (Michael Rennie in his first major American role) comes to Earth with a message of peace, finds a populace unwilling to listen, and then becomes the target of a manhunt. On a double bill with It Came from Outer Space, an inferior riff on the same theme, shot in 3D (but apparently not being shown that way).
B- Play Misty for Me, SFMOMA, Thursday, 7:00. Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut (he was already a star onscreen) shows nothing of the master craftsman who would emerge 20 years later. But he managed to pull off a reasonable thriller about a disc jockey who learns to regret that one-night stand with an unhinged fan. The Carmel locations alone are almost worth the price of admission. Part of the series California Highs, California Lows.
A The Bad Sleep Well, VIZ Cinema, Tuesday through Thursday. Few people know Kurosawa’s dark, contemporary, and suspenseful tale of corruption and revenge—and that’s a shame. It concerns a large, successful, and thoroughly corrupt corporation, and a young man (Toshiro Mifune) out to destroy it from the inside. It begins with his wedding to the president’s crippled daughter—an act that everyone reads as blind ambition (the engagement won him a job as the president’s personal secretary). But the real motive is revenge. Kurosawa reveals the reasons for and depth of that revenge slowly in a startling, suspenseful, and bleak story that provides neither catharsis nor easy answers. See my Kurosawa Diaries entry. Part of Viz’s Kurosawa on High Crimes series.
A Drunken Angel, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:50; VIZ Cinema, Friday through Sunday. The title refers to an gruff, short-tempered, and alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) who runs a small slum clinic next to a filthy sump. He’s trying desperately to keep people alive, and one of those people is a tubercular gangster played by Toshiro Mifune in his first collaboration with Kurosawa. Strutting, macho, and confused, the gangster is torn between fighting the disease and keeping up his high-living lifestyle. Easily Kurosawa’s best pre-Rashomon work. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. The PFA screens Drunken Angel as part of its Akira Kurosawa Centennial series. The VIZ screenings are part of its Kurosawa on High Crimes series.
A High and Low, VIZ Cinema, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. After his two great action comedies (Yojimbo and Sanjuro) and before his last black and white historical epic (Red Beard), Akira Kurosawa made one of the best crime thrillers of the 1960’s. Toshiro Mifune (who else?) stars as a successful businessman who thinks he’s off the hook when a kidnapper snatches the wrong boy, leaving the businessman’s son safe. But the kidnapper still insists on the ransom (large enough to destroy Mifune’s tenuous hold on his company), forcing the man into a moral dilemma. Can he let another man’s son die for his career? Much of High and Low takes place in a single living room, and Kurosawa uses the wide, Tohoscope frame brilliantly in the confined space. Part of the Kurosawa on High Crimes series.
A Ran, Embarcadero, opens Friday. Kurosawa’s last epic, and his last masterpiece, retells King Lear as a sweeping tale of chaos in feudal Japan. Beautiful, moving, and profoundly sad, it makes Shakespeare’s original seem upbeat by comparison. Unlike Shakespeare, Kurosawa considers what his king did before he became old, and it isn’t pretty. The film, on the other hand, is as visually gorgeous as movies get. Rialto Pictures struck a new 35mm print to celebrate Kurosawa’s 100th birthday and Ran’s 25th.
A+ Rashomon, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. I know that I’ve reviewed Kurosawa’s first period masterpiece–the film that opened Japanese cinema to the world. But according to a search of this blog, I’ve never reviewed it. How could I remember it one way, when the WordPress search engine remembers it differently? I could check Google, but what if its memory contradicts both? If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, you haven’t seen Rashomon, and that’s a real shame. For a more informative essay, read my Kurosawa Diary entry. The opening program in the PFA’s Akira Kurosawa Centennial series.
A Throne of Blood, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 6:50. Kurosawa stands Shakespeare on his head with this haunting, noh- and kabuki-inspired loose adaptation of Macbeth. Toshiro Mifune gives an over-the-top but still effective performance as the military officer tempted 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. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. Another program in the PFA’s Akira Kurosawa Centennial series.
B+ Stray Dog, VIZ Cinema, Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday. This 1949 police procedural follows a young, rookie detective (Toshiro Mifune) who loses his gun to a pickpocket. Tortured by guilt, he becomes obsessed with finding the stolen Colt. Stray Dog works best as a straight-up thriller. It’s at its weakest when it tries to say something meaningful about the relationship between the police and the criminals they chase. See my Kurosawa Diaries entry. And yes, it’s part of Viz’s Kurosawa on High Crimes series.