What’s Screening: December 17 – 23

As Akira Kurosawa’s centennial year comes to a close, someone in the Bay Area had to get in one more Kurosawa series. That someone is the VIZ Cinema, and if it wasn’t for them, there would only be two items in this week’s newsletter.

And one of those two would still be Kurosawa!

Hey, he’s my favorite filmmaker, but even I’m getting tired of him.

A- Howl, Red Vic, Friday and Saturday. What did you expect–a howlconventional biopic? Would that do justice to the Allen Ginsberg epic poem with which the film shares its title? Like the poem, Howl is challenging, cutting-edge, and unconventional. By weaving together an extended interview with Ginsberg (James Franco), scenes from publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s obscenity trial, and an illustrated reading of the titular poem, Howl gives an overview of Ginsberg’s early life, celebrates the work itself, and cherishes the freedom that made the poem possible. I’ve never read Ginsberg’s poem; this film makes me want to read it. And you might want to read my full review.

A+ Seven Samurai, Red Vic, Sunday and Monday. f you think all action movies are mindless escapism, you need to set aside 3½ hours for7sam_thumb[1] Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece. The basic story–a poor village hires warriors to defend them against bandits–has been retold many times since, but Kurosawa told it first and told it best. This is an action film with almost no action in the first two hours. But when the fighting finally arrives, you’re ready for it, knowing every detail of the people involved, the terrain to be fought over, and the class differences between the peasants and their hired swords. One of the greatest movies ever made. See my Kurosawa Diary entry.

The following films are all at the VIZ Cinema, as part of their series, Mifune x Kurosawa : A Beautiful Man.

A Red Beard, Saturday, 2:45; Monday, 7:15; Tuesday, 3:00; Thursday, 7:15. Akira Kurosawa never stated his central theme–the importance of kindness and charity in a cruel universe–more powerfully or directly than in this three-hour, 1965 epic. A samurai movie without swordfights (but with one fantastic judo fight), Red Beard concentrates on human suffering and what must be done to relieve it. Toshiro Mifune, in his last performance for Kurosawa, plays a doctor in a mid-19th century slum clinic, desperately fighting corruption and exploitation as well as disease. The story is told through the eyes of an arrogant young intern (Yuzo Kayama), shocked to discover that he’s been assigned to work with patients he views as beneath him. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry.

A The Lower Depths, Sun, 2:45; Tuesday, 7:15; Wed, 4:00. Kurosawa’s follow-up to Throne of Blood succeeds on almost every level, despite it’s feeling like a filmed stage play (which it is). Set in a grim flophouse in the 19th century (and based on the play by Maxim Gorky), the film examines several characters at the very bottom of the economic ladder. It’s depressing, of course, but it’s also warm, sardonic, and funny. A rare Kurosawa period piece without swordplay. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry.

F The Idiot, Saturday, 7:15; Sunday, 6:00; Monday, 3:00; Wed, 7:15; Thursday, 3:00. Kurosawa blew it badly when he adapted this Dostoyevsky novel to the screen. The dull and lifeless story concerns a man with a mental disability, his romantic prospects, and those prospects’ other romantic prospects. That sounds like a lot more fun than it actually is. Minute by minute, this is worse than Scandal, but since it runs 166 minutes instead of 104, it’s much worse. (Kurosawa’s original cut ran 265 minutes, and the studio insisted he cut it. We’ll never know if the suits destroyed a masterpiece or saved our sanity. I suspect the later.) The good news is that The Idiot, made in between Rashomon and Ikiru,was the last bad film he would make for a very long time. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry.