What’s Screening: December 31 – January 6

Sorry, folks, but the only things playing this week that I’ve got enough knowledge to talk about are the last pieces of the Mifune x Kurosawa : A Beautiful Man series at the VIZ Cinema. Things should pick up when the holidays are over.

A+ Seven Samurai, VIZ Cinema, Sunday, 1:30. 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.

A Drunken Angel, VIZ Cinema, Monday & Wednesday, 7:15; Tuesday, 4:30. The title refers to a drunkenangelgruff, 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.

A High and Low, VIZ Cinema, Monday & Tuesday 3:30. 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.highandlowToshiro 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. See my Kurosawa Diary entry.

B+ Stray Dog, VIZ Cinema, Tuesday & Thursday, 7:15; Wednesday, 4:00. 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, and doesn’t work at all when it tries to say something meaningful about the relationship between the police and the criminals they chase. See my Kurosawa Diaries entry.