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Watch This: Akira Kurosawa – Composing Movement

Every Frame a Painting - Movement
About a month ago, the video series Every Frame a Painting posted a short video which illustrated Kurosawa’s use of geometry, and which we discussed here. It was said to be an outtake from a longer Kurosawa video essay. That longer essay is now here and it’s great. In fact, it’s been here since last Thursday, but since I wasn’t anywhere near a computer until now, it’s taken me a while to link to it.

The eight and a half minute video looks at Kurosawa’s use of movement, not only with his actors but also in his editing, backgrounds and other aspects of his filmmaking. Here is the video’s description: “Can movement tell a story? Sure, if you’re as gifted as Akira Kurosawa. More than any other filmmaker, he had an innate understanding of movement and how to capture it onscreen. Join me today in studying the master, possibly the greatest composer of motion in film history.”

You can view the full video below.

I would also highly recommend watching all the other videos in the Every Frame a Painting series, which are available through the series’ YouTube page. The creator Tony Zhou is a San Francisco based filmmaker and freelance editor who has been publishing these highly professional and roughly monthly videos for about a year now. My personal favourites so far would be his videos on Edgar Wright, Spielberg, Satoshi Kon, David Fincher, Jackie Chan, Drive, and of course the Kurosawa ones. Well, that’s about half of the total. They really are that good.

You can follow Zhou’s Every Frame a Painting over at Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. And if you enjoy the videos as much as I do, consider becoming a patron and supporting the series through Zhou’s Patreon page!


Discussion

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Ugetsu

I love Tony Zhou’s channel. Half an hour watching it and I feel I’ve done a years course in editing and directing, it really is superb. His clips of Kurosawa, plus the ones he’s done on action and comedy films explains so much about why I find so many modern Hollywood action and comedy films so frustrating. It is weird as to why film making has gone backwards in some ways.

I am a little curious though as to why he is picking on Joss Whedon specifically on that clip. I don’t think he’s the worst offender in modern action direction. Having said that, it is an excellent example!

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Vili Maunula

It is indeed a great channel. Zhou goes into just enough depth to be informative, but not too much to overload. The subject of each video is narrow, and he keeps to it really well. For an untrained casual viewer many of his insights are really interesting and the video format works brilliantly for the subjects that he discusses. And obviously, Zhou puts the videos together really well.

This Kurosawa video is a good example. From the point of view of Kurosawa studies, Zhou probably couldn’t have chosen a topic more discussed. Everyone, and I do mean everyone who has discussed Kurosawa has discussed his dynamic film style, so in that sense there isn’t much new that Zhou can or does offer here. But obviously the intended audience is not the one that has read through the Kurosawa literature, but a more general film fan, and perhaps one that has interest in making films themselves. Moreover, the fact that Zhou’s essays can be seen and not just read adds greatly to the types of topics that he explores. It’s a visual medium, after all.

Also, I don’t think that Zhou intended to pick on Joss Whedon, but just used the scene as an example. There’s actually some discussion on the subject on Zhou’s Twitter account: see here and here.

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lawless

After the earlier video posted here, I subscribed to Zhou’s channel, so I saw this a couple of days before this post. He does such a good job and makes good points.

I also didn’t think he had it in for Whedon in particular; he seems to be picking recent popular Hollywood films with generally good reviews like The Avengers or The Imitation Game.

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Ugetsu

Lawless

I also didn’t think he had it in for Whedon in particular; he seems to be picking recent popular Hollywood films with generally good reviews like The Avengers or The Imitation Game.

Yes, I think you are right about that. Although I suspect he perhaps liked to tweak the noses of the fans of Whedon in particular (not that I don’t like what he does, but the fan clubs who build up behind certain directors can be very annoying).

I also like how he focuses on an area where modern film critics seem incredibly weak – on the technical weaknesses or otherwise of films. I know that film journalists are often discouraged from writing on these topics as it is a turn-off for many readers, but it annoys me that so few writers will actually explain in their reviews why, for example, action movie A is not as good as action movie B. Sometimes its not just about the star, or the script, but the technical capabilities of the director and editor. I do think the lack of focus on these matters is one reason why mainstream film seems to have gone backwards rather than forwards in some crucial technical skills. Although interestingly, I couldn’t help thinking while watching Better Call Saul this week that those skills seem to be alive and well on TV. The scripts, direction, acting and editing in BCS (to give just one example) are I think superior to the vast majority of mainstream films I’ve watched lately.

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lawless

Agree with you, Ugetsu, that editing and direction (and maybe even acting) in mainstream TV is better than in mainstream film these days. When you want someone to stick with a show week in and week out, you need something to draw people in and keep them there, whereas a movie, even one of the dreaded franchise ones, only has two hours or so to keep someone’s attention and can therefore more easily dazzle with bullshit.

On the other hand, I’m part of the “Joss is God” brigade. But it doesn’t stop me from seeing problematic stuff in his work (Firefly especially, but also his handling, or mishandling, of race) or thinking that he’s a much better writer and director for TV than for original scripted film. Still think his staging and updating of Much Ado is pretty genius.

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Vili Maunula

Ugetsu: I also like how he focuses on an area where modern film critics seem incredibly weak – on the technical weaknesses or otherwise of films. I know that film journalists are often discouraged from writing on these topics as it is a turn-off for many readers, but it annoys me that so few writers will actually explain in their reviews why, for example, action movie A is not as good as action movie B.

I fully agree. It really is quite amazing how illiterate we are (myself included) when it comes to reading visual storytelling, even when we live in a world which is so incredibly visual, not only with cinema and television, but also online and in advertising.

Maybe we should start doing scene and shot analyses with Kurosawa’s films, just to educate ourselves? It could even be a theme for the next round of the film club, which we need to start discussing soon.

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Vili Maunula

Those who have subscribed to Every Frame a Painting‘s Patreon page now have access to the textual annotations for both Kurosawa videos. They are about the length of a typical blog post each and quite interesting reading, going a bit deeper into technical stuff than the videos themselves did.

The channel is a treasure that keeps on giving. 🙂

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