Planning the Akira Kurosawa Film Club
4 March 2008
4 March 2008
April is fine, once a month is fine, and I am also fine with starting anywhere. As I was reading I thought we could start off with the post-war boxset in hopes that by the time we got through the later years the WWII era stuff was out on Eclipse. Just a thought.
4 March 2008
>>I have a few times in the past mentioned the idea of an “online Kurosawa film club” that would run here on the forums. The basic idea would be that those wanting to participate would watch a Kurosawa film by a given date and then proceed to discuss it.
Sounds like a plan!
>>I would post a summary of critical discussion found for Red Beard in the relevant Kurosawa literature, attempting to bring forward relevant theories and questions so as to familiarise ourselves with what has been said earlier and to provide a context and a starting point for our discussion. Everyone would, of course, be more than welcome to bring to the table their own ideas and theories, as well.
My preference would be to bring — say — three things to the table for each film, perhaps decreasing in complexity. For example:
1. Prince, p. 249: “From now on, he would use this style to contemplate the world from a distance, and it would be a world grown increasingly eccentric … negativism suffused the remaining films and confirmed the flight from commitment.”
Discuss: What examples from pre-RB films that contradict this; and visa versa, post-RB films that are extremely affirmative.
2. In such a long film, what “parallels” does AK use to make us go “oh, I remember when that happened back in Reel One!” [example: we learn only through dialogue that Otoyo had ripped her kimono at the whorehouse; much later Chigusa makes her a new one, throws in mud, and even later proudly displays it when the whorehouse madam returns to claim her.]
3. Perhaps an open sub-thread to discuss our favorite moments, why, etc.
>>>In the end, however, I feel that not watching the films through in a chronological order would be a missed opportunity. I have done it once in my life, learnt a lot, and would certainly be interested in doing it again.
I’ve watched 1-30 in 4 different cycles now, and I look forward to #5. I personally would prefer chronological. By the time we get to Yojimbo, the joint will be jumpin’ …
5 March 2008
Ideally for me, would be starting with “Drunken Angel” since it was that film in which Kurosawa started establishing his style, plus I do believe that the film that Kurosawa consider his “first film”. Afterwards a loose chronological order, skipping titles such as scandal, idiot, live in fear, lower depths, saving those and the earlier ones for later. The reason, is as Vili’s concept of allowing new members to join in, though the easier to obtain and wider appeal of the larger titles.
I certainly enjoy professional option though different authors of Kurosawa, however its normally a bad idea, I’ve seen this on other forums. When you goal is to bring new members and wider discussion these quotes only frighting those not aware of the books to post their thoughts and questions.
And what happens is the discussion is nothing more then quotes from various authors and critics, and never a discussion and thoughts of the members that watched the movies. Its though the members in which new concepts are drawn and a better way to learn, understand and appreciate the film.
To give example is Lewis’s -Prince quote and bringing up talks based entirely on a single thought and already requires branching into other movies. One person’s thoughts such as Prince’s or Riche’s shouldnt be the center point of all discussion. (This wasnt a attack on you or anything of the such Lewis)
A critics viewpoint and criteria for judgment is very different than a fan’s or average movie watcher-Its those opinions that are much interesting and offer more conversation. Not to say there should be a complete avoidance of author/critic thought, as certainly diving into theory is a great idea.
5 March 2008
certainly enjoy professional option though different authors of Kurosawa, however its normally a bad idea, I’ve seen this on other forums. When you goal is to bring new members and wider discussion these quotes only frighting those not aware of the books to post their thoughts and questions
I respectfully disagree, Jeremy.
As an AK newbie in ’99, I personally discovered Richie, Prince and Yoshimoto by seeing what people were saying about the books. I think any casual reader who was just getting into AK might appreciate the signposts.
The discussion on the Prince quote would only lead to discussing other AK movies on how they refute Prince.
I thought that would be of general interest (although somewhat esoteric) because Red Beard is such a dividing point between early and late.
I also brought it up because I think it’s an example of source criticism which is certainly ripe for opposing viewpoints! I find his statement way too generalized, and that’s what got me thinking about contradictory examples from both pre- and post- Red Beard.
But there are certainly lots of ways we could do this.
I personally like the idea of simply pointing out our favorite moments and why? —
Or perhaps we should consider just keeping this very simple and just suggest a film to watch and let the comments flow, au natural…
Whatever we do, I’m psyched to be a part of it.
5 March 2008
Maybe I am just too much of a pedagogist and a university snob, but I think that knowing some critical background is helpful, if not essential, in building up meaningful discussion.
My intention, however, was not to include any straightforward questions or to let the theory (which is such an ugly word, how about calling them “printed opinions”?) limit the discussion in any way. Instead, what I meant was pretty much what I wrote — I’d provide a summary of what Richie, Prince, etc. have written on the movie in question, nothing more. Whether anyone would actually be interested in using that information in the discussion would be completely up to them, but in case someone did, those who wouldn’t have access to the books would not be totally left out. Similarly, by bringing the summary on the table, we would in a way bring in additional participants to our discussion, albeit they would not be able to defend themselves (which is all the better for us).
Deciding on the order of films may be even more difficult than I had imagined. For instance, Jeremy’s suggestion that we skip “titles such as scandal, idiot, live in fear, lower depths” seems shocking to me — while I don’t personally find Scandal that interesting a piece, the three others are towards the top of my list of movies I’d really love to discuss. The Idiot because of how it seems like such a failed piece, I Live in Fear because it is one of my favourite Kurosawa films (and has what I see as Mifune’s greatest performance), and Lower Depths because I have never thought too much about it, even if it is among my favourite Kurosawas.
BMWRider’s suggestion to start with the Eclipse Postwar Kurosawa boxset is intriguing, and I think warrants some consideration. The downside of the plan is that it’s a Region 1 release, and some of the films in it are difficult to get hold of outside of North America.
Perhaps the chronological order would in the end make the most sense, even if it might scare away some of the potential participants. In the end, I rather we did this for ourselves than to “advertise” the forum.
5 March 2008
No big deal whatever the majority finds best, or whatever Vili himself decides is fine by me, I have no strong opinions.
I guess I find critics to quick to over credit, and over complicate a film, finding more then what the director and writer ever even thought of or even knew about their own film. I dislike discussion of that nature, but I have no idea if its a good idea to dive deep into a film or stay fairly shallow, I tend to go back in forth.
Just reminds me of question ask to Bob Dylan once,something to the order of. —Whats the meanings behind your songs?
Dylan–I dont know, I let the fans decide on that.
And something the writer Zavattini said —to poorly quote ” I could write a movie where nothing happens, and people could write a book discussing it”
6 March 2008
Seriously, whatever you want to do, I am great with. If you want to start with Madadayo, and work backwards, I am cool with that, the box set, most famous, whatever. I have all the films, and look forward to any discussion. BTW, I have always loved Scandal, perhaps because of my own disdain of the media.
6 March 2008
And I think Scandal is one his most underrated films!
Richie and others sort of complain that Shimura “steals” the film from Mifune (or, even better, perhaps Hiruta stole the film from Aoe.)
I think this is one of the things that makes it a spectacular film! Aoe is a good person — but Hiruta is the one that makes the BIG spiritual advance!
My favorite scene is the one by the scummy pond which I quote in my image header for my analysis:
Aoe: “Old man, life can be so touching at times … glittering stars amid all this reeking slime.”
I’d sure be disappointed if we skipped this one!
7 March 2008
I think this is a really interesting suggestion and I hope it goes ahead. Just some thoughts about the proposed way of tackling this:
I think any more than one film per month will mean that the films won’t be given their due attention. Everyone here has a real life and I think that cramming films into weekly or bi-monthly sessions will inevitably mean that some people will not find the opportunity to contribute as much as they’d like. Granted, the forum on each film will stay open but as our webmaster says interest in previous films will die down once a new film comes up for discussion.
This is the really tough one, I think. I perfectly understand why some people might favour the chronological approach. It’s a golden opportunity, I’m sure, to chart the growth of an artist by finally sitting down and watching the works in the order they were produced, something few of us would be likely to do otherwise. Ideally, every participant would have access to Kurosawa’s complete works, or at least to the majority of them.
However, there are a couple of problems with this. Obviously in Kurosawa’s first decade or so of filmmaking the films are less well-known and less widely seen. This may isolate some potential participants. I’m sure that there are quite a few Kurosawa diehards here who have everything, but speaking for myself, I own only about half of Kurosawa’s films, and most of the gaps in my collection are from his first few years as a director. Worse still, a couple of the ones I do have are so badly subtitled that I don’t feel capable of contributing anything, so weak is my grasp of the plots. I have no objection if the consensus is for the chronological approach, but I’m afraid that the field will be left to the elitists until we get up to Drunken Angel or Stray Dog.
It will be interesting, I think, to read what people think about the movies that I love. There seem to be quite a few members with academic backgrounds or experience in the film industry, and I’m particularly looking forward to learning from them. At the same time, I hope that the layman like myself will be able to get a look in. I don’t have much grasp of film theory and my critical skills have dulled from years of misuse but I’ll give it my best shot.
I do like the sound of the thematic approach myself. Another possibility would be to start with the well-known films, or perhaps even better, to alternate well-known films with slightly more obscure or underappreciated works. That way, less than expert fans like myself won’t drift away for too long before being able to offer something.
14 March 2008
I’ve participated in online film clubs of the sort discussed here, and am all for it. One film per month sounds like a very good starting place, with the freedom to modify as we go along. I’d love the chance to re-view his films chronologically, perhaps only using those films which are readily available internationally in versions that have quality subtitles (no Mei Ah versions, please!).
All that being said, I’m quite happy to follow the consensus…
17 March 2008
If some reason chronological is not decided, I would put my vote to start with “Rashomon”. I was just watching this the other day, this time not for the story but for the directing and production aspects.
I’ll save my thoughts for whenever this movies turns up to be reviewed, but I have to say nearly every aspect of perfect direction is represented in this film.
A wide variety of close up to long shots, constant connection and disconnection of characters though very simply, but brillant camera work.
Simple but very effective blocking when walking thought the forest and prefect composition on a very basic level during the court scenes.
Its also great to see what can be done with a fairly simple story and with a very easy to obtain low cost production scale. Its simplicity at its finest, something few can pull off.
Not only that, its just a widely accessible film, that gives to what I think a great starter base to understanding Kurosawa. My problem with very early Kurosawa’s (anything before Drunken Angel) is that they dont show much of Kurosawa direction and can be rather hard to understand without some significant experience in Japanese film(which is likely not a problem for the regulars of this site.) My reason for this I see more of Mizoguchi then Kurosawa, and with stories more along the style of Ozu.
17 March 2008
I would also cast my vote with Rashomon. It seems a good choice, not least because it alerted the west to Kurosawa and Japanese cinema in general. There is obviously much to say about the film’s look and Kurosawa’s style (here approaching its full flowering), and there also seems much to discuss about the film’s meaning, despite what Mr Quintanilla says above about its “simple plot” (compare, for example, Stephen Prince’s reading, which emphasises the impossibility of grasping objective truth or even reality, with that of Kurosawa’s much less postmodern insistence that human beings are incapable of telling the truth about themselves.
I submitted a question to Prince about Rashomon via the PBS site on Kurosawa. My question, followed by his answer, follows:
14. In RASHOMON, when the woodcutter and the monk discuss the crime, both speak about being unable to comprehend it. What troubles them seems to be either the conflicting testimonies of the witnesses or, more likely, the nature of what happened. The monk particularly seems aware of the terrible times in which they are living, yet to him this crime seems much worse. The woodcutter, of course, witnessed the crime itself, and his version of events, presented last, does not make the crime out to be particularly heinous. What is it they cannot understand? Is it that the participants each presented different accounts of the crime (thus exposing the human tendency to distort the truth and present oneself in a positive light), or is it the crime itself? If the latter, I do not think we are convinced that the crime warrants such a reaction. What is your opinion about this?
Answer: This is an excellent query. If the crime in the forest seems, perhaps, less horrific than the reactions of the witnesses might imply, this may be due to the uncertain nature of the offense. What exactly occurred? A suicide? A murder? The accounts change from one story to the next. Moreover, in other films, such as YOJIMBO or RAN, Kurosawa depicts human cruelty in vivid and graphic terms, in contrast to the suggestiveness by which RASHOMON works. What happens in the forest remains a mystery. One cannot know whose account is true, and that is Kurosawa’s point.
What troubles the monk and the woodcutter, then, are not the details that should come to light in a police procedural, i.e., the facts of the case. They are haunted by what all of the disparities in the accounts point towards — the collapse of human reality itself. The ethical and moral connections among people, which make society possible, require that there be fundamental agreements about the nature of the world and people’s behavior in it. In RASHOMON, Kurosawa gives us a dark fable about the inability of people to connect in this way. As a result, the world itself vanishes, as an inter-subjective reality, replaced by the vanity and lies that undermine a knowable existence.
It is this possibility — that life itself is the basest kind of illusion — that so horrifies the monk and the woodcutter. At the end of the film, Kurosawa himself backs away from the bleakness of this vision. He tries to cancel it out with a redemptive act — the woodcutter adopts the baby. But this gesture, meant to transfigure all that we have seen, is perhaps not enough to overcome the disturbing glimpse of nothingness that the crime in the dark labyrinth of the forest has provided. When he made THRONE OF BLOOD and RAN, Kurosawa expressed his pessimism without hesitation. But, like other films of the late 1940s and early 1950s, RASHOMON is more ambivalent. Kurosawa believed that society could change, and in this respect, RASHOMON was meant as a warning — but a dark voice of doubt had begun to speak in his mind.
17 March 2008
I am not fussed about the order and do not see a need to view them chronologically. I certainly think we should leave anything prior to Drunken Angel for a while. I assume most of us have now got the Eclipse releases of No Regrets For Our Youth and One Wonderful Sunday, but not all will have the Eastern Eye (Region 4) Sanshiro Sugata I & II. Maybe in 2 or so years when we are through the rest of the films, Eclipse will have released these in Region 1 along with The Most Beautiful and They Who Step on the Tiger’s Tail. And we might even have a decent Dodeskaden available.
Rashomon sounds like a good start to me. Maybe we should draw up a schedule for a few months ahead, so if there is anybody who hasn’t got a particular film, then they can have time to obtain a copy.
I assume we will generally try and view the Criterion version if available or the version that most people have . The sub-titles can very different from one version to another so it is preferable we are all discussing the same version if possible. I think I am the only Region 4 person in the group at the moment. I have multiple version of most films, so I can easily fit in with the majority view.
If there is no sign of Dodeskaden coming out in a better version soon, I will try and copy my Criterion laserdisc version to DVD. Provided the group is not too big, I would be happy to send out “loaner” copies when we get to this film.
Vili – can you set up a poll in these forums? That might be a way of setting a schedule for this year. Everybody could be asked to list say 9 films (May – December) they would like the group to watch this year.
17 March 2008
Sorry. May to December would be 8 films.
18 March 2008
2. Seven Samurai
4. Drunken Angel
5. Stray Dog
6. Red Beard
7. The Bad Sleep Well
8. The Lower Depths
Note that these are all Criterion releases. Other than the problem with the High and Low transfer, they’ve done a pretty fine job of giving us the absolute best possible product. And of course, they’re available worldwide.
I’m so looking forward to this!
18 March 2008
There is obviously much to say about the film’s look and Kurosawa’s style (here approaching its full flowering), and there also seems much to discuss about the film’s meaning, despite what Mr Quintanilla says above about its “simple plot” (compare, for example, Stephen Prince’s reading, which emphasises the impossibility of grasping objective truth or even reality, with that of Kurosawa’s much less postmodern insistence that human beings are incapable of telling the truth about themselves.
I was being brief, so I think you mis-interpreted what I was saying most likely do to me.
When I was referring to the simplicity of the story, I was taking outside the psychology of the events.
Rashomon doesnt display psychology of the characters, it just presents a story in simple terms. A murder/rape/etc in the forest, a witness, a court scene, and different accounts of the same event presented. There is no deep character or even plot development. It simply is what it is, this is part of the woodcutter’s inability to understand the problem, everything is simple, and makes no sense at the same time.
I think this is more or less what Richie is getting at, but he clearly has more elegant writing skills then me.
Any depth to the movie, is psychology based and entirely outside the movie. However it is key to the delivery of the movie.
And not to attack anyone, but again going back to my concerns about using critic/author quotes in movie club reviews. A great example, I post a opinion of a movie-saying Rashomon was simple, and in return all I get is a quote from Richie. This prevents active discussion, and turns into quote throwing, what then is the point of having a group of fans talk about a movie, when in reality all we are doing is just tossing quotes and not giving our own ideas.
I dont care if anyone disagrees with me, its the whole point of a discussion to have different views that all differ, but if I want quotes in response to everything, why would I join a discussion at all–when I can just read a book.
18 March 2008
“And not to attack anyone, but again going back to my concerns about using critic/author quotes in movie club reviews. A great example, I post a opinion of a movie-saying Rashomon was simple, and in return all I get is a quote from Richie. This prevents active discussion, and turns into quote throwing, what then is the point of having a group of fans talk about a movie, when in reality all we are doing is just tossing quotes and not giving our own ideas.”
Firstly, then, this is not a discussion about Rashomon. The proposed discussion hasn’t yet opened. I simply mentioned that the film has invited complex interpretations and gave a brief example. Second, Mr Quintanilla, if you read the post more carefully you will see that the quote I posted was by Stephen Prince and not Richie. I was not trying to discuss this with you or even to contradict you but to give some flavour of the different interpretations that have been placed upon Rashomon, as a prelude to the real discussion. As to whether it has a “simple” plot, it does indeed in one sense, and in another not at all, rather like Joyce’s Ulysses may be said to have a simple plot in terms of incident but not in other terms. And by the way, I am quite capable of offering my own interpretation of films without leaning on the views of critics. As I said, this is not a discussion of Rashomon.
18 March 2008
Let’s save the discussion for the discussion. My 8 for this year would be:
2. High & Low
3. The Bad Sleep Well
5. Drunken Angel
7. Stray Dog
18 March 2008
As I’m in a rush and without a working Internet connection, here are just three quick points:
1) Having now mulled over the problem of viewing order, and the impossibility of a true chronological viewing, I think I would personally favour a thematic approach, i.e. grouping “similar” films together.
For example, watching the “chanbara” films (Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro) or the “Russian adaptations” (The Idiot, The Lower Depths, Dersu Uzala) one after another would to me seem more rewarding than progressing from one film to another without any real linkage.
The problem here, of course, is that we would actually need to come up with groupings for the films, which turns out to be more difficult than it first seems. What, for example, would you group Rashomon with? (It all, of course, totally depends on what your grouping criteria are.)
2) Critics obviously aren’t sources of Ultimate Truth, just other film fans expressing their opinions. Leaving them out would to me seem like telling someone not to participate.
Meanwhile, including them should combat the problem that has haunted every online film and book club that I have participated in: people in general don’t really have much to say about things before they are duly prompted. While I’m sure that most of the regulars on this website are perfectly capable of forming their own thoughts, I have seen too many film clubs where the discussion stays on the level of “this rocked”, “no it didn’t, it sucked” to not want to see any of that ever again.
Disagreeing with film critics (just like disagreeing with each other) is one way to start a discussion, often in fact a very good one. At least in my world, there are no right or wrong interpretations. Instead, I think that there are simply many new ways of watching these films that we can learn about from re-reading Prince, Richie, Yoshimoto and others. All of them, for example, know far more than me about the prevalent societal settings in which these films were made than I do.
Of course, whether or not to use the information and ideas that critics before us have come up with is ultimately up to the person doing the interpreting. But if you do, some ideas you agree with, some you disagree with, and others give you a starting point for a train of thought that leads somewhere else, completely.
It is, of course, easy to bow down in front of big-name critics that wrote before you. But what was it that Kurosawa wrote in his autobiography… “If you shut your eyes to a frightening sight, you end up being frightened. If you look at everything straight on, there is nothing to be afraid of.” That’s the approach that at least I personally take in these matters. Don’t ignore them, don’t mindlessly attack them, don’t be humbled by them, but rather just take them to pieces and see what you can use in whatever it is that you are doing.
3) Cool down, babes. 😎
18 March 2008
And my eight, most of which I have in inferior Region 2 versions (in other words minus commentary or extras):
4. High and Low
5. Seven Samurai
5. Stray Dog
8. Red Beard
The order isn’t a problem but as I said before I think “Rashomon” is a good starting point. If the non-chronological approach is taken, I think it would be a good idea to alternate Kurosawa’s “historical” films with the ones with a “modern” setting, as I have done (though obviously this is a minor detail).
I would like to see “Dodeskaden” though so obviously if Master Thief can make a copy available for the purposes of the club it would be greatly appreciated, and I would gladly give one of the slots to that.
18 March 2008
I’ve just seen the webmaster’s post so yes, indeed, the thematic approach could be the way to go. Perhaps we should start agreeing on the most obvious categories. Then, if any films are problematic in terms of genre, they can be placed in the equivalent of an “Other” or “Genre-Hybrid” category.
Some possible categories (just throwing ideas around here and obviously there is some overlap):
Jidai-geki (Seven Samurai, Kagemusha, Ran, possibly Rashomon etc.)
Chambara (Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, They Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail(?)) – obviously one does not have to observe the distinction between this and the previous category but it might be better to make the categories shorter.
Shakespeare (Throne of Blood, Ran, The Bad Sleep Well)
Russian authors (as the webmaster says) or indeed the broader category of films adapted from novels.
Detective/noir (Stray Dog, High and Low, The Bad Sleep Well and arguably Rashomon)
Social (Ikiru, Red Beard, the earlier or later films?) – on second thoughts this category will be too vast and will need to be split into sub-categories.
Last years/post Ran output (it seems to me that the films from Dreams onwards have a lot in common and we would do well to consider them together, forming as they do an interesting ‘coda’ of sorts).
Middle Years/years of difficulty (perhaps starting with Red Beard because although it marks the culmination of Kurosawa’s most productive period and his partnership with Mifune it also looks ahead to Dodeskaden and Dersu Uzala.)
Once the categories are decided on, the difficult job will be deciding which film goes where.
18 March 2008
I’ve just seen the webmaster’s post
Just call me Vili. 🙂
Your categories look pretty similar to what I have come up with. I perhaps wouldn’t put Ran into the same boat with Seven Samurai, and neither would I call The Bad Sleep Well a Shakespeare film, but as I wrote earlier, categories are obviously flexible.
As I think we all agree on starting with Rashomon (which I think is an excellent idea), I have tried to come up with a category for it. I never considered it together with the “noir/thriller” genre — in fact, all I could think was Dreams, as both films are at their heart quite experimental. Yet, I don’t think we want to do Dreams too early on in the run.
If coming up with categories seems too difficult and artificial, we can always just vote for the films as has been suggested. I can see if I can come up with a voting system, but I’m afraid that it will have to wait until early April. Sorry, guys! Too much happening in my life at the moment.
18 March 2008
and neither would I call The Bad Sleep Well a Shakespeare film
I’m curious why not?
Although not as obvious as Macbeth/Throne or Lear/Ran — this is readily acknowledged as a “kind of” Hamlet scenario. Father murdered by “uncle” — son seeks revenge, etc.
I would definitely include The Bad in a Shakespeare compartment.
As far as viewing order goes, I personally would prefer an order where each subsequent film comes from a totally different category than the previous one — much like the way AK made his films, chronologically!
But I’m quite flexible.
Oh, and re: using literary criticism in discussion:
I totally agree with Vili that this will be a great opportunity to use some of this criticism as fodder for group discussion — for example, a few weeks ago, I pointed out how Prince posits that basically all post-Red Beard is “nihilistic” and all pre-Red Beard is “socially positive.” [I’m paraphrasing.]
That’s way too broad a brush stroke for me, and I think something like that would make for a great back-and-forth, with the group having to use their own feelings and opinions to agree or disagree.
Richie’s near hatred of all films post-Red Beard is also fascinating (and troubling) to me.
It’s like my Zappa friends who insist that anything after 1969 sucks.
It just seems so egocentric to me.
18 March 2008
Vili’s wisdom knows no bounds 😛 . I do agree with everything written on post 20. -besides the whole categorizing part, I have no interest in that, I’ll let everyone else decide that.
Critics obviously aren’t sources of Ultimate Truth, just other film fans expressing their opinions. Leaving them out would to me seem like telling someone not to participate.
I agree its not right to leave them out, something I may be guilty of. As long as they are not regarded as “ultimate truths”, even if there knowledge does far exceed anyone on this site- I’m completely fine with them on a that limited bases.
18 March 2008
Rashomon will fit into several categories, and the thing to do is not to limit our interpretations based on the category we put it in. That, by the way, is one problem with categorisation that we should try to avoid – that categorizing or pigeonholing something modifies or even limits the way in which we view it. For example, if we have a category called Kurosawa’s Shakespearan Adaptations, we should not allow ourselves to be in any way restricted to the way Kurosawa tranforms the literary material into cinematic art. The fact that the source is Shakespeare can be a jumping off point, and indeed there is much to learn about Kurosawa by comparing and contrasting film with play, but the discussion should be much broader.
To get back to Rashomon, the reason I included it in the detective genre is that it involves a crime and the viewer does in some way have to piece together the facts of the case rather like a detective (though the outcome, obviously, is something else entirely). But I completely agree that it’s quite a different animal altogether than Stray Dog or High and Low.
18 March 2008
“Richie’s near hatred of all films post-Red Beard is also fascinating (and troubling) to me.”
I don’t remember Richie being so hostile. Cool, definitely, but not as dismissive as you suggest. I’ll have to go back to the book and have a look. If you’re right, it is indeed troubling. Perhaps Kurosawa disappointed Richie in some way (rather like, for example, Bob Dylan has disappointed his fans at certain junctures) and this prevented him from judging the later films fairly? Perhaps he was turned off by what Prince sees as the move towards nihilism? There are so many cases of otherwise right-minded critics becoming unreceptive to an artist’s later work (if Master Thief has read Robert Shelton or Griel Marcus he/she’ll know what I mean). Almost without exception, the said critic was there at or near the beginning of the artist’s career.
18 March 2008
and neither would I call The Bad Sleep Well a Shakespeare film
I’m curious why not?
To keep this thread focused on the issue at hand, I have posted my answer here.
18 March 2008
Regarding film selection: how about if we simply decide now that we are going to start with Rashomon in a way that the discussion on the movie begins on the 1st of May, 2008.
We still have over a month to come up with the next film in a way that leaves another month for everyone to get hold of it. Whether we make the decision of what to watch as the second movie based on some category-based criteria, by chronology, voting or I Ching, we can still discuss. But this way, we get things going and everyone can start to get ready for Rashomon.
Sounds like a plan?
And Sanjuro: Richie is indeed pretty hostile towards Kurosawa’s later works. I think he even explicitly writes in the book that he doesn’t particularly care about them (can’t check now, as my copy is a few thousand miles south from where I am, but I’m sure someone else will be able to do that for us).
18 March 2008
Perhaps Kurosawa disappointed Richie in some way (rather like, for example, Bob Dylan has disappointed his fans at certain junctures) and this prevented him from judging the later films fairly?
I was about to make a similar point about Dylan and his critics and fans, but I didn’t want to drift off topic about my other major obsession. However with many Dylan fans/critics, they have dismissed some work when it first came out (particularly his 3 Christian albums), but on more mature reflection have found gems of songs in these albums. Even Blood On The Tracks was not widely acclaimed at the time of its release in 1974.
But this is an interesting point about how new fans views an artist’s work compared to those who have watched the artist evolve during their lifetime. There are a significant number of Dylan fans/critics in this category. Donald Richie (born 1924) is probably the only prominent Kurosawa one who has “traveled” with AK.
Although I had seen Rashomon and Seven Samurai before, my first “live” Kurosawa films were Dodeskaden and Dersu Uzala. From what I have read, many here are even younger and will have come to the artist when his works were complete.
18 March 2008
At the risk of a hijacking of the thread by Dylan fans, I will say that while I agree that in many cases fans and critics have come round and accepted Dylan’s changes of direction, my comparison between Richie and the Dylan critics I mentioned was chosen because the latter never really warmed to Dylan’s later work. In Shelton’s No Direction Home, for example, Shelton is obviously underwhelmed by anything post John Wesley Harding, with the single exception of Blood On The Tracks, while Marcus, too, has on several occasions written off Dylan’s post sixties work.
To bring this back to Kurosawa, I do wonder what sort of expectations Richie had for Kurosawa’s post Red Beard works (since he was there from the beginning). Also, is it not possible that it was also a case of torpor setting in? Note that the original edition of The Films of Akira Kurosawa was published in 1965, the year of Red Beard. I remember vaguely that there seemed to be a definite coolling in his attitude towards the films discussed for the second edition.
I have a few times in the past mentioned the idea of an “online Kurosawa film club” that would run here on the forums. The basic idea would be that those wanting to participate would watch a Kurosawa film by a given date and then proceed to discuss it.
In order to move the idea forward, I now thought that I could ask for your input on how this should work. The following is my own current thoughts on the matter.
The way I thought the club would work is that we would have a viewing schedule which would indicate which films would be watched and discussed, and when.
Let’s say that we would have Red Beard scheduled for April 23. This would mean that before April 23, I would post a summary of critical discussion found for Red Beard in the relevant Kurosawa literature, attempting to bring forward relevant theories and questions so as to familiarise ourselves with what has been said earlier and to provide a context and a starting point for our discussion. Everyone would, of course, be more than welcome to bring to the table their own ideas and theories, as well.
On April 23 (and not earlier), discussion on the film would commence on the forums. There would be no end date set for the discussion, but I assume that the discussion for one film would quiet down considerably once we moved on to the next film on the schedule.
Discussion would be practically unmoderated, but it is my hope that everyone would moderate themselves. Not that there have been any problems on these forums so far. We would also have Lewis’s excellent transcriptions to use as reference and help.
It is difficult for me to say what the frequency in which we would watch the films should be so that it would give everyone the chance to participate (some of us are quite busy in our private lives) without making the club move forward too slowly. I am currently thinking about assigning one movie for each month.
Having one film each month, I believe, would be a leisurely enough pace to give everyone the chance to both get and watch the film. It would also be easy to remember the schedule (say, a new film every 1st day of the month), and it would allow us enough time to discuss a film in some depth before moving on to the next one. Additionally, it would give me enough time to go through the Kurosawa literature and prepare the critical summaries I mentioned earlier for each film.
A film per month may, however, seem too slow to some. After all, with this pace it would take us three years to go through the whole of Kurosawa’s oeuvre. Then again, I better take my time to contemplate than rush through mindlessly. And, to be honest, I also have other things to do in my life than watch Kurosawa films.
But what do you think about the scheduling?
Which films to watch
It may at first seem idiotic to ask which films we should watch (it’s a Kurosawa film club after all!), but what I mean is whether we should confine ourselves to just the films that Kurosawa directed, or also take in related movies such as Kurosawa-scripted movies, remakes and movies strongly inspired by Kurosawa. I personally think that it would be best to start with the movies Kurosawa directed, and if we ever manage to get through those, afterwards move on to the other related films.
The toughest question, I think, is in what order we should be watching the movies. The most logical order, I suppose, would be the chronological one, which would mean starting with Sanshiro Sugata and finishing with Madadayo. Yet, I am not sure if that is actually the best order.
This actually partly boils down to the question who we want to have participating in our film club. If it’s just us, the AK.info regulars, then the chronological order would probably be the best option, as it would allow us to go through Kurosawa’s works in the order that they were created.
At the same time, when properly done, a film club like this one could be an excellent way to invite new users to the website. While I don’t really mind that it is currently just us half a dozen regulars (it’s certainly easier to moderate!), I feel that we could learn more if there were more of us here. Since Kurosawa’s early works are the most difficult ones to get hold of, if we start the film club with those, it would be far more difficult to lure in new participants from other boards at the beginning, which is also the best time for advertising the project.
One option would be to proceed thematically, for example starting with the popular (and therefore good for advertising) samurai films. Or, we could just drop the early Kurosawas and start with something like Drunken Angel, and move chronologically forwards from there, leaving the early movies to the end. Or, we could just vote on what everyone would like to discuss, and base the order on the number of votes each film receives. Or would a reversed chronological order make any sense whatsoever (starting with Madadayo and finishing with Sanshiro Sugata)?
In the end, however, I feel that not watching the films through in a chronological order would be a missed opportunity. I have done it once in my life, learnt a lot, and would certainly be interested in doing it again.
What do you guys think?
When to start
Finally, there is the question when to start. As most of you know, I am currently working in Finland and not in Hungary where I live, which means that I am at the moment not in possession of my collection of Kurosawa literature (which I just took back to Finland a month ago). As I would really like to bring in the critical background to each film, because of this the earliest we could start is after I return to Hungary, which is at the end of March. However, since I will possibly be starting at a new work place (in Hungary) at the beginning of April, I think that the earliest I can actually manage to prepare everything is late April or early May.
Does may sound too distant? Too soon? Something else?
Let me know!