For Reel


Ikiru (1952)
January 11, 2016, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Akira Kurosawa
4 Stars
IkiruThe opening shot of Ikiru is an x-ray image of a gastric cancer growing in Kenji Watanabe’s (Takashi Shimura) chest, informing the audience that he has his six months to live. Shortly thereafter, Kurosawa introduces the routine of Watanabe’s office, where a handful of public servants busily work away at nothing at all. It is clear in this contrast that the tragedy of Ikiru is not Watanabe’s impending demise, but that the life behind him has been wasted. Unlike the films of Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa’s sentimental vision doesn’t involve an oppressive sense of “duty” or a need to yield to tradition. Watanabe both neglects his work and his family after the news has come to him, understanding that both have been failures and that he’ll need to seek fulfillment elsewhere. This first act, showing Watanabe’s depression and his failed attempts to get out of it, are aided both by Shimura’s beautifully pathetic performance as well as Kurosawa’s innovative editing techniques that compound past and present in a montage of regret and loss. The second act involves a lengthy wake wherein Watanabe’s co-workers speculate what happened to Watanabe in his final days, and why exactly he was found dead on a park swing. If Kurosawa’s film is undoubtedly sentimental, it does pack some bite in that the men who come to drunkenly empathize with Watanabe are up to the same old routines shortly after his death. The great irony of the film is that it teaches us to live, only most of us are stubborn enough that we’ll continue to act as though we have all the time in the world until we know we don’t anymore.



The Hidden Fortress (1958)
November 28, 2015, 3:46 pm
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Director: Akira Kurosawa
4 Stars
The Hidden FortressAkira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress was the director’s most commercially successful film at the time of its release and also one that critics were late to admire. It is as broadly humorous as any of the director’s films, and in his first dalliance with widescreen TohoScope cinematography, some argued that Kurosawa had Hollywoodized his form after a series of more niche, complex films such as the Maxim Gorky adaptation The Lower Depths. And yet the incongruity of Kurosawa’s most earthbound film giving way to one of his grandest epics is familiar of The Hidden Fortress itself, which is a film brilliantly defined by its contradictions. The first image involves a pair of greedy peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) who bicker as they traverse a vast, seemingly barren landscape until a dead man falls into frame and his pursuers follow suit. Similarly, the widescreen cinematography is as interested in showing the distances between characters (such as the scenes in which Toshirô Mifune stalks the peasants) as it is in showing crowds (as in the staircase sequence). The most famous contradiction, of course, is that the film is told from the point-of-view of lowly, predatory peasants, despite involving the larger-than-life heroics of a princess (Misa Uehara) and her escort (Mifune). Kurosawa’s games in constantly challenging his audience’s expectations makes The Hidden Fortress not his most cynical and democratized film, but rather his most playful.