Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune were twelve films deep in their legendary collaboration when they made Yojimbo, a straightforward samurai movie that somehow became an unqualified masterpiece with a far-reaching influence on Western cinema that continues to this day. The director and actor had put themselves and Japan on the world map of movies in 1951 when they brought Rashomon to the Venice Film Festival. In 1954 — the same year their studio, Toho, released the first Godzilla — they had shown ronin fighting with honor in the seminal Seven Samurai. Hollywood remade that film in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven while Kurosawa and Mifune ushered in the new decade with a film-noir twist on Hamlet called The Bad Sleep Well.
It wasn’t their first Shakespeare adaptation and it isn’t their most famous but its title still lands like a pronouncement of theme in the middle of a filmography where the grotesqueries of human existence are a source of ongoing fascination. Who knew that on the other side of that half-destroyed Rashomon gate, there was a town straight out of a cowboy flick, where the architecture was still Japanese (torii and tile kawara roofs) but where corruption now prospered so wildly that a hero could only meet it with amoral good cheer? On April 25, 1961, Yojimbo strolled in: abandoning all pretense of honor in favor of money, rice, sake, and swordsmanship.
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(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: High and Low
Where You Can Stream It: The Criterion Channel
The Pitch: After making two back-to-back samurai classics, Yojimbo and Sanjuro, director Akira Kurosawa switched into contemporary mode to make High and Low (literal translation: Heaven and Hell), an urban thriller centering on an executive who faces a moral choice. On the cusp of orchestrating a shrewd and righteous corporate takeover, the executive’s chauffeur’s son is kidnapped and ransomed for 30 million yen. Should the exec pay the money – everything he’s saved and has spent his entire life working for – or refuse the kidnapper and go through with his takeover?
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Kurosawa’s movie is largely about income inequality, and that subject is so evergreen that the movie still feels incredibly vital even though it first premiered in 1963. (In fact, it would work wonderfully as a double feature with Bong Joon-ho’s recent Best Picture winner Parasite, which is now streaming on Hulu.) In addition to its explorations of wealth and poverty and the delicious moral quandaries it puts its characters through, High and Low is also a propulsive detective procedural which devotes a significant portion of its runtime to seeing characters use their wits to track the kidnapper. Considering how ingrained procedural tropes have become in popular culture, this film feels incredibly modern when viewed for the first time. Read More »
The 92nd Academy Awards are almost upon us, and if there’s one certainty going into Oscar night, it’s that some worthy talent in some category will be overlooked in favor of a lesser talent. No nominee or winner is undeserving of recognition, but snubs are also an essential part of Oscar history and directors are not immune to them. In fact, some of the greatest directors of all time have gone their whole career without receiving a proper Best Director Oscar.
Film is fundamentally a collaborative medium, and we’re only a little over a month removed from a decade where the movie industry shifted to a more producer-controlled landscape in which IP-friendly tentpoles seemed to occupy all the best real estate. Yet the best directors, the ones with the most singular voice or vision, do tend to bolster the case for auteur theory, whereby a director can be considered a film’s primary author. With that in mind, here’s a roughly chronological look at ten great film authors eluded by the golden statuette for Best Director. With each name on this list, we’ll be seeking to answer three questions: who did they lose to (if they were ever nominated), what film or films should they have won for, and why, oh, why didn’t they ever win?
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A Rashomon TV show is in the works at Amblin Entertainment, proving once again that no property, not even an acclaimed classic, is safe. Read more about the new adaptation of director Akira Kurosawa‘s 1950 masterpiece below, which is being described as a “dramatic mystery thriller series.” Read More »
FilmStruck, one of the best streaming services around, has a new set of films with a running theme – cops undercover. In honor of the lineup, we’re running an exclusive FilmStruck video featuring Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent discussing the life of a undercover cop and the films portraying such a dangerous gig.
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(Welcome to Now Stream This, a column dedicated to the best movies streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and every other streaming service out there.)
Summer is over. Good riddance, I say! Bring on chilly weather, heavy jackets and pumpkins as far as the eye can see. I’m talking thousands of pumpkins here, people. As the warm weather subsides and the cooler weather prevails, it’s time to once again shun the outdoors, bundle up with your blankets and stream some movies. In this edition of Now Stream This, we have a classic from Akira Kurosawa, a spy thriller for people who have no interest in seeing the new Kingsman movie, Al Pacino hamming up, the best horror-comedy in film history, and more! Let’s get streaming
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(The Morning Watch is a recurring feature that highlights a handful of noteworthy videos from around the web. They could be video essays, fanmade productions, featurettes, short films, hilarious sketches, or just anything that has to do with our favorite movies and TV shows.)
In this edition, a video essay takes a look at the seamless, invisible visual effects in the films of David Fincher. Plus, find out what happened when master filmmakers Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki met in 1993, and witness every single “That’s what she said” joke across all nine seasons of NBC’s The Office. Read More »
A couple weeks back, I was lucky to jump on the phone with Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and Sony studio head turned producer Amy Pascal to talk about their new film Spider-Man: Homecoming. I ask the duo about the lessons they learned from the last Amazing Spider-Man franchise failure, the influence of Back to the Future, was the Trump campaign an influence on the film’s villain, why they watched an Akira Kurosawa movie in prep for the film, and we discuss what the end credits scene means. All this and more. Read the full Spider-Man: Homecoming Interview, after the jump.
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Cool Posts From Around the Web:
With Star Wars: A New Hope celebrating the 40th anniversary of its theatrical release this year, this is as good a time as any to dig into the film’s history.
Knowledgable film lovers often cite Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress as a key influence on the young George Lucas, as the plot of that film heavily informs the original Star Wars. In it, two squabbling peasants become involved in the rescue of a princess, similar to how C-3PO and R2-D2 would get caught up in the mission to free Leia and deliver the Death Star plans.
As Wookiepedia shows, the first script treatment for Star Wars — a 1973 story synopsis that Lucas shopped around Hollywood — hews even closer in plot to The Hidden Fortress, with Lucas having straight-up plagiarized a description of that movie from a book called The Films of Akira Kurosawa by the late film historian and Japanophile Donald Richie.
But the Japanese roots of Star Wars run deeper than one artist stealing/borrowing from another (as all artists do, to the degree that they are influenced by one another). Let’s explore some of those influences: some well-known, others less perhaps so.
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We’ve been covering Kevin Tong‘s art for seven years now. You might remember his work on Gallery1988’s Lost show, or his amazing R2-D2 deconstructed poster for Mondo, his stunning Iron Giant print for MMM, his Breaking Bad infographic print which could be seen on the wall in Talking Bad, or more recently his work on Warcraft and Rocketeer. Hostly, there is just too much great artwork to mention. Our coverage of his pop culture work alone spans 4 pages worth of posts.
We’ve excited to exclusively premiere Kevin Tong’s latest poster print for Akira Kurosawa‘s RAN. See Kevin Tong’s RAN print, a variant, and learn where you can find this beauty, after the jump.
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