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 »
Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2015 by Jacob Hall
Welcome back to Star Wars Bits, your regular dose of Star Wars news that won’t quite fit anywhere else! In today’s edition:
- The great Toshiro Mifune turned down two roles in Star Wars.
- J.J. Abrams wants Ava DuVernay to direct a Star Wars movie.
- Rogue One has started filming in a new location.
- Star Wars and Notorious B.I.G. get mashed up.
- Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan talks about the Han Solo spin-off.
- Daisy Ridley talks about acting in Star Wars and fan reactions.
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