Samurai films...

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Kazu
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Samurai films...

Post by Kazu » Fri Dec 12, 2003 3:13 am

I just saw The Last Samurai, and while I did enjoy it, I feel a little guilty for feeling this way. So, to remedy this, I have decided to talk about another film before I discuss it, a film I believe this one does fairly well in paying tribute.

The Seven Samurai is one of the many masterworks by the legendary Akira Kurosawa. Often considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, The Seven Samurai is a perfect example of a truly epic film. It is epic partly because it never tries to be.

What begins as the story of a band of ronin taking the impossible task of defending a peasant village against invading marauders, becomes an incredibly involving morality play on the themes of honor and trust. From Kikuchiyo the fool working to prove himself to be a samurai despite his peasant background, to the real samurai putting themselves in harm's way for nothing more than peasants' gruel, the film plays on the intimate relationship between these honor-bound warriors and the practical, ever-changing world that swirls around them. As the story moves on, the samurai work to gain the trust and respect of the villagers, who they must train to fight, while at the same time assuaging the villagers' fear of them and their kind. The film never leaves this push and pull of the samurai's tumultuous relationship with the real world, all the while building up an incredibly entertaining action-melodrama. I don't want to spoil the end for those that haven't seen The Seven Samurai yet, but I will say that it leaves on just the right note, a punctuation to the question these men have been asking all along.

Now, back to The Last Samurai...

I loved many aspects of this film, but most of these involved the technical aspects of the filmmaking process. I do have to say that the film is a noble effort, which I believe rests heavily on the shoulders of the sure-handed director, Edward Zwick. This film is very well-made, in structure and execution. Perhaps its only fault then, is that it tries too hard. Seven Samurai is an epic that never tries to be. The Last Samurai tries to be the epic that its predecessor became.

Regardless, it is an entertaining ride, and it has pretty much everything you can possibly ask for from a popcorn movie. Strong emotional themes, a love story, exhilarating action sequences, and some solid performances from most of the leads (Ken Watanabe is incredible). Kurosawa had often said that The Seven Samurai was a film that was meant to entertain and delight, so I'll presume its strong themes and emotional resonance after all these years was a side effect. In spirit then, The Last Samurai works on many of the same principles, but I have a feeling we won't be remembering this one quite the same way as the former. In short, go see it. Have fun. Despite getting a little too much of Tom Cruise's furrowed brow and intense staring, the film is definitely worth the price of admission.

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Post by Kean » Fri Dec 12, 2003 11:04 am

I absolutely love Seven Samurai. It was one of the main reasons why I bought a DVD player -- my Criterion laserdisc (hah, remember those things?) was getting worn from repeated viewings. There are just so many layers to Toshiro Mifune's acting, and it's sometimes impossible for me to take my eyes off him in any particular scene.

For me, Rashomon is also one of my favourite Kurosawa samurai films. The structure of the plot is just so well crafted, the subtle shifts in acting that Mifune and Kyo show throughout the film, and on and on and on... I should probably stop soon, because I tend to get all gushy when I think about these two films.

Rashomon also generated one of the best obscure jokes in the Simpsons:
Marge: But you liked Rashomon!
Homer: That's not how I remember it.
I still have yet to see The Last Samurai for fear of, well, suckiness.

On a somewhat (un)related note, I highly recommend giving The Last Samurai (by Helen Dewitt) a read. It's about a single mother trying to raise her son, who happens to be a genius (he learns to read Homer in its original Greek text at age 4). Throughout the book, she spends endless hours with her son watching and analyzing Seven Samurai -- on the whole, it's a fun read, and it gave me a few different ways of looking at a lot of things, including Seven Samurai (whether real or imagined -- like why the English subtitles never used the line "don't fuck with me you fucking fuck.")

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Post by Stick » Fri Dec 12, 2003 11:31 am

I have only 2 Akira Kurosawa movies.

1.)The Seven Samurai
2.)Ran

Both are excellent. :)

and to follow Kean's off-topicness.. i recommend "Cloud of Sparrows" .. i forgot the author's name. oops. :oops:

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Post by neil » Sat Dec 13, 2003 10:36 am

Well I have pretty fond memories of Seven Samurai as well--that pretty much cracked it wide open for me, leading me to not only binge on about 19 Kurosawa films, but to also seek out the film cultures of Japan and other countries, and to eventually cultivate a deep love of film overall. It's no big surprise that it gets referenced in movies so often.

I had a limited appreciation for The Last Samurai as well... The first half hour or so is pretty much stunning in its realism and cinematography, and Cruise gets a pretty wonderful introductory scene. I thought it was interesting how the filmmakers remind us of Vietnam, both in Cruise's character's suicidal guilt over massacring innocent villagers, and the commander's hubris in believing he can overcome savage warriors with superior technology. The movie quickly becomes ridiculous though, with the main character going through detox, learning Japanese, becoming a Samurai master, and wooing the family of a man he killed over the course of a few months. Not only do we start to get fed some pretty awful plot cliches, but the direction starts repeating itself as well--the opening panning shot where we view a character through a doorway is repeated like 3 or 4 times for no reason. Then we get a surprise ninja attack, because ninjas are cool. The final act of the movie is completely unbelievable, and the ending is just sensless... I've noticed that even critics who recommend the movie pretty much can't stand the ending. The film concludes that the wholesale slaughter of war is redeemed by heroic acts and that the good guys were benevolent populists all along. I kept squirming in my seat to see something REAL--because that's what Cruise's first scene promises. The patrons come to his little sideshow for a taste of war, and he gives it to them by firing a gun at them. I felt like the rest of the movie was just an apology.

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Post by Kazu » Sat Dec 13, 2003 5:43 pm

You know, what got me into Kurosawa films was a short clip from Throne of Blood, a loose adaptation of MacBeth. I was on my way out of the house when the snippet of film was shown on Bravo, and I remember having to tear myself away from the television in order to get to where I was going on time. I didn't catch exactly what film I was watching, but I knew it was a samurai film featuring Toshiro Mifune. From there I made the connection to Kurosawa's films, and so I began my search to find the film that haunted me, beginning with Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Kagemusha. Soon enough, I was making regular trips to the video store to watch as many Kurosawa films as I could possibly get my hands on. My favorite, however, is not a samurai film, but his film Dreams, a series of short vignettes. This film contains some of the most beautiful and haunting moments I have ever seen, and features Martin Scorsese as Van Gogh!

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Good flick, not perfect but niiice

Post by Johnny Neat » Sun Jan 11, 2004 3:22 am

Kurosawa is a great that greats look up to. A true artist of film. Toshiro Mifune was a great actor. He was just so over powering on screen. In my mind he was the Clint Eastwood cowboy for the east. Personality to spare. I love anyting Samurai. From Akira movies to others like The Lone Wolf and Cub series, The Blind Samurai Zatoichi, Yojimbo (Mifune showing he should have been Lone Wolf), to comics like Lone Wolf and Cub (again) and its reincarnation Lone Wolf 2100, Blade of the Immortal, Vagabond, and Usagi Yojimbo. I went and saw Last Samurai hoping to not see a cheap high budget take on Samurai themes but the opposite. What I got was the oppsite thank you lord, but it was a high budget hollywood Samurai themed flick trying to be an epic. Still it should be mentioned that it's wearing its heart on its sleeve. They were very respectful of what they were doing I think. When ever hollywood creeped onto the screen, like Tom taking out three or was it four men in a darkened street alone, I was annoyed. For the record though, I should have been angry at Tom's character taking what he took when he was captured, but I wasn't, and it worked. Taking out guys with a sword as he did alone, was not. Anyhow over all I will give props where props are due. And I give 'em to everyone on this production for trying their best to be honest to their roles and to the themes in the movie. I didn't expect less from a Tom Cruise production and a movie directed by Edward Zwick of Glory (and one of my all time favorite movies) Legends of the Fall fame. If anyone could film a battle and set the stage for a grand feel. Zwick was the man for it.

P.s. Ken Watanabe played a Mifune type role to a tee.
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Post by Chevalier » Sun Jan 11, 2004 12:03 pm

The thing about Kurosawa that always struck me as particularly unique, is his success internationally. First film of Kurosawa's that I saw was 'Derzu Uzula', a Soviet-Japanese production; it was being shown at a rundown theater in Abkhazia. I also found a print of the film in Uzbekistan. I saw 7 Samurai in USSR (at the time). 'Ran' in Ireland. True, some of these showing were nearly empty, but still. Recently, I saw Yojimbo and Rashomon at the Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Afterwards, they screened 'The Sea is watching', a new film based on the Kurosawa screenplay. It might seem a strange choice, but my favorite of Kurosawa's films is High and Low. Having made that choice, I confess that I also much prefer Ozu over Kurosawa.

As far as Samurai films go, I can’t remember all the ones that I’ve seen. So much of it is very conventional and some downright bad. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Inagaki’s Musashi trilogy as being pretty good and kind of obscure (I guess to Western audience anyway) to recommend. In this respect the genre is identical to Westerns, of which I’m a huge fan. If Kurosawa is John Ford, from what I know of both, they shared a few things in common; then, who’s Peckinpah? Anyone know of a decent cocaine-induced Samurai film? It had to have been released between 1960-79.

One recent film I recall seeing is ‘Versus’, despite my worry that, after all, I was about to see a low-budget sword flick with Zombies distributed by Media blasters, it didn’t turn out particularly bad.

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Post by Chevalier » Sun Jan 11, 2004 12:08 pm

Btw, Mifune is in that Samurai trilogy. He's a pretty good actor, though I've read he was such a pain on the set and was so full of himself as to be unbearable. Speaking of acting, I was watching 'King of Comedy' (Stephen Chow) the other day and he referred several times to Stanislavsky. That just *made* the film for me, that and the poster of Jeremy Irons he had up on the wall.

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Samurai Trilogy rocks

Post by Johnny Neat » Mon Jan 12, 2004 11:19 am

Mifune and Inagaki's's Samurai Trilogy of Musashi Miyamoto's life rocks so hard. It was awesome. I never wanted it to end. Now as for Akira, he was just a talented man that could see the grander picture. Mifune was full of himself, but what a presence. His acting was just downright powerful.
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Post by neil » Mon Jan 12, 2004 1:06 pm

Chevalier wrote: Speaking of acting, I was watching 'King of Comedy' (Stephen Chow) the other day and he referred several times to Stanislavsky. That just *made* the film for me, that and the poster of Jeremy Irons he had up on the wall.
Haha, excellent movie. The scene where he stomps the guys foot and holds up a mirror to show him how to act convincingly in pain is hilarious! I think he quotes Stanislavsky there too.
Chevalier wrote:Having made that choice, I confess that I also much prefer Ozu over Kurosawa.
I'm with you there, Chevalier (as is probably anyone who's seen an Ozu film). Ozu considered making a samurai film at one point, I think that would be pretty interesting to see... Anyway, I recommend you check out Kurosawa's final film Madadayo if you haven't seen it yet; it has a strong Ozu influence I think.

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I have to check out Ozu now

Post by Johnny Neat » Mon Jan 12, 2004 5:31 pm

Ozu sounds like he could give Akira a run for his money. I don't like that, but I have to see his work for myself now.
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Post by Coheteboy » Sun May 09, 2004 11:44 pm

I finally got around to renting The Last Samurai and I think if I had to lean with one viewpoint, it would be Kazu's. I thought this movie was breathtaking nearly every step of the way.

Cinematography... wow. Regardless of how you liked it, this film is a marvel to look at. It's filled with great performances and above all else, a sense of honor. I'm really RELIEVED this movie wasn't another story where whitey goes to another land and implants his knowledge to them and hooks up with the attractive girl. That's partially what kept me from seeing it in the theaters. But thankfully, the film was so much more than that.

I love this movie... and I'm not a big Tom Cruise fan either.

Grade: 9.5/10

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Re: I have to check out Ozu now

Post by Kazu » Mon May 10, 2004 2:12 pm

Johnny Mercury wrote:Ozu sounds like he could give Akira a run for his money. I don't like that, but I have to see his work for myself now.
Hehe. It's hard for me to imagine Ozu making anyone run, or himself for that matter. I just imagine through his films that he was a quiet old Japanese man that quietly drank copious amounts of beer while writing all day. Quietly. :D
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Re: I have to check out Ozu now

Post by SonOfaRich » Mon May 10, 2004 2:49 pm

Kazu wrote:
Johnny Mercury wrote:Ozu sounds like he could give Akira a run for his money. I don't like that, but I have to see his work for myself now.
Hehe. It's hard for me to imagine Ozu making anyone run, or himself for that matter. I just imagine through his films that he was a quiet old Japanese man that quietly drank copious amounts of beer while writing all day. Quietly. :D
Not even beer. Probably just warm tea.

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Post by ChadTHX1138 » Mon May 10, 2004 5:08 pm

Love Mifune and the Seven Samurai and will shamefully admit liking the magnificent seven...(dont know if its still any good now)

Yojimbo...and Hidden Fortress,which Lucas lifted the first part of Star Wars from... and I do Like Last Samurai...

The Boxed Set of the Samurai Trilogy is supposed to have just come out.
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