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Akira Kurosawa on TCM: 'Seven Samurai' & 'Rashomon'

Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai
Toshiro Mifune (second from right) in Seven Samurai

Akira Kurosawa would have turned 100 today. In celebration of his centenary, Turner Classic Movies is showing 26 of the director's films throughout the month of March.

Today's Kurosawa series began early – at 3 a.m. Pacific Time – with a presentation of Sanshiro Sugata, the director's earliest effort. Several little-known and little-seen early Kurosawas later (I hope everyone had their DVD recorders running all morning and afternoon), this evening TCM is showing five of his most acclaimed works: Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961), and Sanjuro (1962), all four starring Toshiro Mifune, plus Dodes 'Ka-Den (1970).

Winner of an Honorary Oscar in 1951 as the Best Foreign Language Film released in the United States, Rashomon is an intriguing melodrama about the elusive quality of truth. A man is killed; his widow claims she has been raped; four people tell a different story about what happened: the widow (brilliantly played by Machiko Kyo), the alleged murderer/rapist (Mifune), a witness (Takashi Shimura), and, by way of a medium, the dead man himself (Masayuki Mori). None of the stories are quite the same.

Seven Samurai, perhaps Kurosawa's most revered work, is considered by many one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. The 207-minute epic follows the seven men of the title, who fight to protect a Japanese village from ruthless bandits.

I've never warmed up to Yojimbo, which stars Toshiro Mifune as a samurai who stirs up a fight between two local warring factions, but Sanjuro, generally relegated to the Greatest Movies Ever sidelines, is probably my favorite Kurosawa film.

Unlike many other samurai movies, the acting is restrained (Mifune is the star as well), and there's a lightness to the proceedings – a clever fight against corrupt authority figures – that is absent from most of Kurosawa's usually pretty heavy fare.

I haven't watched Dodes 'Ka-Den, yet. This cinematic social commentary about Tokyo slum dwellers was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1971.

Schedule and film information from the TCM website. Pacific Time.

5:00pm Rashomon (1950)
In medieval Japan, four people offer conflicting accounts of a rape and murder.
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Takashi Shimura, Masayuki Mori Dir: Akira Kurosawa BW-88 mins

6:30pm Seven Samurai (1954)
Japanese villagers hire a team of traveling samurai to defend them against a bandit attack.
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Kuninori Kodo, Yoshio Inaba Dir: Akira Kurosawa BW-207 mins

10:00pm Yojimbo (1961)
A samurai-for-hire sets the warring factions of a Japanese town against each other.
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Eijiro Tono, Seizaburo Kawazu, Isuzu Yamada Dir: Akira Kurosawa BW-111 mins [Letterbox]

12:00am Sanjuro (1962)
A wandering samurai recruits younger fighters to help him battle corruption.
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Takashi Shimura, Yuzo Kayama Dir: Akira Kurosawa BW-96 mins

1:45am Dodes 'Ka-Den (1970)
Slum dwellers in Tokyo fight to survive while dreaming of better lives.
Cast: Hiroshi Akutagawa, Michiko Araki, Junzaburo Ban, Jerry Fujio Dir: Akira Kurosawa C-140 mins

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