Akira Kurosawa Films: From 'Seven Samurai' to 'Kagemusha'

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

The Academy had its John Hughes tribute on Sunday. Tonight, Turner Classic Movies is paying tribute to someone who may not be a household name in the United States, but who merits recognition as well. The guy, after all, made quite a few films that won awards here and there even though they were mostly in black and white, and didn't star Rob Lowe, Macaulay Culkin, or Demi Moore. Does Rashomon ring a bell? Seven Samurai? Yojimbo? Ran? Kagemusha? Dersu Uzala?

Akira Kurosawa will be honored tonight on TCM. Four of the director's films will be shown, including the little-known Hakuchi, starring a young Toshiro Mifune in this tale inspired by Dostoyevsky's The Idiot.

The other three Kurosawa efforts are Ikiru, in which a city worker tries to discover life's meaning when he finds out he's dying of cancer; Throne of Blood, based on Shakespeare's Macbeth and once again starring Mifune; and the action-adventure The Hidden Fortress. Not to be missed.

The info below is from the Turner Classic Movies website. Pacific Time.

5:00pm Ikiru (1952)
A dying man devotes his last months to building a children's playground.
Cast: Takashi Shimura, Nobuo Kaneko, Kyoko Seki, Makoto Koburi Dir: Akira Kurosawa BW-143 mins

7:30pm Throne of Blood (1957)
Spurred by his wife and a witch's prediction, a samurai murders his lord to steal the throne.
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki Dir: Akira Kurosawa BW-109 mins

9:30pm Hidden Fortress, The (1958)
In medieval Japan, a samurai fights to sav a feudal lord's daughter from bandits.
Cast: Minoru Chiaki, Susumu Fujita, Kamatari Fujiwara, Toshiko Higuchi Dir: Akira Kurosawa BW-139 mins

12:00am Hakuchi (1951)
A former mental patient's romantic involvements lead to tragedy.
Cast: Masayuki Mori, Toshiro Mifune, Setsuko Hara, Takashi Shimura Dir: Akira Kurosawa BW-166 mins

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

March 23: 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

March 30: Three Academy Award-nominated/-winning films by Akira Kurosawa will be shown tonight on Turner Classic Movies: Dersu Uzala (1975), Kagemusha (1980), and Ran (1985).

Winner of the 1975 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, the poetic Dersu Uzala chronicles the difficulties encountered by a Siberian hunter (Maksim Munzuk) who's brought to civilization by a Russian explorer whose life the hunter had saved. Based on a real-life story, Dersu Uzala was Kurosawa's first film following his suicide attempt in the early '70s.

In Kagemusha, a thief impersonates a powerful – but deceased – warlord. Kagemusha was nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Foreign Language Film Oscars. Additionally, Kurosawa's epic shared the Palme d'Or with Bob Fosse's All That Jazz.

Ran is a variation on the King Lear theme, as the sons of an aging lord compete for positions of power. Ran earned Emi Wada an Oscar for Best Costume Design. The film was also nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Director.

That was Kurosawa's first Academy Award nomination – a major upset, for Steven Spielberg had been a shoo-in for The Color Purple.

Ran couldn't have been nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category because the Japanese committee submitted another movie. And that's the Academy's loss.

Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:

5:00pm Dersu Uzala (1975)
A Russian explorer brings the Asiatic hunter who saved his life back to civilization.
Cast: Maksim Munzuk, Yuriy Solomin, M Bichkov, V Khrulev Dir: Akira Kurosawa C-141 min, TV-PG [Letterbox]

7:30pm Kagemusha (1980)
Japanese clansmen force a poor thief to impersonate their dead warlord.
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kenichi Hagiwara, Kota Yui Dir: Akira Kurosawa C-181 min, TV-PG [Letterbox]

10:45pm Ran (1985)
An aging lord's decision to retire brings out the worst in his sons.
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu Dir: Akira Kurosawa C-163 mins

Akira Kurosawa Films: From 'Seven Samurai' to 'Kagemusha' © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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