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Hommage To Akira Kurosawa

 

On any poll where the greatest directors who ever lived is compiled, the name of Japansese director Akira Kurosawa is certain to show up in the top three slots. More loved outside of his homeland (as are many film artists) and acknowledged by film scholars as a true visual artist, the oeuvre of this cinematic giant is the focus of a 4-week festival to be held at the Film Forum, New York's great arthouse treasure.

The 28-film festival celebrating the centennial of director Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) will run from Wednesday, January 6 through Thursday, February 4. The festival opens with his early Film Noir tour de force Stray Dog, starring Toshiro Mifune as a cop searching for his stolen service revolver through a sweltering post-war Tokyo.

The festival, programmed by Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s Repertory Program Director, includes all of the director’s other legendary masterworks – Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Rashomon, Ikiru, High and Low, Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Ran, etc. – along with his earliest films from the 1940s and lesser-known classics like The Idiot, The Bad Sleep Well, Scandal, and I Live in Fear.

Born March 22, 1910 in Tokyo, Kurosawa’s first interest was painting but was drawn to movies through his older brother, who worked as a benshi, or narrator of silent films. In 1936, Kurosawa answered a newspaper ad looking for apprentice film directors at P.C.L. (later to become Toho Studios). Hired as director Kajiro Yamamoto’s assistant, he apprenticed for seven years before given the chance to direct his first film, Sanshiro Sugata. Only five years later, he’d make Drunken Angel, the movie that solidified his critical reputation in Japan and first teamed him with actor Toshiro Mifune, playing a TB-infected gangster. It was the beginning of the most fruitful director-actor collaboration in film history. His collaboration with the actor climaxed with one of the great treasures of world cinema, Seven Samurai

Kurosawa’s reputation exploded in 1950 with Rashomon. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and a Best Foreign Film Oscar, it introduced the world to Japanese cinema and vaulted its director to international prominence. Kurosawa would eventually collaborate with Mifune on a total of 16 films, including Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, the movie that inspired Star Wars; The Idiot, Dostoyevsky’s novel transposed to Japan; I Live in Fear, with 35-year-old Mifune playing a 70-year-old factory owner obsessed by the atomic bomb; the tense thriller High and Low, based on a pulp novel by the American Ed McBain; The Bad Sleep Well, an indictment of corporate corruption, with Mifune as a pencil-pushing executive secretary; and Yojimbo (and its sequel, Sanjuro).

The Festival also includes the master's latter films including: Dodes’Ka-den, his first color film, a collection of tales about poor people living in a picturesque garbage dump; Dersu Uzala, a work of visual grandeur unprecedented even in the director’s own oeuvre; Kagemusha, a tale of loyalty and illusion; and Ran, his last great epic (which will have a post-festival run of a week at the theater).

For those discovering the films for the first time or having a chance to see great classics and obscure hard-to-find films, this is a revelatory experience and a mid-winter treat.

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor

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The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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