|The Seven Samurai|
I had never seen an Akira Kurosawa movie until about fifteen years ago when I decided to finally pick up a copy of The Seven Samurai from the Criterion Collection. And after my viewing, I have to admit I was blown away. It's definitely on the short list of greatest films of all-time by any definition.
It's the story of seven samurai warriors hired by villagers to save their village from the onslaught of oncoming bandits. It's great as an adventure film, a philosophical treatise of good vs. evil, right and wrong and there are so many stories within the film's many characters, that one can watch it many times and always get something new out of it. I liked it watching it for the third or fourth time this time out and hope not to wait so long before watching it again.
The Seven Samurai was remade in America as The Magnificent Seven, but that film pales when put up against the original in my opinion.
After that first time I watched The Seven Samurai, I felt compelled to watch other Kurosawa movies and thought Rashomon was a good place to continue. Rashomon is a film whose very title has become a part of our language when a situation arises that involves competing and contradictory points of view. The presentation of this drama with its four (maybe five) stories really is food for thought about how we perceive things. If anyone asks me where to start with Kurosawa movies, I'd probably recommend Rashomon first before jumping into The Seven Samurai.
Ikiru is a story that seems to look better the older you get. The plot involves a by-the-book office manager who finds out he has only a few months to live and decides to do something meaningful with his life. It doesn't sound all that exciting by the description, but it is in an emotionally charged and inspirational film if you are in the right mood for it. The unusual storytelling order with the last half of the movie being told in flashback is another effective touch.
I've watched many other Kurosawa films doing his great period between the late 40's and mid 60's, including: Druken Angel, The Idiot (based on the Dostoevsky story), Throne of Blood (A variation of Macbeth), The Hidden Fortress (One of the inspirations for Star Wars), The Bad Sleep Well (which contains elements of Hamlet), High and Low (a very effective crime story), The Lower Depths (based on Maxim Gorky's story), Yojimbo (Samurai film remade by Sergio Leone as A Fistful of Dollars), Sanjuro (the sequel to Yojimbo) and Red Beard.
This is quite an impressive list of films and compares to the prominent works of Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman that they made during roughly the same time period.
It's also interesting to see Kurosawa's acting stock company in all of these films, all starring Toshiro Mifune (With the exception of Ikiru.)
Completing the movies from the Kurosawa 1001 list, Dersu Uzala is a film Kurosawa made in 1975 in Russia and is about an early 20th century tribesman who becomes a frequent guide over time for a band on explorers. There is a lot of peril that the tribesman has to find to get the guys out of and they come to respect and revere him over time. The saddest moment in the film is towards the end when the tribesman tries to live in the city, but can't adjust to these strange people that live "in a box." This is a good film, but I can't say I liked it as much as some of the director's classics from the 50's and 60's.
I've already seen Kurosawa's Ran, and this 1985 Samurai version of King Lear seems to be the one film by consensus of his later films that rate as highly as his older classics.