Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kurosawa week

A week of Kurosawa posts have started, hosted by Film Squish. As usual, I've been lazy - but Akira Kurosawa is a director I have written plenty about in the past for various purposes, so I can certainly add my two cents - or dollar fifty - to this endeavor.

He's an odd case - one of the directors I picked up on before I really committed to "cinephilia" as it were. Along with Kubrick and Lynch and Eisenstein, back in the 80s - and my opinion of him eroded a bit when I did really get into film. (Which I wrote about, some, for last spring's Altman blogathon.) But it didn't erode far - I never wavered in my love for Seven Samurai - or High and Low, when I saw that, or Yojimbo and Sanjuro - and when I finally saw it, Stray Dog, which still seems to be an underrated masterpiece - not far off his best films (Seven Samurai and High and Low, with Rashomon in there as well.) I've wavered a lot more about Ikiru and Rashomon and Ran, though they are as likely to count as masterpieces as not.

I find - and this is certainly relevant to my ability to generate prose on the subject - that Kurosawa is, and has always been, one of the most stimulating intellectual directors around. His films are infinitely interesting to think about, to write about, to analyze and play with. For all his powers, though, I am not always convinced by his artistry: his films, even at their (almost) best (not in Seven Samurai or High and Low, anymore), have patches of dullness, slip into stridency, obviousness - he loses control of the material in a lot of his films. But this seldom comes hurts their effectiveness as philosophy - only as art.

As art: I think his strength and weakness is in his synthetic style. He uses everything, all the means at his disposal: long takes, fast cutting, acting, compositions, everything - but he lacks, I think, the sense of timing that the (really really) great directors have. With the very best - the Ozus, Capras, Godards, Mizoguchis, Renoirs of the world - scenes never seem to falter or lag; with Kurosawa, there are quite a few scenes that don't quite work. They feel wrong - too long or too short, repetitive, something like that. He lacked rhythm, sometimes. There are sequences in almost all his films (maybe not at the top) that feel stiff and awkward, too stagy, too static, too posed. He sometimes (and this happens even in High and Low, though I don't remember any in Seven Samurai that don't work) seems too fond of his compositions, careful, meaningful - almost turning them into tableaux. Though one of the interesting effects of this is that the "problem" tends to disappear the closer you look at the films: slow them down, watch them on DVD, jumping around, stopping, slowing, speeding up and so on, and their meaning and function becomes more effective. Again - he rewards analysis more than most of his peers: though perhaps at the expense of the organic flow (as well as some the sheer beauty and surprise) the best of them have.

I'm sorry to seem to dwell on the negative. It isn't negative, quite - it's more of an explanation of why I tend to react to him analytically more than emotionally. He doesn't leave me with a sense of awe - more one of inspiration. And probably an explanation of why I am more likely to write about Ikiru and Rashomon - great films I waver on, and have to convince myself of their greatness, rather than Seven Samurai, which is obvious. In any case, it's late tonight, so I have to leave you with a teaser (and Stanley Cavell is speaking tomorrow, with one of my favorite films of the decade) - but with a week to do it, I should be able to get a couple posts up for this blogathon. Starting with rehashed old papers, edited down to workable lengths - maybe moving beyond that. And of course - I look forward to the wealth of material I hope will appear in this blogathon. Kurosawa was a giant of the film world, and one who has had the great good fortune to be pretty widely available in many formats through the years. I am looking forward to it.

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