Postwar Kurosawa - Eclipse Series 7
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The most popular Japanese moviemaker of all time, Akira Kurosawa began his career by delving into the state of his nation immediately following World War II, with visual poetry and direct emotion. Amid Japan's economic collapse, moral waywardness, and American occupation, Kurosawa managed to find humor and redemption existing alongside despair and anxiety. In these five films, which range from the whimsically Capraesque to the icily Dostoyevskian, from political epics to courtroom potboilers, Kurosawa established both the artistic range and social acuity that would inform his entire career.
Five-disc set includes:
No Regrets For Our Youth (1946) 110 min.
Yukie (a brilliant Setsuko Hara), the spoiled bourgeois daughter of a university professor, begins a soul-searching journey that takes her from the elegance of Kyoto to the peasant farms of impoverished rural Japan, the rise and fall of ultranationalism corresponding with her own moral awakening.
One Wonderful Sunday (1947) 109 min.
Yuzo and Masako, a middle-class couple suffering from economic postwar decline, meet on Sunday in Tokyo with only thirty-five yen to spend. Kurosawa alternates sadness and joy in his depiction of these young lovers adjusting to their nation's new financial realities.
Scandal (1950) 105 min.
In Kurosawa's look at the abuse of freedom of speech, painter Ichiro (Toshiro Mifune) and popular singer Miyako (Yoshiko Yamaguchi) are photographed together by a paparazzo at a retreat, and are wrongly accused by tabloid journalists of having an affair. Ichiro sues for libel, but his desperate, crooked lawyer Hiruta (Takashi Shimura), playing both sides, doesn't come to his defense.
The Idiot (1951) 166 min.
In Kurosawa's adaptation and update of Dostoyevsky's classic novel, the childlike ex-POW Kinji (Masayuki Mori) returns home after the war only to become trapped in an existential love quadrangle. Toshiro Mifune and Setsuko Hara also contribute haunting performances in this tale of otherworldly purity.
I Live in Fear (a.k.a. Record of a Living Being) (1955) 103 min.
In Kurosawa's evocation of nuclear-age anxieties, Toshiro Mifune transforms himself into a wizened Tokyo patriarch so paralyzed by fear of the atomic bomb that he alienates his entire extended family and recedes from society.
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In my opinion, the two best movies in the set are "No Regrets for our Youth" and "One Wonderful Sunday". These are near the quality, overall, of later works of the Master. "No Regrets..." tells of the idealism of young Japanese at the time the War was becoming reality. One person emerges from all the idealism and bravado as someone who walked the walk and talked the talk. In viewing this person's metamorphisis from observer to participant we see the early ability of the young director in using film to enhance a statement. In "One Wonderful Sunday" we get to observe young people trying to discover themselves in the midst of the destruction and corruption of Post-War Japan. Both of these films have a strong impact.
Two movies; "Scandal" and "I Live in Fear" come across as a bit excessive for the statement that is intended. This may be due to the times in which the films were made ("I Live in Fear" tells of a successful businessman who wants to escape the threat of atomic war). Kurosawa is usually more subtle in his statements which led me to be a bit less impressed with the extremeness of these two films.
The final film, "The Idiot" is an adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novel. It is a bit long but it is still impressive as the story of how innocence eventually gets corrupted by the passions of the world around us. It come across more as a theater production captures on film.
Until this set came out, I was looking at trying to find rare VHS copies of the same movies. This set was well worth the price. Overall, I liked it better than my set of early Hitchcock movies.
The other reviewers have compared the film to King Lear - and yes there is the similar theme of an aging father being humiliated and disrespected by his children. While the children definitely are selfish, there are other scenes where the father strikes his children or dismisses them out of hand - abuse goes down the generations.
But this film is also about that "terrible weapon" - the atomic bomb. Akira Kurosawa was one of a group of Japanese directors who was horrified by the dropping of atomic weapons in his country and was willing to make this a central theme of a movie during the 1950's. The film was made in the shadow of hydrogen bomb tests near the Bikini Atoll, whose radioactive cloud harmed Japanese fisherman. [In the latter part of his life, he returned to that theme in "Rhapsody in August."] The bomb reaches deep into Japanese psychology. Even "Godzilla" is a metaphor for the horror of radioactivity.
Going back to the film, the character which Mifune plays is a shrewd businessman who has always been in control. But somehow he develops an uncontrollable fear that nuclear war is coming and that his family must immediately move to South America to avoid it. Kurosawa is sensitive to the fact that such a fear would be real in Japan, although the character takes this fear to irrational heights. The ending is not expected - very powerful.
I consider this Kurosawa's most tragic and depressing film...the ending is heart-wrenching. Toshiro Mifune is magnetic in every scene but in a way very unlike the best known roles of his career. Here he is a madman...or is he? The filmmaker - in all honesty - poses "that" question.
I believe that this film is roundly critical of the West - its harsh jazz, its "other" tradition, and (of course) its decision to drop the bomb. As in "Drunken Angel", the director is very careful in his use of music, even street noise, to show urban Japan in a state of transition...possibly losing its way. (A son's open disrepect of his father might have been unthinkable 50 years before.)
Those looking for an unseen masterpiece will find a treasure in "I Live in Fear." I think viewers will also reappraise Toshiro Mifune as one of the greatest actors of the twentieth century. Even though Kurosawa's epic "Ran" is a breathtaking color masterwork...as a "Lear" figure, Mifune outshines the key performance of Tatsuya Nakadai in the better known Kurosawa film.
"I Live in Fear" and (of course) "No Regrets for Our Youth" make this collection a must-own.
The best film in this collection is 'No Regrets for Our Youth', but this alone is no reason to spend $60+ on a set of five films. The other films, though quality, are not quite up to the high bar that Kurosawa sets with No Regrets. His films from a few years later: Rashomon, Ikiru, and Seven Samurai are among his best and arguably among the best films in history. This set is essential for true fans, but No Regrets can be rented via Netflix if you merely want to see it and not own it.
This set is great, but I recommend spending the $300 or so and purchasing the entire collection, in the long run this is cheaper for die hard Kurosawa fans. The other four films are very good and help give one a nice look at Kurosawa's coming of age... still I love this set!
Update: After tiring of trying to periodically luck out with this at my local library (it gets re-requested instantly and gets long hold lists), I was given this set as a gift. Watching through the films a second time, and being much more diverse in my classic world cinema outlook, I even more heartily recommend these films. I am a huge Kurosawa fan. The Eclipse collection for pre-war Kurosawa is rather interesting academically for those fans of his film career, but are not amazing films in their own right. It was really No Regrets for Our Youth where Kurosawa was able to come into his own and Stray Dog of course put him on the international scene.
No Regrets for Our Youth stars an impressive Setsuko Hara in a terrific female empowering role. She was soon to become Ozu's favorite leading lady after Late Spring.
One Wonderful Sunday is rather touching, yet sad. I did love the use of Schubert's unfinished symphony in the final scene. A poor, young couple try to enjoy one day together in a Japan struggling to rebuild just after the war.
Scandal was one of my favorites on this collection. I really enjoyed Takashi Shimura as the crooked lawyer. A film about two celebrities caught in an innocent photograph that is spun by the tabloids as a secret affair. They hire a lawyer to fight the tabloids, but he has his own problems and is tempted by corruption.
The Idiot is a fair adaptation of the Dostoevsky novel. As much as a two hour adaptation of a giant novel can be considered fair. I kind of count this as a bonus addition to the set. It is a hard film to find outside of this set.
I live in fear is based on a recurring fear in the 50s of nuclear holocaust. This is a film that has a similar message as Godzilla, just made in dramatically different ways. Japan was horrified by atomic testing off nearby islands, one incident resulted in Japanese fisherman getting radiation poisoning. This set off a public outcry against the West, and Japanese directors were quick to feed the frenzy. A terrific film, oddly by one of the Japanese directors considered to be the most "Western" of all.
The restorations are good, but not quite as good as a regular (non-Eclipse series) release. They are filtered and cleaned up, just not to the level of quality as, say, Ikiru, Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Late Spring, and other early Japanese films of the 40s and 50s that were released through the regular Criterion label. An amazing collection. Worth the set for No Regrets for Our Youth, Scandal, and I Live in Fear. Five films for a fair price. Bravo Criterion.
The picture quality is outstanding and if one doesn't mind taking the time to patiently watch them they will discover that none of these films is a waste of time. "No Regrets For Our Youth," "One Wonderful Sunday" and "I Live In Fear" are tremendous with moments that are incredibly moving. Even "Scandal" and "The Idiot" contain moments of masterful cinema.
Visibly in evidence here is Kurosawa's bold techniques, his taste for superb composition and the marvelous preformances from the best acting talent in the world. All in all a set well worth having for those who already familiar with the master's work and those who wish to know more about it.
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