What Akira Kurosawa movies do you recommend?
December 30, 2008 4:55 PM   Subscribe

What Akira Kurosawa movies do you recommend?

I have seen the following Kurosawa movies:
Stray Dog, Rashômon, Ikiru, The Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Hidden Fortress, The Bad Sleep Well, Yojimbo, Kagemusha, Ran, Drunken Angel, Sanjuro

As you can see, I am big Kurosawa fan. I felt that Kagemusha and Ran went on a little long, but overall I enjoyed them all. I also plan on watching:
High and Low, Red Beard

Are there any other great Kurosawa movies that I should check out?
posted by AZNsupermarket to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is as good a list to check as any, but offhand it looks like you've got most of the major ones already.

I'm very fond of Dersu Uzala, for what it's worth (maybe not much).

High and Low is great, by the way; you're in for a treat.
posted by johnofjack at 5:12 PM on December 30, 2008

Dreams is worth seeing, I think.
posted by box at 5:18 PM on December 30, 2008

aka hige (red beard) is fantastic, so it's a good thing it's on your list.
posted by ewingpatriarch at 5:22 PM on December 30, 2008

Second for High and Low. One part character study, one part police procedural, and the whole is excellent.

The Bad Sleep Well is an interesting one. Worth seeing once.

Yojimbo. Absolutely.
posted by RakDaddy at 5:23 PM on December 30, 2008

And I now see that you've seen The Bad Sleep Well, so you're done there.
posted by RakDaddy at 5:24 PM on December 30, 2008

If you can find the Criterion version of 7 Samurai with audio commentary by Japanese film historian Michael Jeck, it is fascinating. It places the film in context in terms of Kurosawa's work, contemporary film history, how it would be experienced by the contemporary Japanese movie goer as well as the historical period being depicted. Try to find it at a library or Netflicks - it is worth the effort to track it down.
posted by metahawk at 5:35 PM on December 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

As you watch the movies, you might want to enhance the viewing experience by reading "The Films of Akira Kurosawa" by Donald Richie.
posted by kryptos at 6:03 PM on December 30, 2008

In college I took a seminar on Kurosawa. I came into the class having seen most of his major films already. By the end of the class I'd added about 13 more to the list. Watching a Kurosawa movie once a week turned out to be a damn arduous process. Just thought I'd state my qualifications.

I'm glad you're going to cover High and Low and Red Beard. The former is my favorite Kurosawa film, and the latter marks a turning point in his career.

The two I would add that aren't on your list already are I Live in Fear (also sometimes called Record of a Living Being), and Dodesukaden. I Live in Fear is pretty awesome and has a fantastic closing shot that's worth the price of admission, and Dodesukaden is his first color film, so you should see it to round out your film nerdiness. Whatever you decide to see, enjoy!
posted by thebergfather at 6:06 PM on December 30, 2008

While I can't recommend Ichiban Utsukushiku (I found it tedious), it's interesting from an historical perspective. It describes the trials of a group of workers at a lens factory during the Great Pacific War, as they struggle to maintain production while coping with their personal crises. It's not so different from the "Rosie the Riveter" stories presented in American propaganda, with one key difference: the women in this film are on the losing side. I found it heartbreaking to consider that these women would have to "endure that which could not be endured," the defeat of their beloved homeland. It's a rare example of history presented by the losers.
posted by SPrintF at 6:06 PM on December 30, 2008

Thirding High and Low. Good grief, that's a great film.
posted by katillathehun at 6:07 PM on December 30, 2008

Add High and Low to your list, definitely, but I wouldn't expect as much from it as from some of the ones you've already seen. I liked it (I was drawn to it after learning it's based on an Ed McBain 87th precinct cop novel!) and the later half is pretty neat, with some great looks at seedy nightlife, including a junkie den that felt like something out of Night of the Living Dead, but the early sections felt stagey and slow, even if they're beautifully shot. And the sudden switch to a police procedural was jarring, like the two parts really didn't go together. But yeah, it's definitely worth watching, even if it doesn't have the emotional beauty of, say, Ikiru.

Another keeper is The Lower Depths, a fascinating, if grim, look at the poorest of the poor living below the spot where everyone else dumps their garbage. This Senses of Cinema article calls it "by far the most consistently underrated" of Kurosawa's films. Based on a Gorky play, it follows an ensemble cast of starving losers as they cheat, lie, fight, screw, sing and share occasional moments of kindness and honesty. It drags a bit (I watched it in three sittings) but was definitely worth the time. The acting's great.

I was disappointed in Dersu Uzala, which I saw just a couple of months ago; there are some beautiful nature shots but the story of a soldier and a native guide just plods along and along and along with no real arc or much character development at all. At times we thought we were watching a sappy Disney nature tale- now here's where they fall in the river, here's where they almost freeze, etc. After it was over, we turned to each other and said, "Well, at least we know now there's a reason this is one of his lesser known films."
posted by mediareport at 6:33 PM on December 30, 2008

I have to quote Senses of Cinema on The Lower Depths just a little more:

With The Lower Depths, Kurosawa found a way to accomplish what had defeated many distinguished filmmakers – namely, how to transpose a stage play to film without betraying either medium. Set entirely within the narrow precincts of a hovel at the bottom of a ravine, with only fleeting glimpses of the world of light above (from the opening shots, he seems determined to illustrate the title literally), Kurosawa fearlessly confounds the charge of "staginess" by constantly shifting perspectives, by exploiting his customary use of multiple cameras with a seamless encirclement of the action, subtly intercutting alternating views of a clearly continuous dramatic tableau. Shooting in just three days after 40 days of rehearsals, Kurosawa challenged his splendid ensemble of actors not only with prolonged takes but with an engagement of the action, an unpredictable shuttling between camera angles, which kept them all off balance as to exactly where to focus their performance.
posted by mediareport at 6:35 PM on December 30, 2008

Dreams is worth seeing, I think.

I respectfully disagree.
posted by Hildago at 7:01 PM on December 30, 2008

How about that trope of the unreliable narrator, Rashomon?

Ikiru is inspiring, also
posted by doncoyote at 7:08 PM on December 30, 2008

Finally! Another Kurosawa fan who thinks that Ran went on a bit too long.

Dreams was alright, but I'm nthing High and Low and Red Beard.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 7:29 PM on December 30, 2008

There was a time I (voluntarily) saw a Kurosawa film almost once a week, but I couldn't get through "The Idiot." I think I had the same problem with "Lower Depths." They just weren't as accessible as most of the other titles you list.

But in addition to watching Kurosawa movies you haven't seen yet, you could also listen to the DVD commentary tracks, although the only one I know of off-hand is Seven Samurai. The new deluxe version includes the older Jeck commentary noted above, and a new commentary that includes Donald Richie, also noted above, among other people. I should probably get around to listening to these myself (as you know, it's kind of a long movie).

Maybe you could also seek feedback as far as Toshiro Mifune's best non-Kurosawa works. After all, he played a big part in making Kurosawa's best films so memorable. And "Red Beard" was the final Mifune-Kurosawa film, so I guess it'd be fitting if that were one of the last of those films that you saw. After "High and Low," of course.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:41 PM on December 30, 2008

Cosign Dodesukaden, IMHO it is weird as hell, check it out. I guess opinions differ on whether it is good, but not what you'd expect at all if you are a fan of Ran, Rashomon etc. (I like those too).

I kind of liked his version of The Idiot but that is because I'm pretty obsessed with the Dostoevsky novel and if you haven't read that, maybe I couldn't recommend..

Friends of mine watched Dreams quite a lot back in the day but they were all stoned and/or tripping at the time, so.. YMMV
posted by citron at 11:05 PM on December 30, 2008

For anyone who has not seen many or any Kurosawa movies, I recommend Seven Samurai. It is my favorite movie.

"Killed Two".
posted by cockeyed at 10:43 AM on December 31, 2008

Response by poster: DVD commentary of seven samurai sounds like an interesting idea.
I'm definitely much more excited to see high and low now.
Red Beard also looks promising.
I'm gonna have to find a way to get my hands on all those other movies everyone recommended.

Thanks for the advice!
posted by AZNsupermarket at 2:50 PM on December 31, 2008

Seconding thebergfather's recommendation for "I Live in Fear." I caught this at a Mifune/Kurosawa retrospective and was blown away by it.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:24 PM on December 31, 2008

As you may know, Hidden Fortress is worth seeing for its own sake, and also because it was remade by George Lucas as Star Wars.
posted by neuron at 10:30 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I concur about Hidden Fortress, and it's a great intro for anyone new to Kurosawa, but the OP listed it in the "saw it" category, as have a few other titles that ended up being recommended to the OP in replies here.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:48 AM on January 2, 2009

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