A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sanjuro (Akira Kurosawa, 1962)

Toshiro Mifune, Takako Irie, and Reiko Dan in Sanjuro
Sanjuro: Toshiro Mifune
Hanbei Muroto: Tatsuya Nakadai
The Spy: Keiju Kobayashi
Iori Izaka: Yuzo Kayama
Chidori: Reiko Dan
Kurofuji: Takashi Shimura
Takebayashi: Kamatari Fujiwara
Mutsuta's Wife: Takako Irie
Kikui: Masao Shimizu
Mutsuta: Yunosuke Ito

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay: Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, Akira Kurosawa
Based on a novel by Shugoro Yamamoto
Cinematography: Fukuzo Koizumi, Takao Saito
Production design: Yoshiro Muraki
Music: Masaru Soto

Akira Kurosawa's tongue-in-cheek Sanjuro is not so much a sendup of samurai films as it is an effort to carry a genre to its logical and sometimes absurd extremes, the way the James Bond movies took spy films to a point of exciting but improbable and often comic point of no return. It reaches its peak in the final combat between Sanjuro and Hanbei, with an explosion of gore (produced by a pressurized hose that nearly knocked actor Tatsuya Nakadai off his feet) that's surprising and shocking but also very funny once you put it in the context of the usual bloodless deaths of samurai films. But Kurosawa has made us aware of the just-a-movie unreality of Sanjuro's action throughout, with his careful arrangements of the nine samurai under the spell of the sloppy ronin who calls himself "Sanjuro Tsubaki," which means something like "30-year-old camellia," a name he makes up on the spot. The not-so-magnificent nine are always grouping themselves for the camera, either in little triple triads or in chains that fill the widescreen. Their arrangements come to annoy Sanjuro so much that once, when they're trying to sneak up on someone, he tells them not to move in single file behind him: "We look like a centipede!" In addition to Mifune's irresistible scene-stealing, there's a delightful comic performance by Takako Irie as Mutsuta's wife, dithery and concerned with propriety, but also with a fund of commonsense that Sanjuro wisely heeds. Tatsuya Nakadai is wasted as the villain who's the only plausible challenger to the hero -- a kind of Basil Rathbone to Mifune's Errol Flynn -- a role that otherwise doesn't give Nakadai much to do but glare at the fools he's allied with.

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