Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

Discuss DVDs released in the Eclipse and Essential Art House lines and the films on them.
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Ashirg
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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#26 Post by Ashirg » Wed May 26, 2010 8:27 pm

Brentwood released an excellent DVD that is now out of print and can be found for about $5. Now that they went under, most of their films are now being released by Mill Creek Entertainment, so they may own that title as well.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#27 Post by movielocke » Fri Jul 23, 2010 12:29 am

according to the HTF review, this release is not windowboxed.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#28 Post by manicsounds » Sun Jul 25, 2010 8:55 am

DVDFile review, remember them?

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#29 Post by oldsheperd » Wed Jul 28, 2010 2:52 pm

I've never seen Sugata or Sugata 2. As a student of the discipline is there a bit of Judo in this film or is it more talking and philosophy?

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#30 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Jul 28, 2010 4:12 pm

oldsheperd wrote:I've never seen Sugata or Sugata 2. As a student of the discipline is there a bit of Judo in this film or is it more talking and philosophy?
There is definitely some Judo on display (at least in the first movie). Indeed, the finale is built around a grappling showdown.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#31 Post by Svevan » Wed Jul 28, 2010 6:43 pm


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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#32 Post by zedz » Wed Jul 28, 2010 6:59 pm

I had assumed that the Eclipse party line would prevent the recovered cut scenes from being included with Sanshiro Sugata, and this confirms it. They're on the Australian DVD (looking crappy, it has to be said) for those interested.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#33 Post by ka mai » Mon Sep 06, 2010 2:27 am

These are the last four Kurosawa titles I had not seen, although I had read about them all in Richie, Prince, Galbraith, autobiography etc.

Sanshiro Sugata was a pleasure. An enjoyable movie with some real glimpses of what was to come.

The Most Beautiful is most interesting in light of the context from Kurosawa's autobiography. He married the protagonist and worried that he drove all of the actresses to quit the profession. Probably the most fundamentally different of any Kurosawa I have seen and maybe the least re-watchable (I didn't think much of One Wonderful Sunday either). However, there are again a few moments here and there that hint at some of Kurosawa's signature techniques.

Still need to watch the last two from this set and then my personal Kurosawa filmography will be complete. Not expecting much from Sugata II based on what I have read, but I expect to find Tiger's Tale fascinating in light of the historical context and Kurosawa's relationship with Noh and "Japaneseness" in general that I have read about in Yoshimoto (probably my favorite Kurosawa book along with Prince) and elsewhere. I picked up the autobiography again while beginning to watch this set, and one of things I found curious was the fact that he claims that he never watched Noh until after the war and yet Tiger's Tale was based on a Noh as I understand it.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#34 Post by lubitsch » Mon Sep 06, 2010 4:42 am

ka mai wrote: The Most Beautiful is most interesting in light of the context from Kurosawa's autobiography. He married the protagonist and worried that he drove all of the actresses to quit the profession. Probably the most fundamentally different of any Kurosawa I have seen and maybe the least re-watchable (I didn't think much of One Wonderful Sunday either). However, there are again a few moments here and there that hint at some of Kurosawa's signature techniques.
This was a genuinely unpleasent film which made me sick in a way that only few films like Stukas or Der ewige Jude managed to do. It's a hermetically sealed propaganada tract where all are happy workers ready to bring the ultimate sacrifices for Japan and the film has visible difficulties to generate any narrative conflicts in order to keep up a narrative, a problem that similar Soviet films solved be adding a saboteur as antagonist to the story. Frankly it's one of the films where like with Rossellini, Harlan or Ritter I wouldn't have been surprised if the director would have been lined up against a wall and shot. It wasn't exactly clever from Kurosawa to label this as a personal favorite even if it has personal reasons.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#35 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Sep 06, 2010 12:25 pm

lubitsch --

I'm still waiting for my set to arrive -- but wonder why a film that encouraged citizens of a country at war to work hard should resulted in the execution of the director (after his country lost the war in question).

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#36 Post by lubitsch » Mon Sep 06, 2010 2:21 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:lubitsch --
I'm still waiting for my set to arrive -- but wonder why a film that encouraged citizens of a country at war to work hard should resulted in the execution of the director (after his country lost the war in question).
That's not the main message of the film. The point is to expect from the citizens to subordinate everything to the war effort, be it their free time or their personal feelings and do it cheerfully. A film about the preperation of Kamikaze fighters couldn't have been much different and it's this spirit which I found absolutely distasteful. There are films which have a certain, undeniable propagandistic aspect but still work on a different level as a melodrama, action story or so on. But this is really a genuinely totalitarian movie which BTW always results in deadly boredom and a certain pageantry as one can view in the films of Chiaureli or leaden German biopics of the Third Reich.
It's just that I hoped that one of the classical triad Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi went through these years without submitting too overtly to the demands of the times and it's disappointing to see them having been assimilated. some of the major German directors of the era like Käutner or Forst somehow made survived this era and made great films which this trio didn't achieve IMHO.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#37 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Sep 06, 2010 9:40 pm

Japanese directors were under pressure from at least 1937 (when China was invaded). During this long period, Ozu made NO purely propagandist films, nor did Mizoguchi. The propaganda element in Naruse's war era films was generally pretty muted. Similarly Hiroshi Shimizu provided little in the way of hard-core propaganda (except Sayon's Bell -- which had a lot more to offer than simple propaganda).

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#38 Post by knives » Mon Sep 06, 2010 10:46 pm

To add to that just a tad, though it came out a year before the invasion of China Shimizu made the very subversive Arigato-san. I think most of the masters kept that stuff to a surprising minimum considering Japan's rules at the time. even something like There was a Father is notable mostly because of how sidelined the propaganda elements are. You seem to be taking these films in with peace time ideas when that wasn't feasible during war time law. Don't compare these films to their '20s or 50's counterparts, but instead their war time cousins. with that said though the Kurosawa film in question is pretty hard nosed on its propaganda only being saved by Kurosawa's natural touch.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#39 Post by zedz » Wed Sep 22, 2010 12:08 am

I've now watched this box, of which I'd only previously seen Sanshiro Sugata. That's a decent enough film and easily the standout of this completists' set. The Most Beautiful, on the other hand, is a pretty terrible film, interesting primarily as a specimen of rabid propaganda that subordinates all characterization and subtlety to drilling home The Message. I'll stop short of lubitsch's position in sparing Kurosawa the firing squad and noting that there's a world of difference between this one-note exercise and the wartime Ozu and Mizoguchi films I've seen.

For a film that contains a few competently staged fights and some attractive photography, and clocks in at under 90 minutes, Sanshiro Sugata Part Two attains surprising heights of tedium as it lurches from one fretful deliberation over the Purity of Judo (or whatever) to the next. As with The Most Beautiful, the motivations of the characters are grotesquely simplified and frankly alien. However, I must say that the real Kurosawa seems to wake up about ten minutes from the end for a fine fight in the snow and an arbitrary suspense sequence.

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail is a peculiar film, only partially successful, but reasonably enjoyable - and admirably brief. It's completely studio-bound and quite stagy, but this gives it a kind of stylized charm (and actually, from a certain squinty perspective, looks way forward to the stylizations of Kurosawa's late work). The big downside to the film is the broadly characterized comic porter, but even this factor anticipates how poorly integrated Kurosawa's later comic characters could be. He had no trouble allowing his dramatic characters comic characteristics, and Mifune could finesse this kind of stuff brilliantly, but I find the purely 'comic relief' characters in such films as The Hidden Fortress woefully underdeveloped and overplayed - and, fatally, quite unfunny.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#40 Post by Peacock » Wed Sep 22, 2010 8:50 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:Ozu made NO purely propagandist films, nor did Mizoguchi
Just to correct something, Mizoguchi did actually film two war time pure propaganda films, one of which is lost, The Song of the Camp (1938) - which by all accounts was pretty poor - and The Sword (1945) - which is out on dvd I believe in France.

They don't get mentioned much because they aren't very good, and it's clear in the latter that Mizo had given up.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#41 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:52 am

Obviously I haven't seen Song of the Camp -- but the propaganda aspects of Famed Sword Bijomaru are pretty attenuated compared to AK's films (which is why I said "pure" propaganda films). David Hare likes this (as I recall) -- but I found it relatively weak (despite some impressive moments here and there) -- I much prefer the idiosyncratic little Musashi Miyamoto film Mizoguchi made around the same time.

Sanshiro Sugata 2 was hardly essential cinema -- but (to tell the truth) I am more likely to re-watch this than Ran. Lots of little bits I enjoyed (even if some were pretty silly). Most Beautiful was even weaker -- far less impressive than somewhat similar films by Shimizu from around this time -- Introspection Tower, for instance -- which focused on kids at a reform school building a (long but narrow) irrigation canal.

The porter practicaly killed Tiger's Tail (just as the comic bumpkins badly damage Hidden Fortress). I wonder if Enoken was always this bad? He certainly was popular for a good while. The concept of low figures disrupting high art can work -- viz. Strauss's Ariadne von Naxos. I see AK as an (almost) unabashed elitist despite his noblesse oblige style of "liberalism". His portrayal of lower class characters is way too often highly problematic (as compared to Imai's handling of such folk -- interesting that American commentators of the 50s-70s were so virulently hostile towards Imai).

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#42 Post by manicsounds » Tue Nov 09, 2010 6:15 am

Just watched the 90 minute reconstructed version of Sanshiro Sugata (with the deleted scenes found in Moscow), which the quality of the deleted scenes of course were much worse and stuck out, it was worth watching, and it didn't hurt the picture, so I really wonder what the reason was that they were cut in re-release...

Anyway, it's a shame that Criterion couldn't put out a Sanshiro Sugata upped Criterion, with both cuts, the making of and commentary from the Japanese DVD.... It is a lost opportunity.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#43 Post by manicsounds » Thu Nov 11, 2010 11:59 pm

After a little research, discovered that in 1944 in Japan during the end of WWII, to save on electricity, films were obligated to be at the most, 80 minutes for theatrical showings. So films made prior were cut to meet that demand, including 18 minutes of Sugata Sanshiro. That 18 minutes disappeared from the negative, and when it was reissued in 1952 after the success of Rashomon, only the 79 minute cut version was available.

Actually, just putting in the Eclipse DVD, they have that warning that it is the cut version, from Toho.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#44 Post by Yojimbo » Fri Nov 12, 2010 1:04 am

zedz wrote:I've now watched this box, of which I'd only previously seen Sanshiro Sugata. That's a decent enough film and easily the standout of this completists' set.

For a film that contains a few competently staged fights and some attractive photography, and clocks in at under 90 minutes, Sanshiro Sugata Part Two attains surprising heights of tedium as it lurches from one fretful deliberation over the Purity of Judo (or whatever) to the next. As with The Most Beautiful, the motivations of the characters are grotesquely simplified and frankly alien. However, I must say that the real Kurosawa seems to wake up about ten minutes from the end for a fine fight in the snow and an arbitrary suspense sequence.
I was pleasantly surprised at how good 'Sanshiro Sugata' was because I seem to recall reading somewhere that Kurosawa himself said that 'Drunken Angel' was his first decent film.

Agreed also about the sequel; the pacing was, quite literally, 'all over the shop', although that final section was beautifully made.
But I have to believe that there must have been considerable interference in the latter, given Kurosawa's renowned editing skills.
These are the only two films I've seen so far in this set, but I'll be catching the remainder shortly, in between noir viewing

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#45 Post by BrianInAtlanta » Sun Nov 14, 2010 6:24 pm

Re-watching Sugata II the other night it hit me how strange the final lines are for a Japanese propaganda film. The two karate brothers admit they lost, then smile, coming to terms with their defeat, then the final shot of Sugata beaming, looking into the future.

A little hidden subversion from AK with defeat for Japan so obviously and rapidly approaching?

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#46 Post by Yojimbo » Sun Nov 14, 2010 10:18 pm

BrianInAtlanta wrote:Re-watching Sugata II the other night it hit me how strange the final lines are for a Japanese propaganda film. The two karate brothers admit they lost, then smile, coming to terms with their defeat, then the final shot of Sugata beaming, looking into the future.

A little hidden subversion from AK with defeat for Japan so obviously and rapidly approaching?
It is indeed very odd; I confess that I hadn't really considered it in strictly propagandist terms, though I think its one of the major plus points of the movie

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#47 Post by manicsounds » Mon Nov 15, 2010 8:46 pm

To me "Tiger's Tail" I think actually works in favor with Eno-Ken's bumbling comedy. At first I did think his appearance was annoying in a serious film (which I do for a lot of Japanese bumbling comedians, past and present) but later on, I kept thinking "Oh shit, the buffoon's gonna blow their cover!!!" especially during the scroll-reading scene, which was incredibly well done and well edited. This film was the surprising standout film in the set for me.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#48 Post by The Elegant Dandy Fop » Thu Dec 02, 2010 2:46 am

I like to come in here with a bit of defense for The Most Beautiful. If the film was released in 1944, this was near the end of the war. It was pretty evident at this point of Japanese history that the war wasn't really working out in their favor. The American's were far more advanced technologically and has far greater resources than the Japanese. It was evident at this point that all the effort to win was in vain and that's what this film feels to me.

All the girls are away from their parents for the first time in their lives. They haven't had to face the realities of the post-war years and grow up. They're still naive girls who do what their superiors tell them to do. It's almost pretty evident when in the last shot:
SpoilerShow
Watanabe is crying and trying to keep a stiff upper lip. She neglects the death of her mother just to make lenses that will help kill the Americans.
Pure propaganda it isn't. There is something almost a little horrifying about the self-sacrifice these girls make for lenses. And Kurosawa's typically non-sexual treatment of girls makes this film even sadder and stranger, like a father depressed over what is becoming of his daughters.

It seems to me that Kurosawa was making the perfect film for the end of the war. The melodrama at times can be a bit hokey, but it comes off far better than some of similar war effort films from the US. Of the twenty-five Kurosawa's I've seen, this one is certainly not the best and is a bit of an anomaly for him, but I might prefer this a nudge more than Scandal.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#49 Post by BrianInAtlanta » Thu Dec 02, 2010 9:10 am

The Elegant Dandy Fop wrote:I like to come in here with a bit of defense for The Most Beautiful. If the film was released in 1944, this was near the end of the war. It was pretty evident at this point of Japanese history that the war wasn't really working out in their favor. The American's were far more advanced technologically and has far greater resources than the Japanese. It was evident at this point that all the effort to win was in vain and that's what this film feels to me.
Hard to say if Kurosawa was consciously aware of that or just caught part of the feeling of the time. The Japanese themselves later felt they were all suffering from mass insanity during this period.

There are some more deliberate things that are more than a little strange for the time period and setting: For a government that proclaimed itself anti-communist throughout the Pacific War, there certainly is a lot of Soviet-style montage in TMB, particularly the volleyball game. Also, natch with Kurosawa, even a film about a group of women succeeding in meeting a wartime quota boils down to one individual fighting a battle with her own limitations in order to succeed.

Fav moment: Shimura delivers a hideous, brutal harangue over a loudspeaker, full of militaristic inhuman propaganda, then turns sheepishly to the other men in the room (kemptai?) with a "was that okay?" look.

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Re: Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa

#50 Post by bottled spider » Thu Dec 02, 2010 12:42 pm

I like to think of The Most Beautiful as a religious allegory masquerading as war propaganda. Not that I object to war propaganda: if I were Japanese, I'd have wanted Japan to win too.

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