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PostPosted: Sat Dec 03, 2005 6:15 am 
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This came from the "Defend Your Darlings" thread but I thought there might be the potential for a separate discussion of this film, which has not been written about much on these forums.

zedz wrote:
I for one would be fascinated to read your defence of Dreams. When it came out I found it a crushing disappointment (albeit a photogenic one) and have never been inclined to revisit it. What's your take on it?

My love of Dreams is probably unsophisticated -- it's a very personal appreciation. I was 13 when it came out and before I saw it knew nothing about Japanese cinema and not really much about all the cinema that existed and all its possibilities. Some films I had seen previously (e.g. Satyricon, Koyaanisqatsi, Lynch, a few classic Hollywood movies) had revealed some of these possibilities but had not impacted me quite as deeply. Perhaps it was partially the time in my life and that it came along but it really made me realize how important cinema was to me and just how potent it could be. I started to explore and study the medium in many different directions and have not stopped since.
However, it wasn't just this experience and what it led to that's important to me; it's also very much the film itself. When I've watched it since the first time the things I originally liked about it have held up. I'll try to summarise what they are.
First of all, I like that the chapters are story-driven rather than being confined by conventions of the development and arc of the characters.* Some of the characters are almost ciphers. What the viewer is left with are beautiful fables that did not seem to me to come primarily and directly from Japanese folklore or science fiction but rather whole-cloth from Kurosawa's own creativity and imagination.
There is I think an unfortunate tendency to quickly dismiss Kurosawa's three final films as the work of someone past his creative prime. One of the qualities of what they communicate to me (Dreams especially) was expressed well by Edward Said in his essay on "late style." I can't do justice to the entirety of his essay, but he wrote that "the accepted notion is that age confers a spirit of reconciliation and serenity on late works, often expressed in terms of a miraculous transfiguration of reality." However, he concludes that late style "has the power exactly to render disenchantment and pleasure without resolving the contradiction between them." In the case of Dreams I would say that Kurosawa was trying to make a statement about retaining hope in the face of oppressive despair. This is something that holds great significance to me for many reasons, for instance my aspiration to the Gramscian maxim that we may have pessimism of the spirit but we ought to have optimism of the will.
In Dreams, the tension between hope and despair is established in the first two chapters which (to me) communicate both the innocence and the sorrow of childhood. It is further developed in the tragic struggle of the mountain climbers to make it back to their camp but who die peacefully and serenely in this simple quest. The sixth and seventh chapters also show the world descending into apocalyptic scenarios which show profound degradation but in a hallucinatory or dreamlike fashion.
The pastoral final chapter of Dreams seems to show that from the villagers' perspective it is a simple matter to maintain a safe, just, humane society in which people flourish. From the viewer's perspective (represented in the film by the traveler) this finale poses the question of how this hope can be constructively realized: that to me is the point and the most significant challenge. Given what we've seen in the film (some of which show real creativity, beauty and goodwill) and in our lives, I don't believe there is cause for total cynicism but neither is the bright final segment a facile wiping away of really existing horror and sadness.

(*This is not to criticize Kurosawa's earlier work or generic conventions in general but to try to get at what makes this film stand out to me in the way that it does.)


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 04, 2005 4:55 pm 
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Gregory wrote:
My love of Dreams is probably unsophisticated -- it's a very personal appreciation. I was 13 when it came out and before I saw it knew nothing about Japanese cinema and not really much about all the cinema that existed and all its possibilities.

Thanks, Gregory. I suppose I have a similar relationship to Ran, which was the first new foreign language film I saw on the big screen (in a grand old movie palace, in a packed festival screening). I was absolutely transfixed and have never really been able to view the film objectively since. That response was reinforced by my subsequent viewing of Throne of Blood and Ikiru, and no doubt coloured my reaction to Dreams, which I was expecting to have the same impact as Ran.

I thought the first episode was exquisite, but slight, and was dismayed when the subsequent episodes failed (in my opinion) to build on it, but rather seemed to dissipate what energy there had been at the outset. Some of the episodes I found disappointingly sentimental (the final one) or obvious (the apocalyptic one - one of the things I loved about Ran was how Kurosawa evoked and addressed contemporary fears of (nuclear) apocalypse obliquely in a period drama), and I must admit to being distracted by the stunt casting of Scorsese and Ryu (who had seemed so old in Tokyo Story that I was amazed he was still alive).

Regardless, I can't deny that there are images from the film that have stayed with me ever since, and now I'm curious to see it again. Can you recommend a good edition? Do you think this will ultimately be reissued by Criterion?


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 04, 2005 6:52 pm 
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The Van Gogh segment is interesting. My reaction to it (and that of others with whom I've discussed the film) is that it seems out of place, or at least it does not fit as easily. However, I think it serves as a challenging element that enriches the film, rather than if I could simply understand each segment and the structure of the film immediately after seeing it. Some things about the film that are often cited as flaws take on totally different qualities if the one can suspend one's standard cynicism and sophistication, and the Van Gogh segment is a good example of this. Kurosawa's decision to show the traveler walking through the landscapes on the canvases may make some cringe, but if I am in the right mood it can evoke the love of painting, drawing and free creativity I had so intensely early in my life.
Of course, that leaves aside the question of Kurosawa's failings in conceiving and executing the project, and it is only one possible way for a viewer to approach it. I would still like to critically revisit Kurosawa's late period after watching his last handful of films on DVD. Ran and Rhapsody in August are sitting on my shelf waiting for the right evening.
Warner owns Dreams worldwide and I don't think that's likely to change. The R1 release could perhaps be a tiny bit sharper, but it's a pretty lovely transfer. It's probably the best release we'll have for the foreseeable future.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 5:50 pm 
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Michael Kerpan wrote:
Mr_sausage wrote:
Kurosawa did an adaptation of The Idiot, of the same name I believe, in 1951. It was right in the midst of his great period, but is generally agreed upon as a lesser Kurosawa film. Dostoevsky was his favourite writer by all accounts.

Not agreed upon by ME. I consider Idiot one of Kurosawa's very best works. ;~}

I still haven't seen the movie, oddly enough, considering how many of his films I have seen. So while I cannot judge, I do empathize, since for instance I adore Dreams, of which the critical opinion is generally dismissal and occasionally outright hatred.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 6:09 pm 
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...for instance I adore Dreams, of which the critical opinion is generally dismissal and occasionally outright hatred.

I'm glad to know I'm not alone here in this view.
Richie's entry on it in A Hundred Years seems to miss the point completely: "Lots of fantasy and special effects, coupled with the moral message that we ought to be nicer to each other. Kurosawa meets Spielberg." I guess to avoid all the sloppy, Maltin-esque judgments throughout the course of his book covering the whole of Japanese cinema it would have had to be about three times as long, which would have been OK with me.
Sorry for the tangent.


Last edited by Gregory on Fri Jan 20, 2006 3:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 6:12 pm 
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...for instance I adore Dreams, of which the critical opinion is generally dismissal and occasionally outright hatred.

:( the rental disc of Dreams I had was scratched and I only saw through the orchard scene. I really love the shots of the young boy looking into the forest from the large gate after his mother tells him about the foxes.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 8:46 pm 
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blindside8zao wrote:
I really love the shots of the young boy looking into the forest from the large gate after his mother tells him about the foxes.

I also find Dreams to be his best and, more importantly, most beautiful film.


Last edited by cafeman on Fri Oct 17, 2008 1:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2006 9:14 am 
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Gregory wrote:
Richie's entry on {Dreams} in A Hundred Years seems to miss the point completely: "Lots of fantasy and special effects, coupled with the moral message that we ought to be nicer to each other. Kurosawa meets Spielberg." I guess to avoid all the sloppy, Maltin-esque judgments throughout the course of his book covering the whole of Japanese cinema it would have had to be about three times as long, which would have been OK with me.
Sorry for the tangent.

Three times longer would mean three times as many mistakes (at least), alas.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 4:36 pm 

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Gregory wrote:
It is further developed in the tragic struggle of the mountain climbers to make it back to their camp but who die peacefully and serenely in this simple quest.

Maybe I'm naive, but it appears to me that the climbers strugle against the cold and make it back to camp. They don't die.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 5:05 pm 
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BWilson wrote:
Gregory wrote:
It is further developed in the tragic struggle of the mountain climbers to make it back to their camp but who die peacefully and serenely in this simple quest.

Maybe I'm naive, but it appears to me that the climbers strugle against the cold and make it back to camp. They don't die.

:oops: You're right. I really knew that but my memory must have failed me when I wrote that. I don't always trust my recollection enough to write about a film I haven't seen in a year or two, but I think this is the first time I've gotten something as major as the ultimate fate of the characters wrong.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:18 am 
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Do'deska'den (Kurosawa, 1970)

What is everyone's opinion on this Kurosawa film for those who have seen it and also his first in color. Also, does a four hour cut of the film exist? Leonard Maltin's film guide and a British book I have on film corroborate this. On IMDb's triva, it list this as being a myth.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 3:13 pm 
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Taketori Washizu wrote:
What is everyone's opinion on this Kurosawa film for those who have seen it and also his first in color. Also, does a four hour cut of the film exist? Leonard Maltin's film guide and a British book I have on film corroborate this. On IMDb's triva, it list this as being a myth.


It's been a long time since I've seen this film, but thought it very entertaining. Kurosawa's experimental use of color seemed a revelation at the time & made it all the more interesting. Delightful performances by Tanaka and Igawa help to give the film a lift from its otherwise dreary milieu. Would love to see this again on the big screen but will happily settle for a stunning new Criterion transfer.

In his book, The Emperor and the Wolf, Stuart Galbraith notes that the running time of 244 minutes listed in Donald Richie's book is a typo & that most Japanese sources (correctly) list the running time as 140 minutes.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 5:25 pm 
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Taketori Washizu wrote:
What is everyone's opinion on this Kurosawa film for those who have seen it and also his first in color.

It's been a very long time since I've seen it too, so I remember little more than vague impressions; but it was amusing, wonderfully shot, as Kurosawa usually is, but on the whole uneven and not fully satisfying. It's an attempt to take little vignettes and weave them together into a continuous narrative whole, having each reflect and subsequently build into a kind of total view of humanity. Unfortunately they never properly coalesce, and some of them are rather trite or insubstantial. But, and there is always one of those, when Kurosawa hits his peaks, and there are a number of them in Dodeskaden, it's thrilling and wonderful cinema. Still, it is overall uneven, and nowhere near the high quality of the later work of Kagemusha onwards.

I recommend it, but then I recommend all of his films and I'm so biased in his favour.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 6:18 pm 
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Mr_sausage wrote:
It's been a very long time since I've seen it too, so I remember little more than vague impressions; but it was amusing, wonderfully shot, as Kurosawa usually is, but on the whole uneven and not fully satisfying. It's an attempt to take little vignettes and weave them together into a continuous narrative whole, having each reflect and subsequently build into a kind of total view of humanity. Unfortunately they never properly coalesce, and some of them are rather trite or insubstantial. But, and there is always one of those, when Kurosawa hits his peaks, and there are a number of them in Dodeskaden, it's thrilling and wonderful cinema. Still, it is overall uneven, and nowhere near the high quality of the later work of Kagemusha onwards.

I have a similar view, and, again, it's been a very long time since my (single) viewing of the film. (Has anybody seen this recently?) I remember lots of amazing visual ideas. The art direction is wonderfully inventive and Kurosawa is clearly trying to think about colour in wholly original ways, but the film's narrative(s) seemed piecemeal and sometimes banal, with too many flat, cliched characters and obvious social messages. Unfortunately, this survives only as a general impression, so I can't back this up with specific examples.

When I saw the film I was going through a bit of a Kurosawa period (and even loved Kagemusha and Dersu Uzala, about which my feelings are now much more mixed), and, having heard so much about this film's experimentalism, had high hopes for it. It was my first AK disappointment, and was swiftly followed by Dreams (which I found an even bigger let-down). Those two films still seem to have a lot in common, for me: AK at his most formally ambitious (in terms of visuals) compromised by AK at his most simplistic and message-driven (in terms of content).


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 12:17 am 
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Those two films still seem to have a lot in common, for me: AK at his most formally ambitious (in terms of visuals) compromised by AK at his most simplistic and message-driven (in terms of content).

I remember thinking they were similar, too. But for me Dreams works much better than Dodeskaden. Both are built out of separate stories, but Dodeskaden tries to join them into some kind of narrative wholeness, and it never quite works, probably because some of the episodes don't work in their own right and the rest suffer by collocation. The deliberately isolated episodes work in Dreams' favour, as the separate parts shine more clearly by their isolation, and they do not bog each other down by narrative switching. Each can be a self contained unit that does not have to worry about both completing itself and a larger narrative at the same time.

Don't misunderstand--however uneven the movie is, I still find it charming in its own way, and enjoyed watching it even as I felt it wasn't Kurosawa's high point.

And I cannot dislike Kurosawa's didacticism. Frankly I think it is very effective in Dreams because the message and the formal elements are perfectly married, and the exhilaration of the one enhances the effect of the other (and I can be a sap sometimes). Because Dodeskaden doesn't always formally or narratively work, the message is often either slack or inconsequential (I'm thinking of the whole wife swapping episode which never built to anything). It kind of meandered thematically, too, although now I'm just scraping my memory. If I watch it again (which I should) I may feel differently. But at the moment, Dodeskaden felt lopsided and kind of vague. Dreams however remains a pleasure.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 2:37 am 
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By that rationale, I should enjoy this more than Dreams then. I found Kurosawa's didacticism a bit too much in that film. After Ran, his films got a little too preachy but I guess that was a reflection of his advancing age.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 11:54 am 
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After Ran, his films got a little too preachy but I guess that was a reflection of his advancing age.

If you watch Record of a Living Being or Red Beard, you'll realize that tendency has always been there.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 5:19 pm 
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Mr_sausage wrote:
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After Ran, his films got a little too preachy but I guess that was a reflection of his advancing age.

If you watch Record of a Living Being or Red Beard, you'll realize that tendency has always been there.

I haven't seen Record of a Living Being, but I love Red Beard, one of my favorites by him. For some reason I excuse it in Red Beard, because it encompasses a full story with fleshed out characters, also Mifune's acting is among his best for a Kurosawa film. Dreams was a little heavy handed. I admire the experimental qualities and the desire to break from conventional narrative even though It doesn't quite work.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 9:21 pm 
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Personally, outside of Madadayo, I don't care much for Kurosawa's films post-Dodes'kaden, though Ran is great fun. It's been a long time since I've seen Dodes'kaden, but it was my favorite Kurosawa for a long time. I feel Dreams to be quite uneven, some episodes are wonderful, some are watchable, and others are a dread to sit through, but frankly I never saw much in it outside of its aesthetic value, which comes and goes.

Dodes'kaden, on the other hand, struck me as much more complex film than any other Kurosawa I'd seen. It has a very mixed moral message that the film doesn't really draw conclusions on, and only a few characters can we really make any sort of clear judgement on (the paper-flower girl's uncle is evil). For example, the delusionary man with the son--he is ignorant and he is crazy, and he's problematic because we sympathize with his imaginativeness, but his ignorance, stupidity has caused his son's death, though you could almost as easily say that it was his poverty (and society as a whole) that did it. Unlike Dreams, the characters and stories are very much intertwined (and unlike sausage, I found the film very even in quality). We see characters and motivations that are very human, that we can all recognize, but we also see circumstances that are quite unfamiliar that are brought about (or the cause of) their poverty.

Post-Dodes'kaden, I find myself unable to relate to any of the characters (except Madadayo, which exists in its own world), Dersu Uzala is much too far removed from my life and experience (and in some ways, the film is too Spielbergian for my tastes).

I've forgotten everything about Rhapsody in August. I saw it in the theater when I was a kid, and I remember nothing about it. Nothing I've said necessarily applies.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 28, 2006 12:36 am 
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Jun-Dai wrote:
Personally, outside of Madadayo, I don't care much for Kurosawa's films post-Dodes'kaden, though Ran is great fun. It's been a long time since I've seen Dodes'kaden, but it was my favorite Kurosawa for a long time. I feel Dreams to be quite uneven, some episodes are wonderful, some are watchable, and others are a dread to sit through, but frankly I never saw much in it outside of its aesthetic value, which comes and goes.

Dodes'kaden, on the other hand, struck me as much more complex film than any other Kurosawa I'd seen. It has a very mixed moral message that the film doesn't really draw conclusions on, and only a few characters can we really make any sort of clear judgement on (the paper-flower girl's uncle is evil). For example, the delusionary man with the son--he is ignorant and he is crazy, and he's problematic because we sympathize with his imaginativeness, but his ignorance, stupidity has caused his son's death, though you could almost as easily say that it was his poverty (and society as a whole) that did it. Unlike Dreams, the characters and stories are very much intertwined (and unlike sausage, I found the film very even in quality). We see characters and motivations that are very human, that we can all recognize, but we also see circumstances that are quite unfamiliar that are brought about (or the cause of) their poverty.

Post-Dodes'kaden, I find myself unable to relate to any of the characters (except Madadayo, which exists in its own world), Dersu Uzala is much too far removed from my life and experience (and in some ways, the film is too Spielbergian for my tastes).

I've forgotten everything about Rhapsody in August. I saw it in the theater when I was a kid, and I remember nothing about it. Nothing I've said necessarily applies.

Spielbergian? While Dersu Uzala is removed from his other films, I don't get that kind of feeling either. Most of the film is devoid of sentiment, even the ending I found to be somewhat bleak. You can identify with the characters because it explores the universal theme of man and nature how they are inextricably linked.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 28, 2006 4:38 am 

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Yeah, somehow I don't come out of Dersu Uzala thinking of E.T. either.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 28, 2006 11:23 am 
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che-etienne wrote:
Yeah, somehow I don't come out of Dersu Uzala thinking of E.T. either.

lmfao


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 28, 2006 7:16 pm 
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I've always wondered at the occasional Spielberg quips (Donald Richie has made a few) since I am almost positive that Spielberg learned many of his techniques and emotional qualities from Kurosawa. If anything, it's more likely that Spielberg is doing Kurosawa than Kurosawa doing Spielberg. Kurosawa does it better, tho'.


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PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 2:48 pm 
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kieslowski_67 wrote:
BTW, do you know anything about the rumor that the quick rising of Nakadai's career in the early 60s played a key role in the breakup between Mifune and Kurosawa? We have watched lots of Nakadai films in the 70s and he remains my wife's favorite Japanese actor.

I've heard many explanations -- none of them definitive. I tend to think it just wasn't economically feasible for Mifune to continue working with Kurosawa (as AK's filming tended to take practically forever).


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PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 9:22 pm 
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Michael Kerpan wrote:
kieslowski_67 wrote:
BTW, do you know anything about the rumor that the quick rising of Nakadai's career in the early 60s played a key role in the breakup between Mifune and Kurosawa? We have watched lots of Nakadai films in the 70s and he remains my wife's favorite Japanese actor.

I've heard many explanations -- none of them definitive. I tend to think it just wasn't economically feasible for Mifune to continue working with Kurosawa (as AK's filming tended to take practically forever).

The breakup apparently surrounded the lengthy shooting of Red Beard, and during which time, Mifune was setting up his own small, but costly, studio. According to Stuart Galbraith, "Kurosawa's seeming ambivalence about Mifune's dedication to Red Beard created a rift, especially when the film, originally scheduled for a fifty-day shoot, stretched to more than a year. This put Mifune in a financial quandary. Whether he worked on the film two months or two years, his fee stayed the same. Desperate for income, he signed to do a television commercial for a pharmaceutical film, but still had that beard. Kurosawa feeling the beard was, in essence, partly his, didn't want Mifune to do it."

There's more here than meets the eye re: the rift, but this should suffice.


Last edited by kinjitsu on Tue Feb 05, 2008 4:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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