Shinobu Hashimoto

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Dodes'ka-Den Review


Very Good
Dodes'ka-den, Akira Kurosawa's first color film, premiered in New York in the summer of 1971 to mixed reviews and, even for foreign fare, lousy box office. A major argument held that the filmmaker simply didn't know how to use color. The film didn't hit Chicago theaters until 1975 and his next color feature, the vibrant Dersu Uzala, wouldn't hit American shores until 1977. Perhaps out of respect, Dodes'ka-den was nominated for an Oscar, which it lost, rightly, to Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

Dodes'ka-den certainly isn't like any Kurosawa film I've ever witnessed. A junkyard shanty-town of misfits, perverts, gossips, and criminals is its setting... and yet we begin on a note of gleeful innocence. Adrift in a dream life that casts him as a streetcar operator, a young mentally-retarded man (Yoshitaka Zuxhi) prepares his make-believe trolley for its short journey through the slums, all the while repeating the word "dodes'ka-den" which translates, literally, to "clickety-clack." The young man seems to be the central figure and audience proxy for the five or six stories that litter Kurosawa's dire landscape and, fittingly, as the film progresses we see less and less of him.

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Throne Of Blood Review


Excellent
Akira Kurosawa's Throne on Blood is primarily known for one great scene at the very end that involves the famous actor Toshiro Mifune and about one hundred arrows. Up to that point, though, it is an excellently acted, well directed, and gorgeously shot Japanese reworking of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

In an early scene two opportunist samurais are introduced and both of them are wearing flags that identify who they are and what clan they come from. Mifune, who plays Taektoki Wahsizu, has a caterpillar on his flag and his samurai partner Miki (played by Minoru Chiaki) has a rabbit. These symbols seem innocuous enough, but if you had a choice, who would you trust: a creepy crawly caterpillar or a soft bunny rabbit?

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Seven Samurai Review


Essential
There's probably no point heaping more praise on Seven Samurai after 52 years worth of critics have already done so, but what the hell, here's a little more love for the film.

Akira Kurosawa had about a decade of work -- nothing you've likely heard of -- under his belt by 1954, when he stormed the world with this masterpiece. 3 1/2 hours long, it's a western with a feudal 1600s Japanese sensibility, a format he'd return to frequently. But here it's at its simple best. Some may claim Seven Samurai is complex, but that's hardly truthful: It's about a village of farmers, who learn of an impending attack by bandits intent to rob them of their barley crop... again. They decide to fight back by recruiting seven samurai to teach them to fight, protect the village, and slay the bandits for good. Some will be heroes, some will perish. But we know all along that our samurai will win the day for the village somehow. And that's the gist.

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Zero Focus Review


Very Good
The year is 1961, and in a wintry Tokyo train station, a young newlywed named Teiko bids farewell to her handsome new husband, Kenichi. Kenichi is concluding some business in the northern city of Kanazawa, promising a return on December 12, at which point the couple will begin their new life together. But, as Teiko waits, the 12th comes and goes and no word arrives from Kenichi. Soon Kenichi's employers are phoning, expressing first curiosity and then alarm. Teiko's only clue to her husband's whereabouts is a pair of strange postcards she finds among his belongings, each picturing a house in the snowy northern provinces. When her husband's employers invite her to Kanazawa to help them locate Kenichi, this naïve young bride soon finds herself embroiled in a mystery whose complications include prostitution, suicide, and maybe even murder.

It sounds a lot like Hitchcock, and there's a good reason for that. Adapted from a mystery novel by Seicho Matsumoto for director Yoshitaro Nomura, Zero Focus is one of several successful collaborations between the two that draw on Western-style technique to approximate the same atmosphere of suspense and danger for which Hitchcock was by that time already well known. That's not to say that Zero Focus is in any way a knock-off; Nomura had his own technique, and it was a good one. But the comparison serves to show how many of Zero Focus's devices - the mouse-trap plot, the slow reveal, our heroine's voyage from innocence to revelation - are familiar to moviegoers as Hitchcock's stock in trade.

Continue reading: Zero Focus Review

Throne Of Blood Review


Excellent
Akira Kurosawa's Throne on Blood is primarily known for one great scene at the very end that involves the famous actor Toshiro Mifune and about one hundred arrows. Up to that point, though, it is an excellently acted, well directed, and gorgeously shot Japanese reworking of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

In an early scene two opportunist samurais are introduced and both of them are wearing flags that identify who they are and what clan they come from. Mifune, who plays Taektoki Wahsizu, has a caterpillar on his flag and his samurai partner Miki (played by Minoru Chiaki) has a rabbit. These symbols seem innocuous enough, but if you had a choice, who would you trust: a creepy crawly caterpillar or a soft bunny rabbit?

Continue reading: Throne Of Blood Review

Rashomon Review


Essential
Not many films have earned the mandate of comparison any time a similarly-structured movie follows it, but any time a modern film is told from multiple perspectives, Rashomon is referenced. It has to be.

Akira Kurosawa masterfully combines the testimony of four witnesses/participants in a rape/muder occuring in the woods in the era of feudal Japan. It all sounds straightforward at the start, but by the end, we're left to wonder exactly who's telling the truth, or even if the participants know what the truth is. The exploration of subjectivity has never been so thrilling, and Kurosawa is at his pinnacle as a filmmaker, framing testimony shots in earnest close-up and staging the flashbacks with inimitable grace. But of course it's not just a beautfully constructed movie, it's also a biting commentary on deceit, gender roles, and due process (not to mention Japanese culture). And every viewer is given the opportunity to draw his own conclusions.

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Sword Of Doom Review


Very Good
"Evil mind, evil sword." This is the mantra of Sword of Doom, Kihachi Okamoto's great 1965 samurai bloodletting. Tatsuya Nakadai's sword is a nihilistic bearer of death, responsible throughout the film for dozens of pointless murders, including an excruciating massacre that serves as the climax. This sequence, coming at the end of the countless deaths we have already seen, seems to take the violence into a higher plane of frenzy, almost as if the blade is injuring the very concepts of right and wrong. Thus is the sword of doom, and thus is Nakadai.

Trying to parse Nakadai's motives out of the gore is a difficult task. Some of the murders result from somewhat legitimate showdowns, especially later in the film when he is used as a killer for a Shogunate organization in decline. Yet other murders seem to come with the brutally simple justification of "practice," including the slaying of an elderly man (which will come back upon Nakadai later). Nakadai becomes an anti-hero in a true sense of the word. He becomes a figure of total nihilism as the film unfolds along its three-year plotline. His presence becomes like a specter of death, a mythological harbinger of the gravest misfortunate. Yet, he has no moral agenda, and little justification for actions, as if his conscience, the only thing that could make him human, was carefully excised from his mind. What results is a towering figure, deadly and frightening in his capriciousness.

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Ikiru Review


Very Good
Viewers familiar with Akira Kurosawa's samurai movies will be shocked to see Ikiru, the Japanese master's meditation on post-WWII society in urban Tokyo.

Takashi Shimura plays Kanji Watanabe, an office worker who lives his life without incident until he discovers he has stomach cancer (which is something of a plague in real Japanese society). Watanabe then endeavors to rediscover a life worth living -- from spending an evening with a drunken novelist, re-experiencing life through the girlish eyes of a young friend, and eventually dedicating himself to the building of a park. In the end, he finally proves he has something to show for a lifetime of labor.

Continue reading: Ikiru Review

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Shinobu Hashimoto Movies

Seven Samurai Movie Review

Seven Samurai Movie Review

There's probably no point heaping more praise on Seven Samurai after 52 years worth of...

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