Takashi Shimura

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Sanjuro Review


Very Good
One of the biggest hits in Akira Kurosawa's film career was 1961's Yojimbo, the genre smasher with Toshiro Mifune's instantly legendary performance as Sanjuro, that shambling and bedraggled ronin who roams the countryside looking for food, shelter, and cash for anyone who will pay him to kill. So successful was Yojimbo that Kurosawa's studio prevailed upon him to rework a script he had been working on, turning it into a Mifune vehicle with Mifune reprising his role as Sanjuro. And within a few months it was written, shot, and in the theaters. The result of this rush job by Kurosawa was Sanjuro -- a quieter, gentler Yojimbo.

The tale involves nine straight-laced, by-the-book, narrow-mined, and lunkheaded young samurai, who want to barrel in and rescue the chamberlain of their clan, being held prisoner by the clan superintendent Kukui (Masao Shimizu). Meeting at a temple to discuss their plans, the samurai are interrupted by loud yawns from the back room. Emerging from his slumber is Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune), and he greets the group scratching and yawning. Admonishing the group, he grumpily tells the innocents, "People aren't what they seem. Be careful. You'll never suspect who the worst are. Be careful." As if on cue, Kukui's army sneaks up on the temple, commanded by canny samurai mercenary Hanbei Muroto (Tetsuya Nakadei). Hiding the nine samurai in the temple floorboards, Sanjuro beats back Moroto's men and grumpily offers to help the boys: "I can't stand by and watch you blunder your way to your deaths." The rest of the film consists of Sanjuro maneuvering Muroto away from his armies so that Sanjuro can wipe out the bad guys in dazzling displays of swordplay, but Moroto returns to the scene.

Continue reading: Sanjuro Review

Yojimbo Review


Excellent
Kurosawa's "Japanese Western" features the oft-retold tale of a sword-toting samurai in 1600s feudal Japan who finds himself without a master. He then sells his services to both sides of warring village, with rather disastrous results. Great beginning and ending, but drags a bit in the middle as Toshirô Mifune switches sides back and forth amid mutliple skirmishes. If you're looking for one of the original heroes who lives in a world not of black and white but of gray, you've found him in Mifune's swordsman. The film's effect has been palpable: Yojimbo remains a major Hollywood touchstone, having been notably remade as the far-inferior spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars by Sergio Leone, as well as Bruce Willis's Last Man Standing.

Continue reading: Yojimbo Review

Godzilla (1954) Review


Essential
Godzilla turns 50 this year, and there is much cause for celebration. For the first time, American moviegoers get have the privilege of seeing this essential firebreathing classic in the fully restored and original version that transfixed Japanese audiences back in 1954.

It's about time. Deemed unsuitable for American release in 1956, distributors chopped 40 minutes out of the film, dubbed the rest of it poorly, and then added 20 minutes of Raymond Burr in the new role of an American journalist observing the action and adding his own absurd commentary.

Continue reading: Godzilla (1954) Review

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.

Continue reading: Seven Samurai Review

Stray Dog Review


Excellent
The tone of Akira Kurosawa's blistering 1949 film noir Stray Dog is set in its opening shot: Over Fumio Hayasaka's sake-drunk, Elmer Bernstein-derived score, a dog pants, tongue lolling to the side in tight close-up, while a narrator intones, "It was an unbearably hot day." It is indeed hot - the film is set amid heat as palpably as Rashomon was the forest - and for young rookie detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune), it's going to get hotter still. His problem is that his gun has been stolen, pick-pocketed from him by a lady thief on a packed bus; in a country where competence is famously bound to honor, Murakami loses not just his gun on that sweltering bus, but his pride as well.

Murakami's superior refuses the resignation he proffers, and the hunt is on. In this Murakami is assisted by the older, wiser detective Sato (Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura), a cop with a less impetuous style. (Any Danny Glover/Mel Gibson correlation you might wish to make here would only cheapen Stray Dog while elevating an undeserving Lethal Weapon series.) The plot is thickened when Murakami's gun (the "stray dog" of the title) is used in brutal assaults on an ever-growing number of innocent female victims.

Continue reading: Stray Dog 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.

Continue reading: Rashomon Review

Yojimbo Review


Excellent
Kurosawa's "Japanese Western" features the oft-retold tale of a sword-toting samurai in 1600s feudal Japan who finds himself without a master. He then sells his services to both sides of warring village, with rather disastrous results. Great beginning and ending, but drags a bit in the middle. Most notably remade as the far-inferior spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars by Sergio Leone, as well as Bruce Willis's Last Man Standing.

Godzilla (1954) Review


Essential
Godzilla turns 50 this year, and there is much cause for celebration. For the first time, American moviegoers get have the privilege of seeing this essential firebreathing classic in the fully restored and original version that transfixed Japanese audiences back in 1954.

It's about time. Deemed unsuitable for American release in 1956, distributors chopped 40 minutes out of the film, dubbed the rest of it poorly, and then added 20 minutes of Raymond Burr in the new role of an American journalist observing the action and adding his own absurd commentary.

Continue reading: Godzilla (1954) Review

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

Takashi Shimura

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Takashi Shimura Movies

Godzilla (1954) Movie Review

Godzilla (1954) Movie Review

Godzilla turns 50 this year, and there is much cause for celebration. For the first...

Seven Samurai Movie Review

Seven Samurai Movie Review

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

Godzilla (1954) Movie Review

Godzilla (1954) Movie Review

Godzilla turns 50 this year, and there is much cause for celebration. For the first...

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