Friday 30 November 2012

This Is All Sam's Fault

Although I should point out that when I say "Sam's fault", I mean that in the nicest way possible.  Not really a 'fault' in the conventional sense at all, just that it's largely down to Sam.

I'm talking about my increasing interest in Asian (mainly Japanese) cinema.

Admittedly, my first introduction to Asian cinema came from a director I don't remember Sam ever mentioning, namely a pair of films from animator Hayao Miyazaki.  Specifically, these were his feature directorial debut Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), and his Oscar-winner Spirited Away (2001).  The first was a relatively gentle introduction to far-eastern cinema, albeit a slightly surreal experience, as the film is set in a version of middle Europe filtered through a lens of Japanese cultural perception and storytelling.  The other was only the second film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (following debut winner Shrek), after the category's belated inauguration in the 2001/2002 season, and is a much more wholeheartedly Japanese work, drawing heavily on traditional Shinto religious imagery.

But then came Sam.  Over the four years since I first met him, I have not only discovered more of his fascination with the Kaiju genre in particular and Japanese cinema in general, but I've slowly started getting drawn into seeing some of the films for myself.  He gave me a DVD copy of the original Godzilla (1954) as a Christmas present last year, and I bought a copy of the more recent South Korean film The Host (2006) on his recommendation.  And I liked both of them.

Despite the move towards the monsters, however, there remained a very significant gap in my education - I hadn't seen a single film by the man who is perhaps the most famed Japanese director of all, Akira Kurosawa.

Yes, that Kurosawa - as in, the man whose 1958 film The Hidden Fortress is often cited as the primary inspiration for Star Wars.

Back in August I obtained a copy of what may well be his other most famous film, Seven Samurai (1954), once again on Sam's advice.  I must admit that when I finally sat down to watch it last week, I had my reservations, mainly due to the fact that the film (even with some material still thought to be missing) runs to 190 minutes long, and I had found the American remake (The Magnificent Seven, 1960) somewhat unengaging and overlong.  I needn't have worried, though - Seven Samurai proves once again the already-well-established principle that remakes, especially American ones, tend to be something of a disimprovement.  The Japanese original did feel long (unsurprisingly), but remained engaging throughout despite being in fullframe, black-and-white and a foreign language.  Character motivations and actions made a lot more sense in their original context, and the pacing was much snappier.

I won't go into too much detail on the film's history, structure etc (Sam has already done all of that, and I don't see how I could improve on his writeup); I just wanted to post something to say, relatively quickly, that I've now seen it too, and I liked it.  And to say thank you to Sam for the tip!

Now to get hold of Godzilla Raids Again and/or The Hidden Fortress...

- The Colclough

1 comment:

  1. I have also reviewed The Host. My review of the original 1954 Godzilla will be published on 03/11/2014 (60th Anniversary).

    I saw The Hidden Fortress last Saturday, and I loved it (I also did a post recently relating to the new Star Wars). I still have Yojimbo and Ran from my personal collection. I have already seen Seven Samurai and Rashomon. After I have watched the previous 2 I need to go on the hunt for the remaining 22 (ish) Kurosawa Films.

    Kurosawa has become a Directing hero to me. While not my favourite director (Ishiro Honda is first), Kurosawa is my main directing inspiration and some of the things I have learned from how he makes films I am trying to incorporate, particularly seeing as I have some ideas on how to do the book of Esther as a film (I first need to write a script).