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Movie Critic Article: Encounters of the Samurai

Akira Kurasawa
Encounters Of The Samurai


"The term 'giant' is used too often to describe artists. But in the case of Akira Kurosawa, we have one of the rare instances where the term fits." - Martin Scorsese

The word 'Samurai' does not just refer you to the beginnings of action movies. Or to the emergence of certain styles that promoted the ascension of action as
the dominant spirit of modern cinema. But, more than that, it highlights some decisive intersections on the
road to enhanced cinematic expression.
These intersections involved the filmmakers Akira Kurasawa (Japan), John Sturges (USA), Sergio Leone (Italy) and John Frankenheimer (USA).
Kurasawa , employing a seemingly uncomplicated little tale about good versus evil, was able to introduce cinematic story-telling in which the story is multi-layered by descriptive characterizations and detailed, painstakingly executed scenes. The simple tale of Kurasawa's movie 'Seven Samurai' 1954 had a ground-shifting effect in cinematic story-telling because it proved that style and technique make all the difference and therefore make the cinema of difference!

A village wrecked by repeated attacks by bandits hires a bunch of skillful fighters to protect the village. In 19th century Japan skilled fighters were attached to feudal lords and were called Samurai. When a Samurai is detached from his lord or master and offers his service as a freelancer they call him a Ronin. This word will soon bring us to another smart intersection in the road of action cinema.


To make this tale into a movie, Kurasawa introduced several hitherto unheard of
techniques such as slow motion, camera angle-shifting and the 'horizon shot' in which
a panoramic scene of people moving against the horizon (usually signaling an impending danger or attack) captures total attention of the viewer .
The shooting of a scene from different angles at the same time and then editing that
scene into its final visual entity was later adopted later by Arthur Penn (USA) in his famous
'Bonnie and Clyde-1967'.  A good example of the effectiveness of the 'horizon shot' was
to come later on from Spielberg in the desert shot in  'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind'.
Although such effective techniques has added to and enriched the filmmaker's tools
no one wanted to give up on that simple story based on collective collaboration to face
a common threat consisting of a bunch of bandits. Some theorized that a longing for the
time when the group or clan mattered more than the individual human being makes this collective defeat of evil look as a glorious achievement  or that individual heroism may
not work all the time. 
Thus the tale from 'Seven Samurai' has become the source material for an unbelieveable number of movies either inspired by or built directly on the formula set by Kurasawa and
his screenwriters.. 
I will make a brief recount of how this chain of inspirational "remakes" has proven the worth of Kurasawa's early cinematic findings in style and technique that has maintained the art of film and the film industry for decades to come. 
The Magnificent Seven
Let us examine the interscetions with Kurawasa.
(warning: This is not comprehensive enough for a cinema scholar)
Our first transforming intersection came from filmmaker John Sturges who later secured
his fame by his other movie 'The Great Escape'. Sturges who adapted the Japanese feudal era 'Seven Samurai' into an American Western 'The Magnificent Seven-1970'. Besides the power of the little tale itself and the techniques of Kuraswa, Sturges, himself a great movie
maker, populated his version with a bunch of actors known for their strong screen presence (even those who were fairly new like Steve McQueen and James Coburn). Not only this. Sturges was smart enough to add an ethnic flavor to his movie. The village in his movie is a Mexican village. The villain gang leader here is Mexican (impressively performed by Eli Wallach). There is also distinct allusions to the 'white' man versus the 'indian'.  And to top all these attractive attributes of Sturges, Elmer Bernistein composed one of the most memorable music scores in cinema history which has later become immortalized by one of the
true mortalizers, a cigarette company!
The film was a total success but attempts at remaking it were largely a failure.
Before I tackle the next intersction,
Lucas and Spielberg were respectively
influened by Akir in Star Wars and Close Encounters
Before I tackle the next intersection, it is important to explain that other movies by
this Japanese giant were sometimes
remade twice in less than four decades. Yojimbo (1961) was unlawfully copied by
the Italian Sergio Leone to make the first of his Dollar Triology: A Fistfull of Dollars (1964) and initiate what was know as Spaghetti Western movies.
Leone met with great success..






in his movies.  But again In 1996 Bruce Willis starred in 'Last Man Standing' and
it was a good movie. But it was also based on Yojimbo.
======

Back to intersections: Kurasawa lawyers won the case against Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone. Leone had copied Kurasawa's movie 'Yojimbo' into 'A Fistful of Dollars' without bothering to give credits to its owner. But nevertheless Leone proved to be a great director and his "Dollar Triology" is really a valuable addition to cinema heritage. He went forward with Kurasawa's techniques but added to it an important feature which is less dialogue (and more action....and music!) and this has made more intense his dramatic rendering of events.
My last intersection for this article was almost lost on me had it not been for a friend.
I had seen a movie on TV in a casual manner. Just the parts that drew my attention.
Then one day I was having a conversation about old European cities as best locations, in my opinion, for shooting spy or crime movies. I remembered that movie which I had seen in a casual way because it had such breath-taking car chases and close-range shooting.
I specifically tried to remember the name of actor Jean Reno. My friend cried:
"You mean Ronin?"
And yes, it was the movies' name: Ronin ( John Frankenheimer-1998).
De Niro and Reno in Ronin
 A Ronin is a masterless Samurai. A freelance mercenary. I was not aware of this connection!  
Film industry will always look for keywords to experiences, memories and aspirations
of the public to secure commercial success of course with little concern for critical
acclaim. Just like an online marketer who is trying to figure out how you will find
his site, to search for an exciting movie you might just enter Ronin, Samurai, Car
Chase, narrow alleys, etc...
Now back to the inventory of cinema productions based on that little tale about
Japanese Samurai. But it is not the number of imitations or 'inspirational remakes'
that bothers me, it is the persistence of remakes with all the questions they pose
as in this link. Here are some of Kurasawa's influences:
    • Duel of the Seven Tigers (Hong Kong-1979)
    • Battle Beyond Stars- Roger Corman's (USA -1980)
    • The Seven Magnificent Gladiators (Italy- 1983)
    • Shams Elzinati (Egypt-1991)
    • The Wild East (Kazakhstan-1993)
    • A Bug Life (USA, Pixar/Disney Animation-1998)
    • China Gate (India -1998).






    In addition to this international list of Kurasawa-based remakes of more or less
    the same story and plot, there is a large number of PlayStation video games  built on the model of 'Seven Samurai'. Worthy of mention that this movie  inspired Orson Welles in his Chimes at Midnight (1965).
Links To Obtain Movies In This Article:

Comments

  1. Its always good be get new and updated movie reviews as it is one of the most important part of our life, entertainment and fashion.Wether it to be a movie or a comedy all have its different place and importance.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Old movies like gold always glistening. I love this kind of movies and I will watch this movie as soon as possible.

    Regards
    ombadda

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ian Somerhalder has finally responded to rumors that he's a favorite to play this role in 50 shades movie.
    fifty shades of grey movie
    Waiting for our favourite to play the role..
    Characters are superb ... Movie soon...

    ReplyDelete

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