HOLLYWOOD - The American Cinematheque presents Japanese World Classics Medley at the Aero (March 2 - 3) and Egyptian Theatres (February 2 - 5). Over the past decade, the American Cinematheque has been very active in programming lesser known Japanese films that have been unfairly overlooked because of their genre status. Whether samurai, yakuza, horror or sexploitation, there were (and still are) a multitude of fascinating, worthy genre motion pictures and filmmakers hailing from Japan, particularly from their Golden Age of Filmmaking (1950-1970), that continue to languish in obscurity. In the process, except for our brief Kenji Mizoguchi series last year, we have screened relatively few of what the critical establishment might call Japanese "classics." Lest we seem neglectful of these films, also prodigious in number, and to satiate our own desire to see them, as well as that of our many audience members who have requested them, we are very happy to offer this selection of Japanese movie classics, among them, the famous: Akira Kurosawa's THE SEVEN SAMURAI, Yasujiro Ozu's TOKYO STORY, Kon Ichikawa's THE BURMESE HARP (Oscar Nominee), Hiroshi Teshigahara's WOMAN IN THE DUNES (Oscar Nominee); the not-so-well-known: Kurosawa's STRAY DOG and DRUNKEN ANGEL; and the fairly obscure: Ko Nakahira's CRAZED FRUIT and Masaki Kobayashi's BLACK RIVER (not available on video).
All screenings are at the Max Palevsky Theatre at the Aero Theatre (1328 Montana Ave) in Santa Monica and at Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian Theatre (6712 Hollywood Blvd).
Thursday, February 2, 2006: Egyptian Theatre
The Thursday, February 2nd program begins at 7:30 PM with a screening of THE SEVEN SAMURAI (SHICHININ NO SAMURAI), (1954, Janus Films, 207 min.). Director Akira Kurosawa's most famous film is certainly one of the finest movies ever made - a huge, sprawling but intimate, character-driven period epic about an aging swordsman (the great Takashi Shimura) who enlists six other warriors-for-hire (amongst them, Toshiro Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Kato, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba) to safeguard a remote village plagued by bandits. One of Kurosawa's prime talents as director, aside from his meticulous attention to writing and character development, was his ability to create a lived-in wealth of detail in all of his in-period samurai films. Nowhere is this talent more evident than in this hypnotic evocation of a bygone age. The action film prototype, enormously influential on a legion of filmmakers from around the world, including Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood. This film was remade into John Sturges' THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brenner, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is playing as part of our Westerns series Friday, February 3rd at the Aero Theatre. "Moves like hot mecury, and it draws a viewer so thoroughly into its world that real life can seem thick and dull when the lights come up." - Ty Burr, Boston Globe.
Friday, February 3, 2006: Egyptian Theatre
The Friday, February 3rd program is a 7:30 PM Double Feature. First up is STRAY DOG (NORA INU) (1949, Janus Films, 122 min.). One sweltering summer day, young police detective Toshiro Mifune has his gun lifted from him on a bus. Impatient Mifune's frenzied efforts to find the homicidal fugitive responsible, both to atone to his superiors and to his calm, middle-aged partner (Takashi Shimura), and to prove his worth as a cop, leave the viewer breathless. Director Akira Kurosawa loved hardboiled American crime fiction, and there is no more conspicuous proof in his early career than in STRAY DOG. An expertly-paced, atmospheric suspense film that more than holds its own against the numerous noirs that were being produced across the Pacific in the USA. With Keiko Awaji, Isao Kimura.
Next on the same bill is DRUNKEN ANGEL (YOIDORE TENSHI), (1948, Janus Films, 98 min.). Movie icon Toshiro Mifune and pantheon director Akira Kurosawa's many screen collaborations are deservedly legendary, and here is the film that started it all. Kurosawa allegedly fought Toho Studios' top brass to let him use newcomer Mifune in the lead role, a totally unknown actor who had accidentally caught his eye when the director strayed into one of the studios' open auditions. Mifune is electric as an arrogant young yakuza in post-WWII Tokyo who comes to the office of alcoholic ghetto doctor, Takashi Shimura (in one of his best roles) to patch up a wound. But Mifune doesn't bargain on finding out he has other more serious health problems, namely a terminal case of tuberculosis. Kurosawa was decidedly critical of the proliferation of gangster films in 1960's Japan, and it is fascinating to see his early treatment of the yakuza genre here, especially when compared to those later films directed by yakuza movie maestro, Kinji Fukasaku, a filmmaker who also often set his films in the post-war era.
Saturday, February 4, 2006: Egyptian Theatre
The Saturday, February 4th program is a 7:30 PM Double Feature. First up is THE BURMESE HARP (BIRUMA NO TATEGOTO), (1956, Janus Films, 116 min.). Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Kon Ichikawa (FIRES ON THE PLAIN, AN ACTOR'S REVENGE) has directed many outstanding films, but perhaps his finest is this simple anti-war tale that plays like an adventure saga as well as a profound odyssey of spiritual growth. Shoji Yasui is Mizushima, a lute-playing corporal in the Pacific War's final days. After his unit is captured by the British and en route to a repatriation camp, he's entrusted with trying to convince a hardline Japanese commander holed-up in a mountain cave to surrender. The man refuses, a battle ensues and Mizushima awakens later to find everyone either gone or dead. He begins what will be an arduous journey to find his unit, disguising himself as a Buddhist monk to avoid complications. However, the numerous corpses from both sides that he comes across, move him to such an extent, that he decides to become a real priest and devote himself to burying the dead. At times, almost unbearably moving, this film's heartbreaking, uplifting power comes not from audience-manipulating sentimentality, but a simple unfolding of events. Akira Ifukube (GOJIRA) supplies one of his most haunting scores. With Rentaro Mikuni.
Next on the same bill is WOMAN IN THE DUNES (SUNA NO ONNA), (1964, Janus Films, 123 min.). Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film. Director Hiroshi Teshigahara made only a handful of films, and like this one, most were adapted from the elliptical novels of Kobo Abe. Eiji Okada is an entomologist searching for rare insects in remote sand dunes and asks villagers for shelter. They bring him to a house at the bottom of a large pit, inhabited by a lonely woman (Kyoko Kishida). When he awakens the next day, he finds the ladder out of the hole has been removed, and he has been conned into becoming the woman's new man, there, solely to help her remove the shifting sand that is continually creeping in, threatening to bury the structure. An astonishing, bizarre allegory about life's routines and a thoroughly engrossing psychological drama. With a brilliant score by Toru Takemitsu. Teshigahara won the Jury Special Prize at Cannes for 1964.
Sunday, February 5, 2006: Egyptian Theatre
The Sunday, February 5th program is a 6:00 PM Double Feature. First up is CRAZED FRUIT (KURUTTA KAJITSU), (1956, Janus Films, 86 min.). There were a number of films made in mid-fifties Japan dealing with the new phenomenon of the taiyozoku (literally 'sun tribe'): affluent, hedonistic middle class teens without responsibilities, who often got into trouble. Both Nikkatsu and Daiei Studios attempted to jumpstart a new genre, adapting the works of writer, Shintaro Ishihara. But, despite the box office popularity of the films, reaction from scandalized parents, press, school and government officials was overwhelming. Underrated director, Ko Nakahira was in the eye of the storm (along with Kon Ichikawa's equally fiery PUNISHMENT ROOM) with this startling saga of two hellion brothers (Yujiro Ishihara, Masahiko Tsugawa) who meet a beautiful girl (Mie Kitahara) while on holiday, causing things to spiral out of control. Famed composers, Masaru Sato (YOJINBO) and Toru Takemitsu (KWAIDAN) collaborated on the score.
Next on the same bill is BLACK RIVER (KUROI KAWA), (1957, Janus Films, 116 min.). Director Masaki Kobayashi (KWAIDAN, SAMURAI REBELLION) was, like Kurosawa, an ardent humanist who brought his strong convictions to everything he did. There were many movies chronicling post-WWII malaise, and many critical of the crime and squalor generated in the vicinity of American military bases. BLACK RIVER is a prime example. Poor, mild-mannered Fumio Watanabe sits helplessly by as Ineko Arima is sucked into a life of prostitution by oily yakuza, Tatsuya Nakadai (convincingly scary in one of his earliest roles). Gripping from beginning to end. NOT ON VIDEO!
Thursday, March 2, 2006: Aero Theatre
The Thursday, March 2nd program begins at 7:30 PM with TOKYO STORY (TOKYO STORY MONOGATARI) (1953, Janus Films, 136 min.). Revered master director Yasujiro Ozu dealt with the pathos, poetry and humor of everyday family life in Japan, and his most highly-regarded masterwork is, without question, this heartrending drama of two elderly parents (Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama) leaving their provincial home village to visit their indifferent grown-up children in the city. Like all of Ozu's other pictures, there is a deceptively simple presentation of commonplace events, that nevertheless, by the end, have drawn on deep wellsprings of emotion. One of Ozu's greatest talents was in showing these feelings as universal, as part of the human condition and not specific to Japan - it is well-nigh impossible not to be moved by his films.
Friday, March 3, 2006: Aero Theatre
The Friday, March 3rd program begins at 7:30 PM with THE SEVEN SAMURAI (SHICHININ NO SAMURAI), (1954 Janus Films, 207 min.). Director Akira Kurosawa's most famous film is certainly one of the finest movies ever made - a huge, sprawling but intimate, character-driven period epic about an aging swordsman (the great Takashi Shimura) who enlists six other warriors-for-hire (amongst them, Toshiro Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Kato, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba) to safeguard a remote village plagued by bandits. One of Kurosawa's prime talents as director, aside from his meticulous attention to writing and character development, was his ability to create a lived-in wealth of detail in all of his in-period samurai films. Nowhere is this talent more evident than in this hypnotic evocation of a bygone age. The action film prototype, enormously influential on a legion of filmmakers from around the world, including Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood. This film was remade into John Sturges' THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brenner, James Coburn and Charles Bronson. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is playing as part of our Westerns series Friday, February 3rd at the Aero Theatre. "Moves like hot mecury, and it draws a viewer so thoroughly into its world that real life can seem thick and dull when the lights come up." - Ty Burr, Boston Globe.