Akira Kurosawa

I went to the National Museum of Singapore twice in the past week to watch five movies from Akira Kurosawa’s veritable body of work – one on Wednesday and four on Saturday. NSM had been screening Akira Kurosawa films since 18 April until 30 April.

I read about it in the newspaper on the day the film retrospective started, but I was too busy that week to consider checking it out. When I was finally free, it was for Throne of Blood last Wednesday night. I went with my brother, not knowing what to expect, but reading the blurb in the brochure I was pleased to find out it was an adaptation of Macbeth, as I will be going to watch the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s staging of Macbeth with some friends this month. I wasn’t used to the less visually exciting and slow-moving but still riveting style of filming, but it wasn’t a bad experience and I wanted to watch more. The Shakespearean plot was quite strong and I liked how themes of betrayal, ambition, and greed translated well to a feudal Japanese setting, showing how such themes are universal in human nature.

On Saturday, I was a bit sad I didn’t manage to get anyone to go with me – my brother wasn’t free that day – but I went down to the National Museum anyway to watch the four films screening that day, from 11am to 9:30pm, with breaks of slightly less than an hour between each movie. The first movie was The Bad Sleep Well, which tackled the topic of corporate corruption in Japan. I have to admit, I was confused at points about some of the characters’ specific roles and importance in the story, although I enjoyed seeing the machinations of the protagonist, played by Toshiro Mifune – who I found out later was the protagonist not only in the five films I watched, but was in a total of 16 Akira Kurosawa’s films!

After a hasty impromptu lunch with James Lee and Joel Yu (who happened to have just finished watching Thor at Plaza Singapura), I hurried back to NSM to catch the second movie, Yojimbo, about a wandering samurai who comes into a crime-infested town and is determined to clean it up. There were some problems with the reel that caused some scenes to be skipped, but on the whole it was entertaining and Toshiro Mifune commanded every scene as he swaggered around like the confident but deadly ronin he was portraying.

Sanjuro, a sequel to Yojimbo, was my favourite for the day. It featured the same ronin, Sanjuro, but in an entirely different setting and conflict. The movie was more humorous than its predecessor and the theatre was roaring with laughter at many points during the movie. He continues his old modus operandi of pretending to side with the enemy, killing their warriors, then blaming it on a formidable foe. Sanjuro also has a very tense Mexican standoff between Sanjuro and another ronin near the end:

A quick sandwich before the last movie High and Low, and I would be done for the day. Toshiro Mifune was outstanding as usual as a rich executive who is forced to choose between furthering his own ambition or saving his chauffeur’s son – who had been accidentally kidnapped instead of his own son – but for whom the kidnapper still demanded a hefty ransom. The first half of the movie played out very well as you see the plot unfold and the police attempt to catch the kidnapper while negotiating with him, but it got rather long-drawn in the end as the police tried to trace the kidnapper. Still, it was a stellar movie.

I’m a bit sad I didn’t manage to catch his best-known works Rashomon and Seven Samurai. Still, I’m glad I had the opportunity to watch five good movies by a legendary auteur for the price of nothing.

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