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Rashomon (1950) Review

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Rashomon

Time: 88 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Takashi Shimura as Kikori
Minoru Chiaki as Tabi Hōshi
Kichijiro Ueda as the listener
Toshiro Mifune as Tajōmaru
Machiko Kyō as the Samurai’s wife
Masayuki Mori as the Samurai
Director: Akira Kurosawa

The rape of a bride (Machiko Kyo) and the murder of her samurai husband (Masayuki Mori) are recalled from the perspectives of a bandit (Toshiro Mifune), the bride, the samurai’s ghost and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura).

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I wanted to watch more films from Akira Kurosawa after watching Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, both of which were fantastic. I set my sights on Rashomon next, it has been said that this movie has been so essential and influential to cinema, and it’s known as a real classic. Having seen it, I can say it certainly lived up to its reputation.

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On the surface, Rashomon about a crime that took place, focussing on who saw the crime and what happened, with the story being told through different perspectives of those involved. I really like the way that this movie narratively unfolds, especially how it is constantly changing with every person who tells their side of the story. I found the plot to be engaging, and it does well at making you suspicious with every version of the story that you hear. The writing is quite clever, only showing you what it wants you to know and when they want you know. The structure is worth noting too, with a lot of non-linear storytelling that makes a lot of use of flashbacks. Its use of both makes Rashomon a unique and game changing movie for its time considering that it was in the 1950s. It’s quite intelligent, well put together, and very compelling to watch. Along with being very clever in terms of a crime thriller, it also has a lot to say thematically. As you can tell, truth and narrative are definitely a big part of the movie, with how easy it is for people to falsify the truth, and how interpretations of the truth can be subjective. However, Rashomon is also about morality and human nature, as well as the human condition. With all this, it packs an emotional punch at the end that surprised me. It is quite a short movie at 90 minutes long but it’s the right length, and despite the shortness still has a lot there that can be delved into. With the different perspectives that are given in this movie, I want to watch it again because I feel like I’d get more out of it on repeat viewings.

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The acting is all great, from the people in the present storyline debating about what happened in this crime, to the people who are giving their sides of the stories. The performances especially from the lead three, The Bandit, Husband and Wife, really make you question everything about the film. Of course out of all of them, it is Toshiro Mifune who is the standout in his role as the bandit. He is very much a supporting character here but he steals every scene he’s in.

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Akira Kurosawa’s direction is incredibly impressive as always. For one, it is shot very well. The black and white cinematography is gorgeous and beautifully lit, and the use of natural lighting really makes it appealing to watch. Many of the camera techniques used here also help with the narrative, for example each of the four people who give their side of the story during the trial face the camera directly, as if we are the court in this trial. The editing also played a key role, and it’s incredibly sharp and puts everything together excellently.

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Rashomon is a fantastic film, and I can see now why it’s so famous and iconic. It is a simple yet complex crime thriller about unreliable perspectives, human nature and morality, which is incredibly written, directed and acted. I think it’s a must watch, and it is a movie that I’m interested in rewatching.

Seven Samurai (1954) Review

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Seven Samurai

Time: 125 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo
Takashi Shimura as Kambei Shimada
Daisuke Katō as Shichirōji
Isao Kimura as Katsushirō Okamoto
Minoru Chiaki as Heihachi Hayashida
Seiji Miyaguchi as Kyūzō
Yoshio Inaba as Gorōbei Katayama
Yoshio Tsuchiya as Rikichi
Bokuzen Hidari as Yohei
Yukiko Shimazaki as Rikichi’s wife
Kamatari Fujiwara as Manzō
Keiko Tsushima as Shino
Kokuten Kōdō as Gisaku
Yoshio Kosugi as Mosuke
Eijirō Tōno as a thief
Jun Tatara as a coolie
Atsushi Watanabe as a bun seller
Director: Akira Kurosawa

A veteran samurai, gathers six samurais to protect a village from the cruel bandits. As the samurais teach the natives how to defend themselves, the village is attacked by a pack of 40 bandits.

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There were plenty of well-known famous movies that I knew of that I had yet to check out for myself, many of them were classics. Seven Samurai was one of them, and it was a bit intimidating and daunting going into it. It was a black and white movie, with aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it’s in Japanese and was 3.5 hours long. However I came out of the movie really loving it.

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The astonishing thing about Seven Samurai is that it seems far too modern for a film made in the 50s, it really can still compete with action films today. The length and the amount of time spent on characterisation and story might put off some of the audience, but I’d say that the film does enough to grip audiences even today. The story is told in two parts, separated by an intermission. The first part is about the initial plight of the villagers, the title characters being assembled to help the village, their arrival into the village, and the several tactics they come up with in preparation. The next part brings the bandits into play which ultimately culminates in a giant battle that tests both the samurais and the villagers. As said earlier, it is a little over 3 hours long which can be intimidating, but it makes great use of that runtime. The script is pretty much flawless, director Akira Kurosawa is incredibly patient in his approach to the story here, and his storytelling is strong. He’s never in a hurry as he builds up the premise slowly, taking his time on focusing on defining the village’s desperate situations before introducing the samurais. He also lets each scene play out gradually, and even infuses humour wherever he can. It really focuses well on all the characters and the situations, really fleshing them out. It’s an epic tale held together firmly by all seven major characters, each of them are given tremendous depth and arcs in the script. A lot of the character development is conveyed through events and dialogue that reveal truths about each of them. With so much attention invested into each of them, the entire story would deviate greatly if even one of them were removed. Despite the looming battle that’s anticipated, Seven Samurai isn’t simply about the battle at the end. It’s about two distinct groups of people that mistrust each other, but who work together. It’s easy to see how many films Seven Samurai has influenced: countless westerns and action films, or really any film in which a team is assembled to carry out a challenging task.

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Seven Samurai features a highly devoted cast, and every single one of them leave their imprint as their respective well developed and engaging characters. Many of the characters are very well fleshed out, but none of them stand out as much as two of the samurai. The first is the leader of the seven samurai, played excellently by Takashi Shimura as a veteran samurai, who commands quite a strong on-screen presence. The second is that of the character of Kikuchiyo played by Toshiro Mifune. The character is fascinating, funny and dominates just about every scene he’s in, and you want to learn more about him (and over time you do). From beginning to end, Mifune delivers a fierce and energetic performance that really stands out even among the other great actors. The rest of the supporting cast is no slouch and play their part very well too.

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This is the first movie I have seen from Akira Kurosawa, and from this alone I already know that he’s an absolutely masterful filmmaker. First of all, it’s shot very well. The cinematography does a great job in creating a very rich atmosphere, and the use of close ups, slow-motion and smooth manoeuvres with the camera are composed excellently. The location and settings also evoke an era reminiscent of its timeline. The editing is perfect too, for the mere fact that it keeps the audience’s runtime despite the demanding runtime. There are some spectacular action sequences, Kurosawa really gives the battle scenes a grand sense of scale. Watching it now, you can clearly see the influence that it has had on so many films since then. Lastly it boasts a memorable and effective background score that suits the story very well.

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Seven Samurai is definitely an influential movie that fully lives up to its enormous reputation, and it’s easy to see why it is considered to be a great achievement in film. The script is dense yet keeps your attention throughout, the characters are well developed and performed excellently by the cast, and Akira Kurosawa’s direction is masterful and ahead of its time. I understand that it is an intimidating movie to watch for the first time, but I do highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already, it is absolutely worth it.