Tag Archives: Takashi Shimura

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.

Yojimbo (1961) Review

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Yojimbo

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Toshiro Mifune as Kuwabatake Sanjuro
Tatsuya Nakadai as Unosuke
Yoko Tsukasa as Nui
Isuzu Yamada as Orin
Daisuke Katō as Inokichi
Takashi Shimura as Tokuemon
Kamatari Fujiwara as Tazaemo
Atsushi Watanabe as the town’s Coffin Maker
Director: Akira Kurosawa

A nameless ronin, or samurai with no master (Toshiro Mifune), enters a small village in feudal Japan where two rival businessmen are struggling for control of the local gambling trade. Taking the name Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the ronin convinces both silk merchant Tazaemon (Kamatari Fujiwara) and sake merchant Tokuemon (Takashi Shimura) to hire him as a personal bodyguard, then artfully sets in motion a full-scale gang war between the two ambitious and unscrupulous men.

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After watching Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, I wanted to check out more of his movies, I could already tell that he was a fantastic filmmaker. While there was a wide selection of popular and acclaimed movies of his that I could’ve decided to check out next, I ultimately decided on Yojimbo, an action samurai movie starring longtime Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune. While it’s not quite as great as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo was great and well worth the watch.

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Something that Yojimbo is known for is that A Fistful of Dollars, the first movie in Sergio Leone’s “The Man with No Name” Western trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, was unofficially based on it. If you’ve seen A Fistful of Dollars, you’ve more or less seen Yojimbo as they mostly have the same storyline, characters and climax. In all fairness, in one way or another, Yojimbo has been copied across nearly every form of media, and you can tell its very influential. The story is fairly simple: a mysterious man arrives to a town and plays two warring rival gangs against each other. It’s quite entertaining, and there’s hardly ever a dull moment. The blending of tones is fantastic, managing to be funny, dark and thrilling all at once. The first half is rather playful, whereas the tone darkens in the second half. The humour is particularly well timed, Yojimbo is a lot funnier than you would expect it to be, making it a pretty easy watch. There wasn’t really an emotional impact from watching this movie, it’s mainly just simple fun from start to finish, I enjoyed it for that. The movie also fleshes out some of its characters that could’ve ended up as flat caricatures, which really does add to the movie. Yojimbo is a slow burn, and the plot itself isn’t unpredictable (exact same plot to A Fistful of Dollars aside) but is still tense and entertains throughout.

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The cast are all good, but the standout is Toshiro Mifune, who gives yet another fantastic performance. He plays a ronin that happens onto the small town with two warring gangs, who decides to play them against each other while profiting from it, and of course by the end he becomes a reluctant hero. He’s calm and quiet, suave, and very clever. He really was the original “Man with No Name” character, being able to blend stoic toughness with humour, and playing rough and ruthless while deep down being a good person with a heart. As said earlier, many of the people the film focuses on could’ve been flat caricatures but instead they’re complex, well-defined, fully fleshed out characters. The comedic side characters also keep the movie from getting too serious.

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Having seen Seven Samurai, I already knew that Akira Kurosawa is a fantastic filmmaker, and he doesn’t disappoint here either with his top notch directing. First of all, the cinematography is incredible, framed and composed perfectly, and often times telling the story visually. The action itself is superb, and still holds up to this day. It’s very easy to see why and how many of Kurosawa’s films have managed to greatly influence the modern action genre. It was actually more violent than you would think it would be, especially for a movie released back then. Additionally, it is accompanied by a great score by Masaru Sato.

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Yojimbo is a great samurai action movie, with a familiar and simple yet entertaining story, directed with such skill by Akira Kurosawa, and with a strong and memorable lead performance from Toshiro Mifune. If you hadn’t watched anything from Kurosawa before, Yojimbo isn’t a bad place to start his filmography.

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.

Godzilla (1954) Review

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Godzilla (1954)

Time: 96 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Some scenes may scare very young children
Cast:
Akira Takarada as Hideto Ogata
Momoko Kōchi as Emiko Yamane
Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Daisuke Serizawa
Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane
Director: Ishirō Honda

When a seemingly indestructible fire-breathing monster is created as a result of the testing of American nuclear weapons, the government takes help from a reclusive scientist to kill the monster.

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I liked the American Godzilla movies from the 2010s with Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. However, Godzilla has a very long history of films, and I did want to go back to the very beginning and see how they used to be. With 1954’s Godzilla I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t think it would have aged all that well. However, it actually surprised me how great this movie is and mostly holds up to a degree.

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While other Godzilla movies has Godzilla fighting other monsters, 1954 Godzilla keeps things simple by having it making it just Godzilla occasionally pop up to terrorize and destroy the city. You don’t actually see a lot of Godzilla, and that played a big part of making his presence so effective. Once you see him fully for the first time, you feel his presence in the movie even when he’s not on screen. The movie is actually darker than I thought it would be, and that makes sense given that it comes from a place of real life horror. For those who don’t know, basically Godzilla symbolizes nuclear holocaust from Japan’s perspective, nearly a decade after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the 1940s. It touches on social issues and provides commentary on Japan’s current society in general at the time, and the moral debate about the use of deadly weapons is ever present. There’s a lot of weight to the story, everything is played seriously, and you really feel the impact of certain moments and even dread throughout. Godzilla is 96 minutes long, which is a pretty good length for the movie, and it spends its time effectively, not a minute is wasted. It doesn’t rely on the destruction or the monster to drive the film (even though Godzilla is sort of the focus of the movie), and it takes its time with the plot. Thankfully, I was invested in the story quite a bit.

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The cast are quite good. The most surprising things was that the use and focus on the characters are at the right level for the movie. Most monster movies have stock human characters that either distract or feel obligatory and just to be there, and are usually the weakest part of each of these movies. Although I wouldn’t call them among the best parts of this film, these characters actually feel human and they fit the story fine enough. The highlights were Takashi Shimura as one of the scientists investigating Godzilla, and Akihiko Hirata as another scientist who has potentially created something that could be used against Godzilla.

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Godzilla is directed well by Ishirō Honda, and I was surprised at how well it mostly holds up. No doubt you’ve at some point seen glimpses of the old Godzilla in the earlier movies using miniatures and a stunt actor in a Godzilla suit, and it looked goofy. While it of course doesn’t look as good as the more recent Godzilla movies, considering it’s the 1950s, in this movie it actually looks quite impressive. The black and white definitely helps, while no doubt there were multiple reasons for filming it in this way, it fits the tone quite well.

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Godzilla is a dark, impactful and thematic monster movie, that’s greatly directed, written and acted. It was innovative for its time but even now there’s a lot to appreciate about it. If you liked the more recent Godzilla films, I highly recommend going back to the 1954 original at the very least, it is well worth the watch.