Japanese movies, the essentials

I hope some of our readers followed Scott’s recommendation and watched or taped a few of the Akira Kurosawa films that TCM showed yesterday. I watched High and Low for the first time and loved it.

Here are a few more recommendations for those interested in Japanese films from the Kurosawa era:

Ikiru: TCM didn’t show this movie, but it’s one of my favorite Kurosawa films. Ikiru is a scathing attack on the Japanese bureaucracy. An aging bureaucrat who has made an art form of blocking worthwhile projects learns he’s terminally ill. He becomes desperate to give meaning to his life by completing a project he has blocked — the conversion of a cesspool to a playground. To do this, he must overcome obstacle after obstacle.

Tokyo Story: Kurosawa wasn’t the only great Japanese director of his era. Yasujirō Ozu rates alongside him in the estimation of many critics. Tokyo Story is among his masterpieces which also include Late Spring and Floating Weeds. Ozu’s post World War II films are understated and austere, and full of nuance and humanity.

Ugetsu: Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, Ugetsu is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen, and one of the best. It’s a ghost story, a war story, and a family drama rolled into one. The cinematography is unparalleled.

As a critique of feudal Japan and Japanese militarism, which Mizoguchi had championed before the war, Ugetsu apparently received a lukewarm reception when released in 1953. However, it won acclaim abroad. It regularly appears well up the list of all-time top-100 films.

I don’t know to what extent these films are available to American audiences through various media, but for film buffs, especially lovers of Japanese movies, they should be considered among the essentials.

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