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The Late Films of Akira Kurosawa

The first Japanese director to gain an international following, Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998) maintained a career that spanned more than half a century. His early masterpieces, The Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Ikiru, were both influenced by western cinema and, in turn, inspired generations of American and European filmmakers. (George Lucas credits Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress as the source for his own Star Wars epic.) In cinema, as in the other arts, "late style" works are often ignored in favor of the early and mid-career works that have defined the reputation of an artist. This series suggests that the vision of this master remained undiminished throughout the later years of his remarkable career. Included is the posthumous realization of his final screenplay, After the Rain, which here receives its Boston-area premiere.


January 14 (Friday) 9 pm

Dodes'ka-Den

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Japan 1970, 35mm, color, 140 min.
With Kin Sugai, Yoshitaka Zushi, Kiyoko Tange
Japanese with English subtitles

Shanty dwellers in a Tokyo rubbish dump serve as a microcosm for Kurosawa’s Gorky-style celebration of the human condition, an inspired vision that underscores the triumph of loyalty and the imagination. The film’s characters live among their fantasies: an old man and a boy build an imaginary dream house, a silent man is obsessed by the idea of his wife’s infidelity, and a mentally retarded adolescent thinks he is a tram, repeating the sound "dodes’ka-den, dodes’ka-den." Kurosawa’s first film in color is an interesting mix of realism, social comment, melodrama, and fantasy. In his inimitable way, Kurosawa knits the characters together into a cyclical narrative that encompasses moments of quiet poignancy.

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January 16 (Sunday) 6:00 pm
January 28 (Friday) 9:30 pm

Rhapsody in August (Hachigatsu-no-Kyoshikyoku)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Japan 1990, 35mm, color, 97 min.
With Sachiko Murase, Hisashi Igawa, Narumi Kayashima
Japanese with English subtitles

A grandmother, prompted both by her grandchildren and by a visit from her Japanese-American nephew, recalls the death of her husband when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The children learn the importance of remembering the past and of placing blame on war itself as opposed to the foreigners who waged it. It is a lesson that is challenged when the nephew arrives from America. Kurosawa’s subject here is the process of memory and commemoration, played out on both the personal and social levels. Expressive silence conveys a reflective mode of experience as the quality of silence differs by generation.

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January 17 (Monday) 7 pm

Dersu Uzala

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
USSR/Japan 1975, 35mm, color, 141 min.
With Maksim Munzuk, Yuri Solomin, M. Bichkov
Japanese with English subtitles
HFA Archival Print

Based on the autobiographical novel by Vladimir Arsenyev, Dersu Uzala presents the story of a Russian scientist who is sent with a party of soldiers to make a topographical survey of the wilds of Siberia at the turn of the century. He relies greatly on his hunter-guide, Dersu Uzala, whose knowledge of nature saves his life more than once. What emerges is a sincere account of the inseparable friendship between a "civilized" Russian explorer and a "primitive" Siberian trapper. The story is told in flashback after Arsenyev returns to search for Uzala’s grave and finds the area lacerated by human progress. A splendid performance by Munzuk as the wily, noble savage is enhanced by the elegant dignity of Solomin’s portrayal.


January 21 (Friday) 9:30 pm
January 22 (Saturday) 9:30 pm

After the Rain (Ame Agaru)

Directed by Takashi Koizumi
Japan 1999, 35mm, color, 91 min.
With Akira Terao, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Shiro Mifune
In Japanese with English subtitles
Boston Premiere

Based on Kurosawa’s last screenplay, After the Rain opens in the manner of a classic Kurosawa film as a group of travelers find themselves stranded in a small country inn after encountering heavy rains. Among them is a poor ronin, or masterless samurai, who takes it upon himself to organize an elaborate feast to cheer up his weary colleagues. The plot complications that Kurosawa develops from this situation will take the ronin, a skillful swordsman who is down on his luck, into the employ of a powerful lord and on to a conclusion that the late director hoped would leave the audience "feeling cheered"—a feat that the Japanese director Takashi Koizumi achieves admirably.

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January 24 (Monday) 8 pm
January 29 (Saturday) 9 pm

Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Japan 1980, 35mm, color, 162 min.
With Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kenichi Hagiwara
Japanese with English subtitles
HFA Archival Print

Kurosawa’s first purely Japanese film since Dodes’ka-den is a story of Shakespearean scope: in order to confuse the enemy, a disreputable thief (Nakadai) is employed as the double, or kagemusha, of a clan leader who later dies. When the deception is uncovered, he is thrown out and wanders the countryside like a pariah. The majestic pace, court intrigues, and ritual lend a tragic and human stature to the tale as Kurosawa’s splendidly colorful recreation of sixteenth-century Japan—with its red sunsets, vivid rainbows, multi-colored flags, and dream-like, slow-motion battle scenes—delivers epic grandeur.

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January 25 (Tuesday) 7 pm
January 27 (Thursday) 7 pm

Ran (Chaos)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
France/Japan 1985, 35mm, color, 160 min.
With Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Mieko Harada
Japanese with English subtitles
HFA Archival Print

Kurosawa established himself as the preeminent cinematic interpreter of Shakespeare with his recasting of Macbeth as a samurai warlord in Throne of Blood (1957). Ran is an equally successful interpretation of King Lear which retains many of the main themes of Shakespeare’s play as it transforms the daughters into sons and transposes the action to sixteenth-century Japan. The shift and sway of a nation divided is vast, the chaos terrible, the battle scenes visually stunning—the most ghastly ever filmed—and the outcome even bleaker than Shakespeare’s. The only note of optimism resides in the nobility of the film itself: a huge, tormented canvas from which the powerful performances by Nakadai, Terao, and Harada explode.

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January 26 (Wednesday) 7 pm
January 30 (Sunday) 8 pm

Akira Kurusawa's Dream

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Japan/US 1990, 35mm, color, 119 min.
With Chishu Ryu, Mieko Harada, Mitsuko Naisho
Japanese with English subtitles

The eight episodes of this lyrical, painterly film depict a number of dreams that are vaguely intended to reflect the life and abiding obsessions of its director. Moving from childhood through war to the terror of nuclear pollution, each of the episodes—which, taken together, represent the director’s multi-faceted style—dazzles through its use of color and superbly wrought mise-en-scène rather than through dialogue or structure. In these stories of spirits, both ancient and modern, Kurosawa takes care to hint at his meanings rather than make them overtly manifest.

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