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Link to the topic on Kurosawa's Ikiru, where we have discussed this movie in the past. Also, a link to the Top 100 entry. (PS Admins could someone change the link on the Top 100 entry to this topic?)

I just watched Rashomon for the 3rd time, and each time new details pop out for me. (I am even more convinced that this is a no-brainer for the Top 100.)

Then I remember I had just read the interview with Greg Wolfe where he says the following:

First, there is some evidence that more and more Christians are slowly coming to terms with tragedy – with the realization that the comedy of resurrection does not cancel out the tragedy of the cross. In the realms of both spirituality and the arts Christians are beginning to abandon the need to slap a happy ending to every human tragedy and conundrum. There is greater acceptance of the fact that our salvation comes in and through the pain and messiness of our lives—that short of heaven pain and grace must co-exist. Great art can help us be honest about these things. I’m fond of the Japanese director Kurosawa’s saying that “the artist is the one who does not look away.” Tragedy requires us to look on what we’re prefer to ignore.

...and this got me thinking about the ending to Rashomon.

SPOILERS!

The crisis in Rashomon, I'd argue, is that as the woodcutter says, "I do not understand my own soul" -- and none of us do, do we? They cannot seem to grasp the truth of what happened in the woods, because they cannot grasp the truth about themselves.

What had provoked this realization was being brought face-to-face with evil, and the fact that no one was really accepting their own fault (although it seems everyone had some fault). Over and over again we hear people say they were helpless to stop themselves.

The woodcutter's actions at the end are, in their small way, at least acknowledgment that we are not helpless -- we can do good to answer evil. Therefore the incipient tragedy in Rashomon was that none of the characters were able to rise above their helplessness. This is so very different from the cross, which was an act of love. I don't even think it's strictly correct to call the cross a "tragedy", as much as an active response to tragedy. In this sense, the ending of Rashomon is like the cross: Having seen sin, and acknowledged that some people are stuck in it, we can take hope from the fact that someone has accepted pain and suffering out of love.

This is my fumbling response to the idea that happy endings upset tragedies. :) More directly, I suppose we could put it this way:

The cross=/=tragedy; instead, sin==tragedy, the cross==redemptive drama.

Edited by David Smedberg

That's just how eye roll.

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i wanted to like Rashomon; I like most of Kurosawa's other films I've seen. But I have mostly lost all details of Rashomon from my memory. I remember wishing that Mifune would just kill the woman already because she was so irritating (and then we had to watch it over and over and over). Unfortunately, that about sums up my reaction to the film. David's sentiments are well put; I can get behind them in theory with this particular film; just don't want to slog through it again to see if I was just in a bad mood.

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I'd be happy with Rashomon in the Top 100, except several of his other films are much more deserving. :) Have you seen Red Beard? The black and white imagery is more stunning, the depths of depravity deeper, the pinnacles of hope even higher, the characters much more engaging. The Mantis, the well scene, the brothel, the flashbacks, wowee...

That being said, Rashomon has grown on me with each subsequent viewing. After my first viewing, my reaction was much like Ed/Buckeye's, but now, my irritation with the jerky samurai, his irritating wife, and the obnoxious thief are far outweighed by my fascination with the contrasts between each story, the horror of the spirit's tale, and my admiration of the sun and rain-soaked imagery.

As for the ending,

as I recall, there's a lot of critical debate about whether the hopeful denouement feels artificially tacked on and distractingly contrary to the preceding 85 minutes. I'm personally ambivalent about this question: I think the ending is consistent with the spirit infusing much of Kurosawa's work of the 1950's and 1960's (the tone of Ikiru and Drunken Angel immediately come to mind), while antithetical to the overwhelming bleakness of his work in the '70's and '80's. Which one is 'truer' for me: I dunno.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I love the short stories on which RASHOMON is based ("Rashomon" and "In a Bamboo Grove"). Ryonosuke Akutagawa is a tremendous writer. Kurosawa's adaptation is considerably more hopeful than the original material--the stories both end quite darkly--and I wonder if some of the animosity towards the resolution of the film is based on Kurosawa's reworking of the narratives. Personally, I've never had a problem with it.

Edited by Ryan H.
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I'd be happy with Rashomon in the Top 100, except several of his other films are much more deserving. :) Have you seen Red Beard? The black and white imagery is more stunning, the depths of depravity deeper, the pinnacles of hope even higher, the characters much more engaging. The Mantis, the well scene, the brothel, the flashbacks, wowee...

Ah yes, that 3-per-director rule. And no, I haven't seen Red Beard yet, that's an excellent recommendation.

That's just how eye roll.

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Kurosawa is easily my favorite director of all time; I own all 31 of his films on DVD, and have seen each film multiple times; I taught a class at Azusa Pacific University on his films in 2005; and hanging in my house are seven original Japanese posters (three from paintings by Kurosawa himself) and one amazing Polish poster of The Seven Samauri.

Having boastfully qualified myself a kind of ultimate fan, here is my ranking of his films in order of greatness (Ikiru being the best). I think the top 20 all qualify as true masterpieces -- more than any other single director -- and I genuinely love all but the bottom three (and let's hope thread doesn't quickly devolve into an argument about the merits of The Idiot).

1. Ikiru

2. Rashomon

3. High and Low

4. Throne of Blood

5. Ran

6. Dersu Uzala

7. Red Beard

8. Seven Samauri

9. Yojimbo

10. Dodeskaden

11. Drunken Angel

12. Stray Dog

13. The Lower Depths

14. The Hidden Fortress

15. Sanjuro

16. One Wonderful Sunday

17. Dreams

18. Kagemusha

19. The Bad Sleep Well

20. The Quiet Duel

21. Sanshiro Sugata

22. Rhapsody in August

23. No Regrets for our Youth

24. Madadayo

25. Scandal

26. I Live in Fear

27. The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail

28. Those Who Make Tomorrow

29. The Idiot

30. The Most Beautiful

31. Sanshiro Sugata II

Edited by Scott Derrickson

In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. -- Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

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Scott Derrickson wrote:

: 4. Throne of Blood

: 6. Throne of Blood

You must REALLY like that one! ;)

I looked for Rhapsody in August on your list but couldn't find it; is it one of these, perhaps? (If not, I note that the IMDb says Kurosawa directed 32 films during his lifetime; however, I don't know if this includes any short films or anthologies etc.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Scott Derrickson wrote:

: 4. Throne of Blood

: 6. Throne of Blood

You must REALLY like that one! ;)

I looked for Rhapsody in August on your list but couldn't find it; is it one of these, perhaps? (If not, I note that the IMDb says Kurosawa directed 32 films during his lifetime; however, I don't know if this includes any short films or anthologies etc.)

Oh crap. Revising my list now. Doh!

And the 32nd film is Uma, which Kurosawa directed some scenes for, but did not share directing credit on.

Edited by Scott Derrickson

In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. -- Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

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Scott Derrickson wrote:

: And the 32nd film is Uma, which Kurosawa directed some scenes for, but did not share directing credit on.

But are you the sort of completist who acquired a copy anyway? I mean, I know I would be. :)

BTW, in case you're wondering, I wasn't fact-checking your list or anything; I was just looking for Rhapsody in August because it's one of the dozen or so Kurosawas that I've seen, and fairly recently at that.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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(If not, I note that the IMDb says Kurosawa directed 32 films during his lifetime; however, I don't know if this includes any short films or anthologies etc.)

Depends on the list - besides the canonical 30 films, there are Horses (1941), for whom AK's mentor Kajiro Yamamoto is credited as director, though AK did much or most of the directing; Those Who Make Tomorrow (1946), a leftist workers' film codirected by AK, which he quickly and utterly disavowed; and, IIRC, a documentary about Noh theater that he filmed much later in his career.

Scott, I'm curious to see where you place Rhapsody on your list, as it's one of my very favorite AK films; along with his final film, Madadayo, a greatly underrated coda to his grand career.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Scott Derrickson wrote:

: And the 32nd film is Uma, which Kurosawa directed some scenes for, but did not share directing credit on.

But are you the sort of completist who acquired a copy anyway? I mean, I know I would be. :)

BTW, in case you're wondering, I wasn't fact-checking your list or anything; I was just looking for Rhapsody in August because it's one of the dozen or so Kurosawas that I've seen, and fairly recently at that.

I've never seen Uma. But now it's going to bother me that I haven't. Which of his films are your favorites? I think Drunken Angel might be his most under-appreciated. Or maybe Dodeskaden, which I seem to like much more than most people.

Watching young Toshiro Mifune in Drunken Angel is like watching young Marlon Brando in Streetcar - the naturalism of the performance was way ahead of its time. And contrasting that with operatic performances like Throne of Blood show what a versatile actor he was.

In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. -- Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

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6. Dersu Uzala

I really didn't grok onto this one when I saw it for the first time. Maybe I was too tired... What leads you to place it so high, above both Throne of Blood and Ran?

That's just how eye roll.

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6. Dersu Uzala

I really didn't grok onto this one when I saw it for the first time. Maybe I was too tired... What leads you to place it so high, above both Throne of Blood and Ran?

It's not placed above Throne of Blood and Ran -- I ranked both of those films higher.

That said, I have the advantage of having seen Dersu Uzala on the big screen while at USC film school. The available DVD does not look good -- if I recall, it's a copy of a print. So there's that. But I also think it's a wonderful film about friendship set against the hostilities of a beautiful but menacing environment. All of Kurosawa's films make masterful use of weather, none more so than this one. It's an intimate epic, beautifully made on a budget.

In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. -- Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

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Scott, I'm curious to see where you place Rhapsody on your list, as it's one of my very favorite AK films; along with his final film, Madadayo, a greatly underrated coda to his grand career.

Even though I place both films in the lower half of the list, I do think they are both great films. The old woman fighting against the rain in Rhapsody is marvelous, and I very much like your phrase "coda to his grand career" with respect to Madadayo -- makes me like the film more.

And here's a list of Kurosawa's Top 100 films in chronological order: http://tinyurl.com/7lslrx

Edited by Scott Derrickson

In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. -- Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

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I really didn't grok onto this one when I saw it for the first time. Maybe I was too tired... What leads you to place it so high, above both Throne of Blood and Ran?

It's not placed above Throne of Blood and Ran -- I ranked both of those films higher.

::blush:: Oops.

Edited by David Smedberg

That's just how eye roll.

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Even though I place both films in the lower half of the list, I do think they are both great films. The old woman fighting against the rain in Rhapsody is marvelous, and I very much like your phrase "coda to his grand career" with respect to Madadayo -- makes me like the film more.

Thanks - I'm fascinated by the progression from the elderly despairing characters of his films of the 1970's and 1980's (Ran's Hidetora, even Dersu) to the more hopeful geriatric protagonists of his last 3 films (including the ancient character played by Chishu Ryu in the final Dream). These archetypal old folks have found a peace in approaching death and acceptance of a life well and fully lived, in which they have successfully imparted their wisdom to younger generations, that I find deeply moving. Knowing that AK wrote these scripts as an elderly fellow himself, freely acknowledging the autobiographical character of his work, makes these films even more affecting.

(Sorry if I'm rambling a bit, but I can't resist throwing in a little psychology here, too. These older characters, both those hopeless and those hopeful, beautifully illustrate the work to be done in the final 2 stages of Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development: generativity vs. stagnation, and ego integrity vs. despair.)

And here's a list of Kurosawa's Top 100 films in chronological order: http://tinyurl.com/7lslrx

How interesting - do you know the origin/source of this list?

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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What a delightful top 100 list from Kurosawa! So eclectic and unique. Yet another plug for Running on Empty, which we were discussing on the Lumet thread. You also have to love the lack of pretension involved in including films like The Thin Man on a top 100 list.

I also love Scott's top AK films list. Glad to see you include Dreams in the top 20, as that's the only Kurosawa film that I saw close to the time of its release. Because of that, I have a sentimental attachment to it. The critical response to that film was not that warm, but I still love the concept and think the opening half of the film is marvelous.

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Scott Derrickson wrote:

: I've never seen Uma. But now it's going to bother me that I haven't.

:)

You don't know how RELIEVED I was when the local Cinematheque finally got around to showing the three or four David Lean films that he made BETWEEN his Noel Coward / Charles Dickens phase (in the '40s) and his Hobson's Choice / Summertime phase (in the mid-'50s, after which he spent the rest of his career making massive period epics). For some reason those middle films have not been released on DVD here, or at least they hadn't at the time.

And then, when I discovered that Lean had directed certain scenes in George Stevens' The Greatest Story Ever Told, I felt relief that I already owned a copy of that film thanks to my interest in Bible epics (and Jesus movies specifically).

: Which of his films are your favorites?

I think Rashomon and Ikiru make a fascinating double-bill because they both involve tales told from multiple perspectives -- but in one case, the tales all clash, while in the other, the tales add up to something bigger. I also had the good fortune of seeing Dersu Uzula on the big screen and immediately wanted to see it with my kids some day -- though the one time I looked at it on DVD, it didn't seem quite so impressive, perhaps for the reasons you mention here.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 8 years later...

Having watched Kagemusha last night ahead of our 2020 Top 100 voting - I wasn't as much of a fan of the film as I'd hoped to be - I came here looking for a discussion of the movie and found this thread, which I'm pulling back to the top of our board so folks can revisit the thoughts on Kurosawa that we shared around the time of our 2011 Top 100 list. Reading through these posts has been helpful for me. I hope it will be for you as well. 

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I haven't watched Kagemusha for almost a decade, but I agree with a scholar (can't recall whom - Stephen Prince maybe?) who sees this as a dry run for Ran.  The themes are more fully developed, the characters much more interesting, the visuals more consistently engrossing, and the pacing more effective in the later film.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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22 minutes ago, Andrew said:

I haven't watched Kagemusha for almost a decade, but I agree with a scholar (can't recall whom - Stephen Prince maybe?) who sees this as a dry run for Ran.  The themes are more fully developed, the characters much more interesting, the visuals more consistently engrossing, and the pacing more effective in the later film.

Agreed on all of this, but it comes as a surprise. I'd thought Kagemusha was more of the late-Kurosawa favorite in critical circles.

Ran has come off a bit for me over the years, through the latest rewatch. But watching Kagemusha has made me appreciate Ran more, for all the reasons you list. 

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Ran and Kagemusha are my top two Kurosawa's, with the latter having gradually risen in my estimation over the past years. I think I would actually pick Kagemusha as my favorite Kurosawa at this point, with Ran as a very close second. I think Ryan Holt and I are the only ones who love Kagemusha that much though.

I love the grandeur, scope, and tragedy of both films, but I find the personal element of the thief's redemption and sacrifice something that balances the humanistic elements with the drama beautifully. I really hope this can be one of our two Kurosawas, but I'm expecting the others to make it instead.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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