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Kurosawa Classics

This image from Yojimbo is forever seared in my memory. (Seneca International)

Yojimbo (1961) 75 minutes
Kicking off the festival on Friday is Yojimbo the Bodyguard with Kurosawa's favorite actor Toshiro Mifune. Mifune plays a masterless samurai who tries to use to his advantage the fact that a village is being torn apart by two warring factions. This film has special memories for me because my parents took me to see it at the old Unicorn Theater in La Jolla when I was still in elementary school, and I had an image forever seared in my memory of a dog carrying a dismembered hand. It was a very striking image to a young kid. But now I realize how effective that shot was in establishing the tone of the film and defining the town as a place where social order had collapsed and chaos was reigning. That was part of Kurosawa's genius, to be able to simply and effectively convey ideas in sometimes a single shot. I also now appreciate the film for its mix of humor, action and genre bending. Plus Mifune is brilliant as a masterless samurai -- a man who is both strutting and quietly calculating. The film was remade by Sergio Leone as A Fistful of Dollars , by Walter Hill as Last Man Standing and is even an influence on Takashi Miike's recent Sukiyaki Western Django.

Friday, December 5 at 7:30pm
Sunday, December 7 at 4:15pm
Tuesday, December 9 at 5:30pm

Hidden Fortress (1958) 139 minutes
This film found renewed interest when George Lucas revealed that it was the inspiration for Star Wars. Lucas' admiration and affection for Kurosawa led him to help distribute Kurosawa's Kagemusha in the U.S. Set in medieval Japan, the story concerns the efforts of a warlord (Toshiro Mifune) to rescue a princess (Misa Uehara) from a hidden fortress in enemy territory., He's aided as well as hindered by two greedy peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara in what could be considered the droid roles). A fabulously entertaining and humorous film.

Sunday, December 7 at 6:30pm

High and Low (1963)142 minutes
Toshiro Mifune once again proves how productive his collaboration with Kurosawa could be. He plays Kingo Gondo, a wealthy industrialist whose family becomes the victim of a kidnapper. The film was based on Ed McBain's detective novel King's Ransom. Kurosawa mixes elements of a tense thriller with those of social commentary to create a fascinating and riveting film.

Sunday, December 7 at 12:30pm
Monday, December 8 at 7:40pm
Tuesday, December 9 at 2:00pm

Ikiru (Toho)

Ikiru (1952) 140 minutes
In Ikiru , Takashi Shimura portrays Kanji Watanabe, an aging bureaucrat with cancer who is forced to reconsider his life. A beautiful and compassionate work.

Saturday, December 6 at 12:30pm
Tuesday, December 9 at 7:30pm
Wednesday, December 10 at 3:00pm

Kurosawa favorite Toshiro Mifune plays a bandit in Rashomon (RKO Radio Pictiures)

Rashomon (1950) 88 minutes
Proving that there is more than one side to a story, Rashomon is a cleverly structured story that provocatively leaves us with no clear answers. Toshiro Mifune is once again stunning as a bandit who insists he is not guilty of murder and rape. The film introduced Japanese cinema to the rest of the world and helped to revolutionize how film stories were told.

Saturday, December 6 at 3:45pm
Monday, December 8 at 5:45pm
Thursday, December 11 at 7:30pm

Mifune yet again stars in a Kurosawa classic, this time Seven Samurai (Columbia Pictures)

Seven Samurai (1954) 203 minutes
This is simply one of the greatest films ever made. Don't let the long running time scare you off, this film is fleet on its feet as it weaves a tale about a group of poor villagers who hire a rag-tag group of swordsmen to defend their village from bandits. The film boasts spectacular battle, humor, and a compelling tale. It's such a classic story that it inspired among the many remakes the American western The Magnificent Seven and the anime series Samurai 7 . Even the schlocky Battle Beyond the Stars claims Seven Samurai as inspiration. In fact many of Kurosawa's films inspire remakes but none improve or even compare to the originals.

Saturday, December 6 at 6:30pm
Monday, December 8 at 2:00pm
Wednesday, December 10 at 6:00pm

For more information go to the San Diego Film Foundation website.

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