Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress is arguably the most unique epic Kurosawa made. It’s “hero” is of secondary interest to the story, we never see the war at hand in action, and the Fortress is of little significance other than a starting point for the adventure. So let’s break it down to how the infamous director handles this unusual structure.

The epic genre often has a central figure with a strong supporting cast in tow, perhaps two protagonists if there’s a love story to boot. Here, we have a determined soldier (played of course by Toshiro Mifune), a bratty princess, and two comic sidekicks. Except…our sidekicks (played hilariously by Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) have more screen time and influence the plot more than anyone else in the massive cast. Just like in Star Wars: A New Hope we find our Japanese C-3PO and R2-D2 wandering a desert after a battle of which we don’t really understand. Now imagine if those two Lucas characters, while still not the heroes per say, were the focus of the film. Kurosawa’s characters are untrusting, crude fellows whose suspect motives make even their own friendship unsacred. At times they flat out abandon the plot in pursuit of their own goal of returning to their home. If this alone catches your fancy then by all means, see The Hidden Fortress and read no more.

As said before, this is an epic that really picks and chooses when to be “epic”. The early scenes at a labor camp and the cities the cast visits are the grandest sights to be seen. There’s very little violence or even fighting in the films 139 minute run time. We are treated to some spectacular engagements of mobs of people struggling in what is effectively conveyed as wartime. These moments are used expertly to make our heroes feel so small among the chaos and the few fight scenes we get are exhilarating (especially the spear duel).

Finally the Hidden Fortress itself is as unconventional as the rest of the film. It is literally two buildings with a secret underground passage hidden in a small canyon. That’s it and it serves only to introduce the princess. This encapsulates the only real flaw of the film: for a two hour plus movie it meanders too much. But the biting humor, spectacle, and good heartedness make it overall a worth while view.


A classic film can’t garner it’s following on nostalgia alone; it must both change expectations and hold up over time in the face of imitations, of which some are even better (A Fistful of Dollars is debatable). Yojimbo has the style, attitude, and versatility you expect from a classic. It’s sarcastic, tough-as-nails hero, Sanjuro gives us the only humanity that which we wish to connect with. Save the innkeeper and the casket maker, the cast is a composition of crooks, murders, and altogether fowl looking characters. The Villains have never so outnumbered the heroes in film. To boot, both warring families in this desolate town are greatly developed. They are comical, self-righteous, and unpredictable, but most of all they are believably of this earth. Only Sanjuro with his seemingly inhuman swordsmanship has any grasp of the teetering relationship of the two sides.

This leads to the greater conflict than the jeopardy of this town (after all, its populous is almost nothing but these villains). The families are only man and capable of mans worst. Sanjuro rises above them and toys with their dispute like a deity. Indeed this is reinforced by his regular accession to the bell tower to watch events unfold in the streets below. This is the by far the most pleasurable portion of the film: playing god. With no real motive or obvious goal, Sanjuro simply bats both sides back and forth until their crimes become so great as to destroy much more than themselves. Perhaps the moral is man should not mettle in god’s place. Ultimately our hero is forced to destroy these monsters he had a part in making. He becomes a plague you could say.

Kurosawa often combined mad humor with cynicism and Yojimbo arguably embodies his mantra more so than even Seven Samurai. It’s harsh, awkwardly funny, one of the all time greatest samurai films. It’s a classic.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Production update

In between watching old movies (finally saw Paper Moon) and money problems, I've been cooking up something special for a summer project.

The goal is to commit to a Vblog series with some faint glimmer of production value. I've been considering various costume and set possibilities only to realize now that the task require serious man power. I can get some from friends and family, but I'm going to be breaking my back here.

I'm a strong believer that the difference between people who have a resume and who don't have a resume is their body of work. If you put genuine effort into something you will see results-however so subtle-and you will be proud enough to carry on another day. That's the dream folks. Wish me luck.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ernest Borgnine interview part 1

part 1

Bright Falls-the first two episodes

Bright Falls is the six part live action web series prequel to the upcoming Alan Wake. Here's what I got from the first two episodes.

Both episodes feature high production values (for a web series), strong casting, and a great location for photography. Easily, it is the scenery that you will be most moved by. The script offers both realistic dialogue and routine information withholding. I am a fan of mystery, but usually not from the vantage point of a every day schmo. A detective makes things interesting by showing us how to put two and two together. To boot, a detective notices evidence.

That's not to say the audience doesn't notice all the red flags going off, but protagonist Jake (a nobody journalist in the Alan Wake universe) may become impossible to connect to. Like a bad mystery/thriller he appears to be of the stock type that only takes action when much has been slowly revealed to him rather than discovered. See what I mean.

Overall I'm not terriblly impressed and if the second webisode wasn't already available right after watching the pilot I would have lost all interest. The second episode simply reveals a little more detail about Jake, just enough to raise half an eye brow.

I am very happy to see this growing trend in advertising. Live action media to promote far more expensive digital media opens many door for aspiring filmmakers. A whole new job market has just opened.

Finally, developer Remedy has made it no secret that David Lynch's tv seires Twin Peaks was their biggest influence. I can understand; I too have been deeply motivated by mystery series, books, and film. Too bad I loathe Lynch. I cannot speak for Twin Peaks, but the very offbeat director is well practiced in making avant garde experimental films that are impossible for mainstream audiences to enjoy. We can only wait and see where Bright Falls goes.