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All I Want For Kurisumasu

from the New York Times

Akira Kurosawa in a Box, Including Early Rareties

Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Kenichi Enomoto, left, and Denjiro Okochi in “The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail,” one of the films from the beginning of Kurosawa’s career, previously unavailable in the United States.

THE most imposing DVD gift set of this holiday season is “AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa,” which, in commemoration of Kurosawa’s coming centennial, the Criterion Collection has released at the equally imposing retail price of $399.

Elegantly packaged in a shoebox-size container covered in red and black linen, it contains 25 of the 30-odd features directed by Kurosawa, the Japanese filmmaker most famous for “Rashomon” (1950) and “Seven Samurai” (1954). For the most part these are titles that have already been issued by Criterion in stand-alone editions; they’ve been remastered here with a new menu design but without the extensive supplementary features for which Criterion has become justly famous. This time around it’s just the movies, though the set comes with an abundantly illustrated 96-page book with an introductory essay and notes on each film by the Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince, as well as a personal reminiscence by Donald Richie, who was among the first critics to present Kurosawa to Western audiences.

With surprisingly few exceptions Japanese movies were virtually unknown outside of Japan until “Rashomon” won the Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, touching off a vogue for Japanese cinema that lasted through the decade. Kurosawa, who died in 1998, was never forgiven for his early success by the Western critics who came to prefer the more stylistically refined films of Kenji MizoguchiYasujiro Ozu and other directors whose work was discovered in Kurosawa’s wake, or by the Japanese critics who considered Kurosawa too Western in his cultural references and aesthetic choices.

Today these debates seem provincial and pointless. As the great French critic André Bazin wrote in a letter to his pupil François Truffaut, “Unquestionably anyone who prefers Kurosawa must be incurably blind, but anyone who loves only Mizoguchi is one-eyed.” There is no denying the surging vitality of a “Seven Samurai” or a “Yojimbo” (1961), just as there is no denying the blunt thematic statements and stylistic jumble of films like “Ikiru” (1952) and “I Live in Fear” (1955). And we now know that Mizoguchi and Ozu were influenced just as much by Western films as by Kurosawa, if not more so, with no apparent cost to their Japaneseness, itself a concept rendered suspicious by our postmodern distrust of essentialism.

[ click to continue reading in the NY Times ]

Posted on December 15, 2009 by Editor

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