When it comes to Japanese film, two words take precedence.
It’s not as if there aren’t other quality Japanese filmmakers. Juzo Itami, for example, makes movies that not only are of interest to film scholars, but such efforts as “Tampopo” and “A Taxing Woman” remain popular with Japanese audiences.
In an age that places more importance on Western imports, the films of Kurosawa - and, indeed, the director himself - are less highly regarded in Japan than around the rest of the world.
But that can’t change the fact that the 86-year-old master was there early on and has continued to do quality work longer than most.
His masterpieces are many, including “Seven Samurai” (1954), “Throne of Blood” (1957), the samurai parodies “Yojimbo” (1961) and “Sanjuro” (1962), “Kagemusha” (1980) and “Ran” (1985).
But while he’d already made an impression on Japanese audiences prior to 1950, that was the year that Kurosawa enjoyed his first big taste of international success. And he did it with a stunning psychological study in perception called “Rashomon.”
As part of a benefit for Spokane Public Radio, “Rashomon” will enjoy a special one-day showing at the Magic Lantern on Sunday. The movie will play three times, at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m., and each showing will be introduced by KPBX film critic Robert Glatzer.
Set in the 12th century, “Rashomon” involves a rape-murder and its subsequent investigation. Kurosawa’s intent, however, is not simply to show what happened but to study the very essence of truth.
For like the O.J. Simpson jury, where people looked at stripes and yet saw checks, the four witnesses in “Rashomon” all see the incident in different ways. The great Toshiro Mifune, who gives poetic resonance to a mere grunt, plays the bandit.
Not only did “Rashomon” win Kurosawa his first Oscar, but the film, which is in black and white, also was nominated for its art direction. And the National Board of Review named “Rashomon” one of its five best films of the year and Kurosawa as best director.
Sadly enough, Kurosawa is not popular in Japan these days. For the past couple of decades he’s struggled just to raise money. Japanese audiences prefer the action/comedy of Itami and the American imports.
But their cinema history is inextricably linked with Kurosawa. And they, as well as we, are better off for it.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “RASHOMON” **** Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori and Takashi Shimura. In Japanese with English subtitles; black and white. Running time: 1:28 Rating: Not rated