Close Up

1 - 30 December 2015: Close-Up on Akira Kurosawa


We are proud to present a season of one of Japan’s most influential directors, Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998). This season includes sixteen of Kurosawa’s films, spanning the breadth of his long career, made between 1944 and 1990. Fourteen of these films star Toshiro Mifune, whose collaboration with Kurosawa on a total of sixteen features is among the most successful and prolific director/actor pairings in cinema history. His early masterpieces, The Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Ikiru, were both influenced by western cinema and, in turn, inspired generations of American and European filmmakers.

"The enduring popularity of such titles lies in no small part to their open influence from Hollywood, particularly the westerns of directors such as John Ford. This in itself is reflected in the ease by which they’ve in turn established an action template so readily adapted by filmmakers from all over the world. The obvious influence of these more monumental titles makes it easy to overlook the more humanistic, personal aspects of the master’s wide array of low-key, contemporary dramas and potent literary adaptations. […] There is nothing subpar within this large and varied body of work” – Jasper Sharp

Thirteen of the films in this programme will be presented on 35mm prints, as originally intended.

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail
Akira Kurosawa
1945 | 57 min | B/W | 35mm  

This early Kurosawa film is based on a traditional story that exists in both Noh and Kabuki stage versions, with director making use of elements from both. A young nobleman has to cross a checkpoint in his flight from a vengeful brother, and impersonates a porter to do so; one of his juniors has to beat him to make the deception more convincing, but thereby violates one of the prime tenets of the feudal code. read more

Drunken Angel
Akira Kurosawa
1948 | 94min | B/W | 35mm  

Dr Sanada runs a clinic in the slums of Tokyo. When small-time hood Matsunaga comes to his surgery after a gunfight, Sanada diagnoses him with tuberculosis and convinces him to begin treatment. The disillusioned doctor feels that, by saving this young yakuza, he can retrieve a sense of his own lost youth and idealism. Thus they embark on a troubled friendship which is tested by the prejudices of the two and the release from prison of Matsunaga's mobster boss. read more

Stray Dog
Akira Kurosawa
1949 | 122 min | B/W | Digital

A bad day gets worse for young detective Murakami when a pickpocket steals his gun on a hot, crowded bus. Desperate to right the wrong, he goes undercover, scavenging Tokyo’s sweltering streets for the stray dog whose desperation has led him to a life of crime. With each step, cop and criminal’s lives become more intertwined and the investigation becomes an examination of Murakami’s own dark side. Stray Dog goes beyond a crime thriller, probing the squalid world of postwar Japan and the nature of the criminal mind. read more

Akira Kurosawa
1950 | 86 min | B/W | 35mm  

A nobleman and his wife, travelling through a wood, are set upon by a bandit who kills the man and rapes the woman – or at least, so it seems. But the story becomes less clear-cut as we’re shown the incident from four angles – one version from each of the participants (the murdered man through the voice of a medium), plus the account of a woodcutter who witnessed the events. Who can be believed – if anyone? read more

Akira Kurosawa
1952 | 137 min | B/W | 35mm  

Opening with a shot of an x-ray, showing the main character's stomach, Ikiru tells the tale of a dedicated, downtrodden civil servant who, diagnosed with a fatal cancer, learns to change his dull, unfulfilled existence, and suddenly discovers a zest for life. Plunging first into self-pity, then a bout of hedonistic pleasure-seeking on the frenetic streets of post-war Tokyo, Watanabe – the film's hero – finds himself driven to give some meaning to his life, finally finding satisfaction through building a children's playground. read more

Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa
1954 | 190 min | B/W | 35mm  

In sixteenth-century Japan a poor village is raided every year by a group of bandits until, driven to the brink of starvation, the villagers decide to hire professional warriors to protect them. With only three meager meals a day to offer as payment, their quest seems an impossible one. A simple plot flawlessly executed, Seven Samurai combines comedy, pathos, memorable characters, gripping tension and some of the finest action scenes ever films into an enthralling cinematic experience. read more

I Live In Fear
Akira Kurosawa
1955 | 103 min | B/W | 35mm  

When a wealthy foundry owner decides to move his entire family from Tokyo to Brazil to escape the nuclear holocaust which he fears is imminent, his family, afraid of losing their status and inheritance, tries to have him declared mentally incompetent. Made at the height of the Cold War, with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still a recent memory, and with the USA, Britain and the Soviet Union all competing in nuclear tests, this blazing attack on complacency stemmed from the same H-Bomb paranoia that gave birth to the Godzilla films. read more

Throne of Blood
Akira Kurosawa
1957 | 104 min | B/W | 35mm  

Kurosawa's transposition of Shakespeare's Macbeth to sixteenth-century Japan is immensely successful in capturing the spirit of the original. A truly remarkable film combining beauty and terror to produce a mood of haunting power, Throne of Blood also shows Kurosawa's familiar mastery of atmosphere, action, and the savagery of war. read more

The Hidden Fortress
Akira Kurosawa
1958 | 138 min | B/W | 35mm  

A story of rival clans, hidden gold and a princess in distress, The Hidden Fortress is a thrilling mix of fairy story and samurai action movie. It was Kurosawa's first film shot in the widescreen process of Tohoscope, and he exploited this to the full in the film's rich variety of landscape locations, including the slopes of Mount Fujiread more

The Bad Sleep Well
Akira Kurosawa
1960 | 145 min | B/W | 35mm  

This impressive tale of greed, corporate corruption and revenge is a powerful indictment of the dark side of business and politics with distinct overtones of Hamlet. Koichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune) is a grieving son seeking revenge for the "suicide" of his father. By assuming a new identity he rises through the ranks of the Public Corporation and cynically marries the President's daughter to better infiltrate the company and exposes the corrupt practice that was responsible for his father's death. However, as Koichi falls in love with his wife, disaster looms. read more

Akira Kurosawa
1961 | 106 min | B/W | 35mm  

Yôjimbô is the story of Sanjuro, a samurai in nineteenth-century Japan who drifts into a rural town and learns from the innkeeper that the town is divided between two gangs. He proceeds to plays one side off against the other, but his activities are curtailed by the arrival of Unosuke, a shrewd and ruthless man – the son of one of the gangsters. Events spiral into violence and the samurai must chose a side... read more

Akira Kurosawa
1962 | 95 min | B/W | 35mm  

Sanjuro (Mifune) runs rings around nine nave and clean-cut samurai and two genteel ladies while cleaning up a spot of corruption in local government. Kurosawa plays most of it for laughs by expertly parodying the conventions of Japanese period action movies. Most of the action is relatively bloodless, but in the very last scene he stages a startling switch of mood with an intense finale which may well be the briefest, and most breathtaking, duel in all cinema. read more

High and Low
Akira Kurosawa
1963 | 143 min | B/W | Digital

Wealthy industrialist Kingo Gondo (Mifune) faces an agonising choice when a ruthless kidnapper, aiming to snatch his young son, takes the chauffeur's boy by mistake – but still demands the ransom. Gondo, engaged in a precarious scheme to seize control of the shoe company he works for, faces ruin if he pays up. Although the film is based on the McBain novel, Kurosawa essentially takes the plot outline – a kidnapping that goes wrong and the moral dilemma it poses – and, with his scriptwriters, turns it into something more ambiguous and complex; an anatomy of the inequalities in modern Japanese society. read more

Red Beard
Akira Kurosawa
1965 | 172 min | B/W | 35mm  

Red Beard marks the end of one of the most remarkable actor-director relationships in the history of cinema. In a rural clinic, the authoritarian but humane Dr Niide (Toshiro Mifune) teaches the idle and socially ambitious new intern Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) the meaning of responsibility, first to oneself and then to others. The film unfolds in a series of vignettes which transform the arrogant student into a caring doctor. This theme of the learning process within a master-pupil relationship is one that constantly recurred in Kurosawa's work. read more

Akira Kurosawa
1985 | 115 min | Colour | Digital

With Ran Kurosawa re-imagines Shakespeare’s King Lear as a singular historical epic set in sixteenth-century Japan. Majestic in scope, the film is Kurosawa’s late-life masterpiece, a profound examination of the folly of war and the crumbling of one family under the weight of betrayal, greed, and the insatiable thirst for power. read more

Akira Kurosawa
1990 | 199 min | Colour | 35mm  

Dreams is based on actual Kurosawa's dreams at different stages of his life. Comprised of eight episodes the narrative allows us rare insight into the director’s mind, and explores such topics as the cost of war, the perils of nuclear power, and humanity’s need to harmonize with nature. read more

Chris Marker
1985 | 71 min | Colour | Digital

A.K. is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Ran. Marker’s observational camera follows Kurosawa and his crew on location, presenting a fascinating fly-on-the-wall look at the production that allows the viewer to simply observe the production, with fairly little narration. read more