|Machiko Kyo plays the woman in Rashomon d. Akira Kurosawa (1950)|
d. Akira Kurosawa
Criterion Collection #138
With 26 films included, Akira Kurosawa, by himself, makes up close to 5% of the entire Criterion Collection (3.8 percent.) So what I want to know is that when the Criterion Collection writes that Kurosawa is "arguably the most celebrated Japanese film maker of all time." Who are the competitors that they are thinking about? Suzuki? Ozu? Inagaki? I would say that any "argument" on the subject of "Who is the most celebrated Japanese film maker of all time?" would last about as long as it would take all the participants to say "Kurosawa!" at the exact same time.
Unfortunately I'm not a huge fan so watching all these Kurosawa movies is a bit of an endurance test. At least Rashomon clocks in at less then two hours. Criterion Collection saw fit to upload the Robert Altman interview that serves as the introduction on the DVD, and I found his opinion most useful. Altman notes that in Rashomon, Kurosawa was the first director to shoot the sun/sky- a technique Altman himself immediately utilized in his own work after seeing Rashomon for the first time.
Rashomon is most well known for the unusual narrative technique: telling the same story from the perspective of four different witnesses. The only thing they agree on is the central fact of the film: the death of "the man" Masayuki Mori after the bandit (Toshiro Mifune in not one of his greatest performances) rapes his wife Machiko Kyo. Each witness, including the dead man via a medium, tells a different version of the same events.
This narrative form was impressive in 1950, and it continues to impress today. After watching Rashomon I went to a movie theater and watched the new Wolverine film, and it was like going from a museum where you see a master piece to a Thomas Keller, painter of light, kiosk at the mall. They are both paintings, but one is art and the other mere commerce. I mention Wolverine because that film is set entirely in Japan, so one might at least expect some referencing to the Japanese film tradition. If they did- I didn't catch it- Wolverine might as well have been set in the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco for all the location mattered.