Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Red Beard (1965) d. Akira Kurosawa

Toshiro Mifune played Red Beard, benevolent clinic Doctor in Akira Kurosawa's film.

Movie Review
Red Beard (1965)
d. Akira Kurosawa
Criterion Collection #159

  Oh shhhitttttt it's another Akira Kurosawa joint y'all....  I'll be honest.  At times... I find the sheer number of Akira Kurosawa films in the Criterion Collection to be, shall we say, daunting.  Kurosawa has 26 films in the Criterion Collection.  I have seen... seven of them: Red Beard, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro and High and Low. You look at that list- all of the films except High and Low and this one are basically Samurai pictures.  High and Low is a detective/crime/noir type film, and Red Beard, god bless it, is a three hour film about life in a 19th century free clinic

  Toshiro Mifune, in his last role in a Kurosawa picture, plays the clinic head Red Beard, so called because he has a reddish beard.  Yuzo Kayama plays Noburo Yasmuto, a hot shot young doctor (he's studied "Dutch medicine.") who is consigned to an internship at the clinic based on a secret agreement between his Dad and Red Beard.  As the story unspools it turns out that Kayama was jilted by his fiance in Edo, and the decision to get him out of there was initiated by Red Beard himself.

  Red Beard is packed with narrative incident.  After the initial childish rebellion, Kayama settles down and comes of age after learning, you know, about feelings and junk.  Red Beard was based on a novel and you can tell because of the diversity of narrative incident: death bed confessions, love affairs, a psycho sexual nymphomaniac, an entire family poisoning themselves; I could go on.

  The Criterion Collection essay emphasizes the look of the film- apparently everything they used in terms of wood and scenery etc was actually old so that the film is "realistic" in the depiction of late 19th century Japan.  I won't say that the richness of detail is lost on me exactly, but I kind of feel like that Japan basically looked the exact same between 1000 AD and the 20th century, so that part of Red Beard didn't strike me.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Germany Year Zero (1948) d. Roberto Rossellini

Edmund Meschke plays Edmund Koehler in Germany Year Zero directed by Roberto Rossellini

Movie Review
Germany Year Zero (1948)
 d. Roberto Rossellini
Criterion Collection #499
Part of the Roberto Rossellini War Trilogy Box Set, which is Criterion Collection #500

  Watching the canon of films grouped under the "Italian Neo Realism" banner requires a grim kind of intellectual fortitude.   First of all, the films themselves are bleak as hell- as one might well expect from a aesthetic movement that blossomed among the ruins of World War II Western Europe.   The Roberto Rossellini war trilogy contains three titles, Rome Open City (1945), Paisan (1946) and Germany Year Zero.  When I watched Rome Open city last fall, I was more focused on the way the film "invented" Italian Neo Realism, with Germany Year Zero I was more focused on the story inside the movie, which concerns the plight of every day Berliners in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of Germany after World War II.

  The focus of the narrative is the young Edmund Koehler, who is supposed to be 13 but looks about 8.  He is desperately trying to help his sickly father survive under impossible conditions.  The conditions are made worse by his older brother Karl-Heinz, a former soldier who refuses to emerge from hiding despite assurance that he has 'nothing to feat.'  Koehler tries to help by variously selling goods on the black market (a scale, a phonograph of one of Hitler's speeches) and stealing potatoes with a gang of slightly older boys and one parent-less young girl.  His only support is provided by his "old Teacher" who is also very much a Nazi and likely a pedophile to boot (though the pedophilia is only hinted at through the caressing touch of the teacher to young Edmund and another boy.)

  The dark ending of Germany Year Zero (a murder suicide scenario between the boy and his sickly father) leaves you gasping for breath.  It's a strong ending from a genre not known for such conventional melodramatic, and perhaps that's why I like Germany Year Zero more than other early Italian Neo Realism films.

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