This past month marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of iconic director Akira Kurosawa and Turner Classic Movies has been airing some of his very best work. As with all great film directors, repeated viewings of their films brings even more chances to dig deep and explore their creations, a task rich with rewards.
While I'd seen most all of the 26 movies TCM has aired (three more of his movies will air on Tuesday) the one I was most eager to see was "Stray Dog", made in 1949 and set in the modern era and not a samurai-filled feudal past, as in "Yojimbo" or "Seven Samurai". Instead we are led into a very palpable and modern post-World War Japan during a summer heat wave which radiates from every frame of the film.
It's the third time Kurosawa cast actor Toshiro Mifune in the lead role, and his performance as a rookie homicide detective whose handgun is stolen is powerful and fragile and speaks to the incredible skills Mifune had onscreen. "Stray Dog" is a bona fide film noir thriller, but goes beyond to capture an intense cultural struggle of the time - expressing the real challenge Japan faced as they sought to move past the war and into an era of peacetime. The nation faced a crossroad - as does Mifune's character and that of the criminal who has the weapon.
Some beautiful shots from the movie and an exhaustive examination can be found here at one of my favorite movie blogs, Cinebeats, where writer Kimberly Lindbergs writes:
"There’s just no getting around the fact that the aftermath of WW2 and its effect on the people who survived it is what really fuels Kurosawa’s film. Tohsiro Mifune’s detective is an ex-soldier but the criminal he is chasing is also an ex-soldier. Both men survived similar circumstances but afterward they followed very different paths. The detective and the criminal are both “stray dogs” trying to find their way in a new and unfamiliar world that has risen from the ashes of war. As a filmmaker Kurosawa’s sympathies seem to be with no one and everyone. You’ll find very few cookie-cutter bad guys or good guys in the movie. I think that’s a reflection of what postwar Japan was experiencing at a very trying time. The examination of their previous alliances and adversaries is mirrored in Kurosawa’s film. The complexity of the characters that populate Stray Dog is something that you don’t often see in crime movies made during the ’40s and that’s just one of the reasons why it’s so rewarding. Stray Dog is one of the most nuanced film noirs I’ve seen but it’s also one of Kurosawa’s most style-conscious efforts.
Read it all. And take every opportunity to seek out all of Kurosawa's work. Also just release, a new book reviewing the director's vast body of work titled "Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema" by Peter Cowie.
Master is indeed the best word to describe the director.
And since I mention Cinebeats, another post worth the read concerns a collection of never before published photos, taken in early 1963, of actor Steve McQueen, who was just breaking out as a major film star. And of course, one of the movies which made his career was "The Magnificent Seven", an American western based on Kurosawa's epic "Seven Samurai".
In these images though, we see McQueen in his real world, cruising Hollywood in his Jaguar, taking his wife and his guns to do some target shooting, scouring his record collection and kicking back in pure 1960s Hollywood style.
Jump forward now to some unEarthly adventures for the summer movie season of 2010 -- "Predators", starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo and many others. The characters, all deadly killers on planet Earth wake to find themselves on a different planet, one used by the aliens called "predators" as a sort of game preserve. In other words, the characters are wild game to be hunted down in a sort of practice mode for the aliens.
Top-notch director Robert Rodriguez turns executive producer for this new movie - and here's the new trailer for the movie:
And here's the other Predator video making rounds on the Internet -- a peek at what a Predator musical might look like ...