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Year: 1957
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Minoru Chiaki, Takamaru Sasaki, Kokuten Kodo
Genre: Drama, Historical
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: In medieval Japan, a samurai warrior (Toshirô Mifune) is given a prophecy by an evil spirit predicting his swift rise to power. But things don't quite turn out the way the warrior hoped.

It's funny how the most satisfying movie adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays are not necessarily the most faithful. While Laurence Olivier made high quality versions of Henry V and (especially) Richard III, there can be more fun to be had watching the Ian McKellen Richard III; or to go to one extreme, what would you have rather watched in English class at school: Branagh's Hamlet or Strange Brew? Greenaway's Prospero's Books or Forbidden Planet? Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet or, er, Tromeo and Juliet? OK, maybe not that last one.

So, what about a samurai version of Shakespeare's Macbeth? That'll do nicely. Filmed against an eerie, mist-covered landscape, and with a fearsome performance by Toshirô Mifune at its heart, this is one of Kurosawa's finest, most brutal, films. There's a strong sense of fate closing in on the main characters, and a strange and intense atmosphere of pure dread.

The costume design is excellent as well, and the film also features the greatest death scene ever, as the rival forces close in, fulfilling the terrible prophecies. There's quite a lot of shouting, though, so you might want to keep the sound low on your TV if you don't like that sort of thing. If you do like that sort of thing, Kurosawa would return to the Bard to spectacular effect with Ran in 1985.

Aka: Kumonosu Jô
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Akira Kurosawa  (1910 - 1998)

Japanese director and writer, and one of the most important figures in 20th century cinema. Kurosawa was greatly influenced by Hollywood - John Ford being his idol - but more than any other film-maker was responsible for introducing Japanese films to West. He originally trained as an artist and worked as a studio scriptwriter, before directing his first film in 1943, the martial arts drama Judo Saga. Kurosawa's next few films were made during World War II and had to adhere to strict state guidelines; it was 1948's gangster movie Drunken Angel that first saw the director's emerging personal vision, and was his first film to star regular leading man Toshirô Mifune.

Rashomon was the film that brought Kurosawa acclaim in the West, winning top prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, and a string of classics followed - Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Seven Samurai - all set in Feudal Japan and combining incredible cinematography and thrilling action with humour, sadness and deep insights into human behaviour. The director also turned in some superb non-period film around this time too, such as the thrillers The Bad Sleep Well and High and Low.

The following decade proved a frustrating one for Kurosawa, as he struggled to get projects off the ground, culminating with the box office failure of Dodesukaden and a suicide attempt in 1970. The director's fortunes turned when 1975's Russian epic Dersu Uzala won the Best Foreign Language Oscar, while his next two films were among his very best - the beautifully shot Kagemusha and 1985's spectacular, hugely successful King Lear adaptation, Ran. Kurosawa's final films were smaller and more personal - Dreams, Rhapsody in August and Not Yet. He died of a stroke in 1998, aged 88.

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