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Ranking Directors: Akira Kurosawa


For my first installment of this post I’m going to start with the greatest. The man, the legend, the warrior: Akira Kurosawa.  If you’ve seen my user name you know damn well I love this man’s work, especially his collaborations with Toshiro Mifune.  His influence on Western cinema is unquestioned.  His body of work is unrivaled.  And it’s his films that draw me in more than any other director, followed closely by Alfred Hitchcock.

In celebration of what would have been Kurosawa’s 100th birthday the Criterion Collection released a massive boxset of 25 of his films, dubbing the set “AK 100”.  A year went by and I hadn’t bought it yet, as it carries a fairly steep price tag as you might imagine.  Then, this past Christmas, I was given my most cherished gift of all…..

Look at that.  If you’ve been introduced to his films then this is truly the best gift you could receive.  Thanks, pops.

Of any director I think I’ve seen more of his films than any other.  So, as a rule of this column, I’m going to state which of his films I’ve seen, then rank them from 5 to 1.  The reason is I have to have seen at least 5 films from each director I rank, thus causing me to see more master filmmakers’ films more rapidly.  Sometimes I get lazy and throw in Family Guy instead of furthering my film education.  Gotta get my ass in gear.

Ok, so here’s goes edition #1 of my Ranking series.

Films I’ve seen: Sanshiro Sugata (1943), Drunken Angel (1948), Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961), Sanjuro (1962), High and Low (1963), Red Beard (1965), Ran (1985)

#5 – Red Beard

#4 – Throne of Blood

#3 – Seven Samurai

#2 – High and Low

#1 – Yojimbo

Why this order? Most lists of his films are topped by Seven Samurai, Ikiru, or Rashomon.  Oddly, the latter two are omitted completely.  I’ll say Rashomon could definitely make this list on subsequent viewings, but this list encompasses my preferences at this moment in time.

Yojimbo is easily the most accessible of Kurosawa’s work, as this is the one I most recommend to my friends to spark their interest.  Of course, fans of Westerns will recognize the plot from numerous films, most notably Sergio Leone’s A Fist Full of Dollars.  It’s a direct remake, though even Kurosawa claimed to have been influenced by the films of John Ford.

I’d love to see more people experience the technical and written mastery of High and Low.  It was a complete revelation the first time I watched it.  That’s where personal interest in one director or another can unearth these hidden gems that really amaze you.  The first half of the movie is set in a single locale as the story focuses on the moral dilemma of a rich shoemaker, a dilemma so gut-wrenching it will make you question what you would do in that same circumstance.  The second half is a police procedural cat-and-mouse story.  To blend these two into one story most likely set the blueprint for future films of the genre.

What is there to say about Seven Samurai that hasn’t been said before?  It was the first film to have action scenes similar to what we see today.  The story of a band of samurai who are hired to protect the defenseless village against pillaging bandits has been done, re-done, done over, and done again in the decades since it’s introduction to the world in 1954.

Throne of Blood is Kurosawa’s first adaptation of a Shakespear play, and it’s a fine interpretation set during the midevil Japanese wars.  The atmosphere, living forest, and the scheming wife who brings down a once noble man are some of the highlights.  It’s a backstabbing fest with a crazy ending, no doubt.

My last selection, and it’s a tough pick, is the nearly 3-hour medical drama, Red Beard.  I always enjoy the story of the selfish brat who only cares about himself and his own ambitions who learns a lesson in life from the tough-as-nails older guard.  It’s loaded with emotional moments througout the journey of the young man in becoming a responsible, caring adult.  I think it’s a must-see for doctor’s who have lost a sense of their profession. 

Think there’s any correlation with the leading man in each film?  Toshiro Mifune rules all.  He’s the ultimate cinematic bad-ass.

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