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Akira Kurosawa Centennial

June 4, 2010 - August 29, 2010

Ran, August 21, 22

“One of the greatest directors ever to work in the cinema,” according to Francis Ford Coppola, Akira Kurosawa is undoubtedly one of cinema’s key figures, as essential to the medium as Van Gogh is to painting, or Dostoevsky to literature (to name two of his influences). From Rashomon to Seven Samurai, Yojimbo to Stray Dog, his films have left their mark on generations of audiences and filmmakers. Even if you’ve never seen a Kurosawa film, you’ve probably seen one inspired by him, with directors such as Sergio Leone, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese crediting him as an artistic influence and spiritual godfather.

Born in 1910 in a Japan just emerging from its isolation, Kurosawa studied painting and literature, especially Dostoevsky and Gorky; after the suicide of his influential older brother in 1933, he abandoned his art career and entered filmmaking, ascending from the lower rungs of Toho Studios to become one of Japan’s, and the world’s, most important directors. His rise to prominence in the 1950s coincided with (and helped create) the rise of the “art film,” but that label only obscures his many styles and talents. He adapted Shakespeare, Russian novels, and American detective stories, ancient Japanese plays and contemporary Tokyo tales; and worked in every genre from crime dramas to samurai films, large-scale feudal epics to intimate character pieces. All his films were united by an embrace of ordinary humanity and heroism (and, in many cases, laughter), the heroism not of fighting or conquest, but of devoting oneself to a greater good, and achieving it.

“It is inconceivable to think of world cinema without Akira Kurosawa,” writes critic Stephen Prince. “If cinema can be likened to a massive and now aged tree, most filmmakers can be located as branches of varying sizes. Kurosawa and his work, by contrast, are part of the trunk. From his work grows all else.”

Jason Sanders
Associate Film Notes Writer

Save on AK 100 and Support PFA!
To celebrate the centenary of the birth of Akira Kurosawa, the Criterion Collection has created the gorgeous DVD collector’s set AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa. For a limited time, you can save money on your purchase while supporting the Pacific Film Archive. Buy AK 100 at criterion.com, enter code AKPFA at the prompt, and you’ll save 25 percent off the retail price of $399.95—plus, the Criterion Collection will make a $25 donation to PFA on your behalf.

Friday, June 4, 2010
7:00 p.m. Rashomon
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1950). Visual proof of the relativity of truth, Rashomon is “one of the most brilliantly constructed films of all time, a monument to Kurosawa’s greatness, and a landmark in film history.”—James Monaco (88 mins)

Friday, June 4, 2010
8:50 p.m. Drunken Angel
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1948). Doctor meets tubercular gangster (Toshiro Mifune) in the slums of postwar Japan in this noirish tale, an “effective and searching view of contemporary Japanese life.”—Variety (98 mins)

Sunday, June 6, 2010
6:50 p.m. Throne of Blood
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1957). Kurosawa’s Noh-influenced version of Macbeth is “the most brilliant and original attempt ever made to put Shakespeare on screen.”—Time. The towering Toshiro Mifune is paired with the legendary Isuzu Yamada in “a partnership of titans.”—Film Forum (107 mins)

Saturday, June 12, 2010
7:15 p.m. Red Beard
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1965). Toshiro Mifune plays a gruff but charitable nineteenth-century doctor in this humanist epic, his last film with Kurosawa. (185 mins)

Sunday, June 13, 2010
7:35 p.m. I Live in Fear
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1955). Toshiro Mifune gives a daring performance as an eccentric patriarch with a neurotic fear of the atomic bomb. “The final effect is overwhelming, and perhaps Kurosawa’s most sweeping statement on the human condition.”—Film Forum (100 mins)

Thursday, June 17, 2010
7:00 p.m. The Lower Depths
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1957). Filmed on only one set, Kurosawa’s adaptation of the famous Gorky play throws together some memorable characters—raucous thief, oversexed landlady, gambler, prostitute, samurai—in a teeming Tokyo flophouse. (125 mins)

Saturday, June 19, 2010
6:30 p.m. The Bad Sleep Well
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1960). Kurosawa charts corporate evil as a company is torn from within by scandal, greed, and lust. “Enron meets Hamlet.”—Film Forum. “Better than Shakespeare.”—Francis Ford Coppola (148 mins)

Sunday, June 20, 2010
7:15 p.m. Ikiru
In Kurosawa’s humanist masterpiece, an ordinary civil servant discovers what it means to live. This Japanese Everyman was perhaps Takashi Shimura’s greatest role. (143 mins)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010
7:00 p.m. The Hidden Fortress
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1958). Toshiro Mifune swashbuckles his way through this supremely entertaining mythic adventure, the plot inspiration for Star Wars. (134 mins)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010
7:00 p.m. Sanshiro Sugata
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1943). A young man learns dedication and discipline in life—and judo—in Kurosawa’s debut film, “a must for Kurosawa admirers.”—L.A. Times. With Sanshiro Sugata II. In the sequel, he battles foreign thugs and two Noh-esque Japanese brothers. (163 mins)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010
7:00 p.m. Sanshiro Sugata

Saturday, July 10, 2010
8:30 p.m. Stray Dog
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1949). Toshiro Mifune is a driven detective in Kurosawa’s bravura Tokyo noir. “A bona fide masterpiece.”—Time Out (122 mins)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010
7:00 p.m. The Most Beautiful and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1944). A semi-documentary drama of life among women factory workers (“not a major work, but the one dearest to me,” said Kurosawa). With the lively samurai adventure The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, “a small triumph of inventiveness and resourcefulness.”—TCM (144 mins)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010
7:00 p.m. The Most Beautiful and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail

Saturday, July 17, 2010
7:00 p.m. Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1954). A ragtag group of samurai band together to protect a village from bandits in Kurosawa’s masterpiece, often cited as one of the ten best films ever made. Seeing it on the big screen, who’s to argue? (208 mins)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
7:00 p.m. No Regrets for Our Youth
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1946). Ozu favorite Setsuko Hara stars in this powerful character study of a woman fighting for her rights—and life—before, during, and after the war. Kurosawa’s only film with a female lead. (110 mins)

Saturday, July 24, 2010
6:30 p.m. Yojimbo
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1961). Mifune is a sly, amoral mercenary looking to make a fistful of ryo in a lawless town in Kurosawa’s tongue-in-cheek anti-epic, which inspired A Fistful of Dollars. “A visually faultless and highly sophisticated satire on violence and human weakness.”—Sight and Sound (110 mins)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
7:00 p.m. One Wonderful Sunday
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1947). A young couple encounters the pleasures—and dangers—of Tokyo in Kurosawa’s city-film, inspired by Frank Capra, D. W. Griffith, and Murnau’s Sunrise, and one of the first films to capture the essence and energy of a newly emerging postwar Tokyo. (108 mins)

Saturday, July 31, 2010
6:30 p.m. Sanjuro
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1962). Kurosawa’s spirited follow-up to Yojimbo finds Mifune leading a band of comically inept samurai. “A superb parody.”—Donald Richie (96 mins)

Saturday, July 31, 2010
8:30 p.m. Scandal
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1950). A motorcycle-riding artist and a pure-at-heart popular singer are targeted by unscrupulous scandalmongers in this entertaining indictment of journalistic “ethics,” inspired by Warner Bros. muckrakers and starring Toshiro Mifune and Yoshiko “Shirley” Yamaguchi. (104 mins)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010
7:00 p.m. The Idiot
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1951). Kurosawa faithfully remakes Dostoevky’s The Idiot in wintry Hokkaido, with Toshiro Mifune and Setsuko Hara bringing to life this tale of a pure soul destroyed by a faithless world. “Probably the only Dostoevsky adaptation which carries something of the complexity and dramatic intensity of the original.”—Noel Burch (166 mins)

Saturday, August 7, 2010
5:30 p.m. High and Low
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1963). A kidnapping becomes a moral dilemma for executive Mifune in “one of the best detective thrillers ever filmed. . . . Both spine-tingling and compassionate.”—N.Y. Times (143 mins)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010
7:00 p.m. Dodes’ka-den
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1970). Kurosawa’s first color film was also his most personal, an expressionist look at the lives of several Tokyo slum dwellers. Music by Toru Takemitsu. (144 mins)

Sunday, August 15, 2010
7:00 p.m. Kagemusha
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1980). George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola helped produce Kurosawa’s big-budget return to epic samurai filmmaking, involving a lord and his double (both played by Tatsuya Nakadai) trying to hold a kingdom together. “Probably the director’s most elaborate, awesome film . . . majestic, stately, cool, almost abstract.”—N.Y. Times (160 mins)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010
7:00 p.m. Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1954). See July 17. (208 mins)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
7:00 p.m. Dersu Uzala
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1972). A grizzled native hunter teaches a Russian surveyor how to survive in—and respect—the Siberian wilderness in Kurosawa’s environmental epic. “It seems that Kurosawa has created this magnificent film as an elegy to our human heritage.”—Peter Coyote (165 mins)

Thursday, August 19, 2010
7:00 p.m. The Quiet Duel
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1949). In one of his most delicate, introspective roles, Toshiro Mifune plays a dedicated doctor who contracts a deadly disease during the Manchurian War. (110 mins)

Saturday, August 21, 2010
5:30 p.m. Ran
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1985). King Lear in feudal Japan, with Tatsuya Nakadai as the lord who divides his kingdom among his three sons, with disastrous results. “A majestic piece of filmmaking, a lush tapestry of lordly tableaux, ruthless betrayals, and flaming carnage.”—Village Voice (160 mins)

Sunday, August 22, 2010
7:00 p.m. Ran
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1985). See August 21. (160 mins)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010
7:00 p.m. Rhapsody in August
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1991). Four teens visit their grandmother in Nagasaki, and try to comprehend her (and the city’s) memories of the atomic blast, in Kurosawa’s eloquent, gentle reflection on war and its aftereffects. “The master is as vigorous and complex as ever.”—N.Y. Times (98 mins)

Saturday, August 28, 2010
5:30 p.m. Dreams
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1990). Dreams come to life in Kurosawa’s magical collection of tales drawn from his own dreams. “At once buoyant and extraordinarily passionate, it has the feel of an urgent message to the living and the dead.”—Village Voice (160 mins)

Sunday, August 29, 2010
7:00 p.m. Madadayo
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1993). Kurosawa’s final film looks back on the life of a beloved elderly teacher and his students. “Fully engaged and alive, beautifully written, acted, and filmed, meditative, benevolent, humorous; one of the director’s greatest works.”—Chicago Tribune (134 mins)

Series curated by Susan Oxtoby.

PFA wishes to thank the following individuals and institutions for their assistance with this retrospective: Sarah Finklea, Janus Films/Criterion Collection; Yoshihiro Nihei, The Japan Foundation; Japan Society of Northern California; Bruce Goldstein and Brynn White, Film Forum; Eric Di Bernardo, Rialto Pictures; Gary Palmucci, Kino International; Martin Scorsese, Mark McElhatten, Michael Jeck; Anne Morra and Mary Keene, MoMA; Brad Deane, TIFF.Cinematheque; and Jim Sinclair, Pacific Cinematheque.