The following films directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune will be presented by Secret Movie Club at the Vista Theatre, 4473 Sunset Dr. in Los Angeles.
“The Bad Sleep Well” is Kurosawa’s second of three Shakespeare adaptations. Here he adapts “Hamlet” into a 1960s gripping parable/revenge story of the attempt by one honorable man (played by Mifune) to expose the contemporary Japanese business corruption responsible for the death of his father. It’s the story of how those in power have no problem exploiting, destroying, or even killing those around them to hold on to their riches and comfort. It’s a story that had relevance in Shakespeare’s time. It’s a story that had relevance in Kurosawa’s time. It’s a story that has relevance in our time. And most likely a story that will sadly. . .never not be relevant.
One of Kurosawa’s rare odd duck movies. It is neither action oriented enough to fully work as a bloody revenge flick nor realistic enough to work as a gritty expose of Japanese society. It is instead a wildly ambitious movie full of cinematic ideas and sequences and one of the most controlled, intense, disciplined performances of Mifune’s career.
• Friday, July 26, at 11:59 p.m.: “Yojimbo” (1961, 110 minutes)
When Kurosawa left the safe confines of Toho Studios to produce his own movies, his first picture, “The Bad Sleep Well,” failed to garner the profits he needed to be on totally firm footing. Some directors would have caved to the pressure at that point, returned with their tail between their legs. Kurosawa, instead, did what he had to do: he made one of the biggest hits of his career. “Yojimbo” tells the story of a nameless wandering samurai (played with stray dog intelligence and craftiness by Mifune) who wanders into a town being picked over by two warring crime gangs. Sensing an opportunity, Mifune sells his services to the highest bidder but is actually secretly playing each side off the other to free the townsfolk from the tyranny of bloodthirsty criminals.
If you feel like you’ve seen this movie before under a different title, you have. Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone would use the plot just a few years later when he made “A Fistful of Dollars” with Clint Eastwood. And countless filmmakers since have lifted the plot since. But, as with “Seven Samurai,” it’s Kurosawa and his co-writers who came up with the story.
Kurosawa initially wrote the script of “Sanjuro” to be directed by another moviemaker. But, for a variety of reasons, top among them probably the need to make sure the movie provided another hit for Kurosawa’s independent production company, Kurosawa eventually decided to direct the picture as well. It is as close as Kurosawa ever came to coasting. By which we mean, Kurosawa made another out-and-out masterpiece that also happened to have the light comedic touch of “The Hidden Fortress.”
“Sanjuro” is a kind of sequel to “Yojimbo” in that Mifune’s nameless samurai appears to be the same character from the previous movie (although we’re never completely sure) who has wandered into yet another adventure. Kurosawa and Mifune could have probably turned this into their Zatoichi or James Bond series. But Kurosawa was always too ambitious and restless to go for the safe money of a sequel-churning series that would end up heavily relying on formula to produce profit.
(Synopses by Craig Hammill, 35mm Secret Movie Club program organizer)