Monday, December 27, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Japanese Film Festival 2011 – Akira Kurosawa Centennial Retrospective

All year long, the Japan Foundation Bangkok offers free screenings of classic and contemporary films at its center on Soi Asoke, but the movies are generally only subtitled in Thai.

However, once a year, the Japan Foundation offers a gift to Bangkok's movie-going expat community with its annual Japanese Film Festival.

This year's festival, running from January 6 to 19, 2011, at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld, is really special, with the Akira Kurosawa Centennial Retrospective, featuring 25 movies by the master, who was born on March 23, 1910. All titles will be lovingly presented on 35mm film! All will have English subtitles. And they are free!

The deal is, you have to get in line for the tickets, and the line forms 30 minutes before each screening. The festival is always very popular, and I expect this year's edition to be especially well-attended, so be on time and be prepared.

The schedule includes such internationally known classics as Seven Samurai (1954), Rashomon (1950), Yojimbo (1961) and The Hidden Fortress (1958) – epics that ought to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated. There's also early works like the Judo Saga (1943), The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945), No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), Drunken Angel (1948) and Stray Dog (1949).

Here's the full program:

Thursday, January 6

  • 8pm: Rashomon (88 min) – This 1950 drama brought Kurosawa and Japanese cinema to the international stage, having been screened at the Venice Film Festival and winning the Golden Lion. Set during feudal times, the classic story is about the rape of a woman and the murder of her samurai husband, as recounted by differing and contradictory viewpoints. Two of Kurosawa's regular actors star, Takashi Shimura as the woodcutter and Toshiro Mifune as the bandit.

Friday, January 7

  • 7pm: The Quiet Duel (95 min) – Toshiro Mifune stars in this 1949 drama as an idealistic young doctor working in a seedy clinic who's contracted syphilis by accident. He'll keep his illness a secret, at great sacrifice. Takashi Shimura portrays the doctor's physician father.

Saturday, January 8

  • 11am: Sanshiro Sugata (81 min) – Part one of the Judo Saga, Kurosawa's 1943 debut film is the story of an impatient young man (Susumu Fujita) who comes to the city to learn martial arts. He stumbles upon judo, becomes determined to learn its nuances and in doing so, discovers a deeper meaning in his life.
  • 1.20pm: The Most Beautiful (85 min) – This 1944 propaganda film is set in an optics factory depicts workers as they drive to meet and exceed production targets and help the Japanese Empire become victorious.
  • 3:40pm: Sanshiro Sugata II (82 min) – Filmed in 1945 toward the end of World War II, part two of the Judo Saga finds Sugata as a judo master who demonstrates his superiority.
  • 6pm: The Idiot (166 min) – This 1951 adaptation of the Fyodor Dostoevsky notel is set in Kokkaido, where a former insane-asylum inmate (Masayuki Mori) becomes involved with a woman (Setsuko Hara) who is the object of affection for another man (Toshiro Mifune). Jealousy will lead to tragedy.

Sunday, January 9

  • 11am: No Regrets for Our Youth (110 min) – Academia is the initial setting for this fact-based 1946 drama. A professor is relieved of his position because of his radical anti-fascist views. Meanwhile, the professor's daughter is courted by two of her father's students, one a straitlaced guy and the other a rebel. The daughter is of course more attracted to the rebel.
  • 1:40pm: One Wonderful Sunday (108 min) – The hardships of living in post-war Japan are depicted in this 1947 drama about a group of friends who have just 35 yen between them. They are determined to have a good time and to make it last.
  • 4:20pm: Drunken Angel (98 min) – This 1948 crime drama marks the first of a long line of collaborations between Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune who stars as a small-time hood. He's treated by an alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) and found to have TB. The doc advises him to clean up his life, but the life of this gangster will never be easy.
  • 7pm: Scandal (104 min) – An artist (Toshiro Mifune) goes to court to fight against a tabloid magazine that took a photo of him with a famous singer (Shirley Yamaguchi) and spun a scandalous false story. Takashi Shimura also stars in this 1950 drama as a down-and-out lawyer with problems of his own.

Monday, January 10

  • 7pm: Stray Dog (122 min) – Another showcase for the talents Mifune and Shimura, this 1949 drama is about a brash rookie police detective (Mifune) who loses his department-issued Colt pistol to a pickpocket. With the help of a wise, yoda-like senior detective (Shimura), he methodically works to retrieve the lost firearm.

Tuesday, January 11

  • 7pm: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (59 min) – This 1945 drama is set during Japan's feudal period, in which a fugitive lord and his bodyguards and followers, all disguised as monks, traverse a forest in trying to avoid capture by the border guards.

Wednesday, January 12

  • 7pm: Ikiru (143 min) – A tour de force performance from Takashi Shimura in this 1952 drama, hailed as one of history's greatest films. He plays a lonely widowed veteran bureaucrat who finds out he has stomach cancer and a year to live. He then sets about to find meaning in his life.

Thursday, January 13

  • 7pm: Seven Samurai (207 min) – The epic of epics, this adventure tale, set during Japan's Warring States period, is about a remote farming village under siege by bandits. Weary of having their crops stolen, the villagers decide to hire samurai to protect them. They find a cool-under-fire tactician (Takashi Shimura) who then assembles a band of five other skilled warriors. Toshiro Mifune also stars, playing the comic-relief drifter who insinuates himself into the group, making them seven. The movie was most famously remade as the Hollywood western, The Magnificent Seven.

Friday, January 14

  • 7pm: I Live In Fear (113 min) – Reflecting post-war Japan's nuclear fears, Toshiro Mifune stars in this 1955 drama as a foundry owner who is so frightened and obsessed with the idea of nuclear extermination that his family decides to have him ruled incompetent. Takashi Shimura co-stars as a domestic court counselor who sympathizes with the old man.

Saturday, January 15

  • 11am: Throne of Blood (110 min) – From 1956, Kurosawa adapts Shakespeare's MacBeth in this tale of a ruthless lord (Toshiro Mifune) who is egged on by his wife (Isuzu Yamada) to fulfill a prophecy that he will become emperor.
  • 1:40pm: The Lower Depths (125 min) – Another adaptation, this one on a play by Russian writer Maxim Gorky, about a group of poor folks talking about their problems. It's set during the mid-19th century Edo Period, in a flophouse shared by around a dozen or so folks. Nearly a dozen of them are sharing a crowded barn, or bunkhouse of some sort. There's a fallen samurai, a tinker caring for his dying wife, an elderly alcholic actor, a gambler, a prostitute and a thief.
  • 4:30pm: The Hidden Fortress (139 min) – This epic 1958 adventure tale loosely inspired Star Wars. The story is seen through the eyes of a bumbling pair of peasants who are promised gold to lead a feisty young princess (Misa Uehara) and her general (Toshiro Mifune) through enemy lines to her home territory.
  • 6:30pm: Director talk (tentative)

Sunday, January 16

  • 11am: The Bad Sleep Well (151 min) – This 1960 drama is loosely based on Hamlet and is also a commentary on a corporate corruption in post-war Japan. A young man (Toshiro Mifune) attempts to use his position at the heart of a corrupt company to expose the men responsible for his father's death. Takashi Shimura also stars, playing a top corporate man who is persuaded to join Mifune's cause.
  • 2:20pm: Yojimbo (110 min) – It's back to the samurai era for this dark action comedy starring Toshiro Mifune as a ronin drifter who finds himself between warring factions in a remote village. This 1961 film has been remade several times, most famously as A Fistful of Dollars by Sergio Leone, with Clint Eastwood in one of his signature roles as the Man With No Name.
  • 5pm: Sanjuro (96 min) – This 1962 sequel to Yojimbo gives Mifune's character a name. He takes nine young samurai under his wing in a plot to expose corruption in the leadership of their clan.
  • 7:30pm: Madadayo (134 min) – From 1993, this is Kurosawa's 30th and final film. It's a light comedy-drama and is based on the life of academic and author Hyakken Uchida, and centers on his relationship with his former students, who care for him in his old age.

Monday, January 17

  • 7pm: High and Low (143 min) – Kurosawa gets into film noir territory in this 1963 hostage drama. Toshiro Mifune stars as the embattled executive of a shoe company who becomes a victim of extortion when his chauffeur's son is kidnapped and held for ransom.

Tuesday, January 18

  • 7pm: Red Beard (185 min) – This 1965 drama marks the final collaboration between Kurosawa and his leading man Toshiro Mifune, who had acted in 16 of Kurosawa's movies. He plays a hard-bitten veteran doctor at a charity hospital who takes a young intern under his guidance through the course of various difficult cases.

Wednesday, January 19

  • 7pm Dodes'ka-den (140 min) – This 1970 drama is about the various residents of a garbage dump. It's Kurosawa's first color film, and his first without the usual stock company of actors he'd used in his previous films.

You can also check the Japan Foundation website for more details on the film festival.

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