THRONE OF BLOOD. Kurosawa’s Masterpiece Explained

Akira Kurosawa has remained arguably the most well-known filmmaker from Japan for several generations.

Szymon Skowroński

19 June 2024

THRONE OF BLOOD. Kurosawa's Masterpiece Explained

While he may not be the most “Japanese” director—an honor typically given to Yasujirô Ozu, whose work is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and free of foreign influences—Kurosawa is undoubtedly the most internationally recognized.

He did not hide his inspirations from the Western world and other cultural circles. Kurosawa cited American John Ford as his model. He adapted Shakespeare’s works three times, drew literary inspiration from Orthodox Russia by adapting Dostoevsky and Gorky, and created films like the crime drama Stray Dog and the period piece Yojimbo, both heavily influenced by film noir aesthetics. With a background in painting, Kurosawa created conceptual sketches of his films in oil on canvas, and his frames often contain references and allusions to masterful works of art, such as the episode in Dreams set in a world straight out of a Van Gogh painting. Throne of Blood

Throne Of Blood Kumonosu-jô

At the Crossroads of Cultures

Taking inspiration from the world, Kurosawa gave back nearly thirty feature films, a third of which are masterpieces, and almost none are failures. His filmography is eclectic yet remarkably cohesive. Each film is an attempt to find new ways of storytelling within the framework of intercultural dialogue. Kurosawa sought common elements and universal themes, pushing aside individual concepts of faith, social organization, or moral issues. And he did so effectively. For example, from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, he drew the reflection on an individual’s inability to adapt to their environment and based his protagonist’s struggles on this main idea. Adapting Dashiell Hammett’s crime novel Red Harvest, he set the action in feudal Japan (his favorite setting) and turned the gangster into a masterless samurai. By drawing parallels between cultures, he found almost reverence in the film world.

Throne Of Blood Kumonosu-jô

Throne of Blood and Macbeth

One of the best examples of Kurosawa’s extraordinary ability to think openly and insightfully is the 1957 film Throne of Blood. The film is based on the story of Macbeth, a medieval Scottish general tempted by visions of acquiring the crown, spurred on by his ambitious wife, leading him to commit heinous acts and ultimately bringing about his downfall. Neither the title nor the characters from Shakespeare’s original appear in Kurosawa’s work. Macbeth becomes Prince Washizu, Banquo becomes Miki, and Lady Macbeth becomes Lady Asaji. The time and place of the action are also changed, some plotlines are entirely omitted, and others are altered. Essentially, only the structure of the screenplay and the sequence of scenes remain, along with the most important message: ambition and the pathological desire for power are detrimental to any person, regardless of their situation, faith, or status.

Throne Of Blood Kumonosu-jô

Shakespeare has been adapted many times, each differently, proving the universal significance of his works. However, Kurosawa stands out in film history. He managed to maintain the unique character of his works. Despite downplaying the cultural context, Japanese mentality and sensitivity still permeate his films. In the details and nuances, some behaviors of the Japanese characters may surprise European or American viewers. The solutions in terms of framing and editing remain characteristic of Kurosawa throughout his work. Inspirations from Japanese art and thought are as important as foreign ones. Kurosawa’s films are both familiar and foreign, making them highly susceptible to various interpretations.

Throne Of Blood Kumonosu-jôFreud and Jung

The concept of “I” in Japanese culture holds much lower importance than in European culture. Japanese people see themselves as part of nature, not its ruler. Buddhist thought teaches that a person is reborn in another form after death and that their suffering comes from desire. A Christian suffers mainly due to pride and arrogance. The original title Kumonosu-jô literally means Spider’s Web Castle. The Japanese protagonist is lured and caught like a fly in a trap. The Scottish prince’s conscience is troubled from the beginning. The witches that appear to him symbolize his conscience and lead to the self-fulfillment of the prophecy. In the Japanese version, the prophecies are visualizations of fate, reminding the character of its inevitability. Kurosawa’s Macbeth is doomed to failure and thus tragic. What is meant to happen will happen, and there is no escape from it.

Carl Gustav Jung, known for continuing Freud’s psychoanalysis, was also a researcher of Eastern cultures. He noted the differences in how Western and Eastern religions perceive (and seek) divinity. Westerners look for god and divinity outside themselves, in revelations, high in the sky. Easterners look inward, finding proof of a higher force that orders the world’s course. How then can the meaning and moral of Kurosawa’s Macbeth be related to Western methods of understanding the human being, such as the mentioned psychoanalysis? The story’s message remains unchanged. However, the path to the goal changes, as previously mentioned. It is worth examining the recurring motifs in the film (as in other works by the director) – masks and shadows.

Throne Of Blood Kumonosu-jô

Freudian thought posits the existence of two conscious, conflicting forces within a person. The id and the ego, representing instinct and the mechanism of its control, respectively, constantly clash, directing an individual’s behavior and actions. This dual nature of the protagonist is evident in Throne of Blood, as well as in the later Kagemusha (1980, literally translated as shadow warrior). Kurosawa visually realizes this in several scenes using different techniques. In one shot, the protagonist and his friend create an almost mirror image. The significance of this image lies in the fact that Miki is the voice of reason for Washizu and represents opposing values and ambitions. Interestingly, in this interpretation, Miki’s murder may have symbolic meaning: morality is severed and gives way to instinct and desire.

In this context, could Kurosawa’s Lady Macbeth serve the role of the subconscious, the third Freudian force driving a person – this time unmanifested? She probably does. She is also the protagonist’s shadow – appearing behind him and representing the dark side of his nature.

Throne Of Blood Kumonosu-jô

Masks and Noh Theater

The expression on the faces of the Eastern actors in Throne of Blood may evoke associations with traditional Japanese Noh theater, particularly with its essential element, masks. One category of Noh (as a genre of drama) is the story of madmen or people possessed by evil spirits. The most popular characters in such performances are warriors, gods, and demons. Masks emphasize stereotypes and render the actor’s image unreal. The makeup and characterization of the actress playing Washizu’s wife clearly reference this unreality. It is worth adding that the film tells the story of a warrior, suggests the presence of a god, and metaphorically transforms the protagonist into a demon. But whether Washizu slowly becomes this demon or his wife has been one from the beginning, hidden only by the outer shell of an immobile, artificial mask, is open to interpretation.

The aesthetics of Throne of Blood also seem to mimic the form of Noh, especially in the scenes between the prince and his wife. The historical context somewhat necessitates the film’s grand sets and elaborate costumes, and its genre affiliation demands spectacular action scenes (of which Kurosawa was a pioneer and master); however, the protagonist’s internal drama and the key decisions and dialogues take place on a modestly arranged stage with minimal use of scenic movement or typical film plans and counterplans. The static and theatrical nature of these scenes stands out against the backdrop of the rest, realized in Kurosawa’s typically kinetic and energetic style.

Throne Of Blood Kumonosu-jô

Differences Between Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Throne of Blood

Differences between Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Kurosawa’s work are, of course, visible on the surface. The scene of a lavish castle feast is naturally replaced by drinking sake. The hero’s wife, who in the original is a co-equal protagonist (Lady Macbeth is even a term used in everyday language), takes a back seat in the adaptation. However, her role in the drama is to set the prince on the right path and fuel his thoughts, while in the Japanese film, she almost directs her husband, advising him directly and openly. The scene of the hero’s decapitation is replaced by a spectacular volley of hundreds of arrows piercing the Japanese general. And so on. For those familiar with the original, watching Throne of Blood can be a fascinating challenge – finding all the differences will undoubtedly take several viewings but will bring a lot of satisfaction and knowledge. However, what makes the film unique and outstanding are the comparisons and analogies found between Western and Eastern beliefs and traditions.

Throne Of Blood Kumonosu-jô

Kurosawa’s adaptation strategy assumes a much deeper vision, not only at the level of translation but also concerning the intercultural differences resulting from the origin of the original and its adaptation. Motifs drawn from Western traditions and literature are replaced by Japanese ones, allowing for a fresh look at the original and finding correspondence between foreign cultures.

Szymon Skowroński

Szymon Skowroński

Author and filmmaker.

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HOUSE OF THE DRAGON: S2. The war will be long, bloody, and immoral [REVIEW of the first episode]

From this single episode, it’s clear that House of the Dragon is attempting to challenge the popularity of GoT more effectively than it did in the first season.

Odys Korczyński

18 June 2024

house of the dragon

Lucerys Velaryon died along with his dragon, torn apart by Vhagar, ridden by Aemond Targaryen. This makes for a good ending to the first season, but an even better start to the second, as revenge comes into play, marking the beginning of a war. R.R. Martin’s universe loves it. HBO will, however, pace this pleasure of watching the fratricidal clash of the Targaryens, known as the Dance of the Dragons. For now, only one episode is available. Subsequent episodes will be released every Monday. However, from this single episode, it’s clear that House of the Dragon is attempting to challenge the popularity of Game of Thrones more effectively than it did in the first season. The rhythm of the story remains unchanged, but different methods to increase tension have been employed. Different film genres have been incorporated. The fantasy world first gained dragons, which I had long awaited in GoT, and then spy intrigues with a noir atmosphere.

Game of Thrones was an unexpected adventure for me, one that I still remember. The final season was a wonderful culmination of all the previous ones, so I was concerned whether House of the Dragon could create the same tension and such distinctive characters. It succeeded, partly thanks to Matt Smith (Daemon Targaryen), Emma D’Arcy (Rhaenyra), and Milly Alcock (young Rhaenyra). Emma will continue to reign in the second season, but the dark horse is Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower. For this actor, who will always be associated with Spike in the diving suit from Notting Hill, House of the Dragon is a sort of career pinnacle and reward for all those secondary and tertiary roles. Another significant character is Olivia Cooke (Alicent), but after the first episode of the second season, she is overshadowed by Aegon and Aemond. She probably won’t become as strong and ruthless a woman as Cersei Lannister was in Game of Thrones, but Emma D’Arcy is a perfect tragic (not in the sense of a failure) return to Daenerys. I admit openly that I was waiting for her because Emilia Clarke left too suddenly for me to feel satisfied as a viewer and fan of the series. I fear, or rather already know, that Rhaenyra’s fate will be equally tragic.

house of the dragon

Remaining on the topic of impressions caused by Game of Thrones, I see, and do not hold it against them, that House of the Dragon uses the archetypes created by the source, A Song of Ice and Fire. After all, it’s the same author, so it’s obvious that a story set 200 years before the conflict of the Lannisters, Starks, and Targaryens will maintain the same style. Therefore, the best aspects of Game of Thrones, including its aesthetics, have been utilized in House of the Dragon. However, the pace has changed. The latest series is slower. It feels like it’s sparing the content, of which there is less. In the first episode of the second season, this stronger intimacy is also felt, which is not a flaw, as the creators ensured the episode had an incredible culmination. I wrote about a strong opening with the revenge for Lucerys’s death for a reason. The closure is equally strong, although I would have preferred it to be completely devastating, and yet it fell short of the R category. It just needed to show more. R.R. Martin was not afraid of such moments, but HBO decided to be more morally positive. However, I hope it will still be controversial. A few episodes remain. Personally, I expected a different outcome – the revenge could have been simpler and affected a different character than I wanted it to. Nevertheless, such an ending to the first episode has a stronger emotional impact because it is so surprising that you cannot prepare for it. Regarding these other ways of increasing tension, with a slower pace than in Game of Thrones, I was surprised by elements of adventure and crime cinema. I didn’t find something so multi-genre in the previous season or in GoT. It therefore looks promising, although I won’t hide that there was a sense of dissatisfaction. The episode ended too quickly, and there were too few specific events driving the plot forward. It’s probably also a deliberate action, this rationing of information. The opening credits certainly provided viewers with an appropriate dose of return to the past.

However, now arises another, very general question – is it perhaps too derivative? Similar opening credits, music, characters that contain some echoes of characters from GoT, a similar development of the story, based on increasing the involvement of scheming characters deepening the power drama of Rhaenyra. Littlefinger was unique, I know. Maybe I’ll stop this comparison, though I emphasize again that it’s not a criticism but a compliment. Game of Thrones created excellent foundations for House of the Dragon, and why not use them?

house of the dragon

The war will be long, bloody, and immoral – as wars are. In the main character, however, I wouldn’t want to see Daenerys. I would like to see her in a separate series, still alive or revived. And the dragons? They are finally here in all their glory, although their subservience to humans doesn’t fit their nature. I know that’s the convention, but in the fantasy world, a dragon has always been much more independent. It wasn’t just a tool for killing. If it was a tool, it was indeed bringing death to humans but also forcing reflection not with a fiery breath but with a mind, infinite for human beings by the lived time. Ultimately, the first season of House of the Dragon earned a rating of 8/10 from me. GoT got one point higher. If the second season maintains the level of the first episode, who knows, maybe that extra star will appear.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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KAGEMUSHA: THE SHADOW WARRIOR. Visually Stunning Gem of a Movie

In hindsight, it is hard to imagine a situation where Akira Kurosawa faced significant difficulties in securing the funds needed to make his next film.

Filip Jalowski

18 June 2024

KAGEMUSHA: THE SHADOW WARRIOR. Visually Stunning Gem of a Movie

The Japanese filmmaker’s position in the world of cinema is so strong today that he is often thought of as an icon or a monumental figure on a massive pedestal. Kurosawa is rarely spoken of in human terms. People forget that he was an ordinary man who struggled with many problems throughout his life. On December 22, 1971, Kurosawa declared that he had had enough of fighting with producers and distributors.

Worsening depression and alcohol abuse brought him to the brink, from which he decided to jump. After slitting his wrists and the area around his throat, the director ended up in the hospital. The doctors managed to stop the bleeding. Kurosawa recovered fairly quickly, but he still did not know if he would ever be able to create another film. However, he was saved from oblivion by the Soviet Mosfilm, which offered him the opportunity to adapt Vladimir Arsenyev’s autobiography, Dersu Uzala. Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

Despite the film’s success at the Oscars in 1976, Kurosawa’s subsequent projects remained uncertain. To ensure financial stability, the Japanese filmmaker even agreed to appear in a series of Suntory whisky commercials, the same brand Bill Murray promoted in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. When we note that Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia’s father, appeared alongside him while praising the taste of the alcohol, the story of a depressed actor making ends meet in Tokyo because he received no interesting film offers gains new significance. Regardless of how much the Japanese filmmaker’s story inspired Sofia Coppola to create her most famous film, seeing Kurosawa—a man with a significant alcohol problem—advertising whisky shortly after attempting suicide is a profoundly sad sight. Fortunately, his acquaintance with Coppola, who held his work in high regard, was not in vain. When the first Star Wars film by Lucas took over cinema screens in 1977, people increasingly mentioned The Hidden Fortress, which Lucas cited as one of his main inspirations for writing A New Hope. Though this claim is quite debatable today, at the time it captured the imagination of film enthusiasts and producers. When Lucas and Coppola realized that the creator of The Hidden Fortress, none other than Akira Kurosawa, could not secure funding for his next films, they decided to help the Japanese director. Through their influence in Hollywood, they managed to reach 20th Century Fox. Nearly twenty years after Sanjuro, Kurosawa returned to the world of samurai. The result of his work was Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior.

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

Although not all critics praised Kurosawa’s new story, the film shared the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with Bob Fosse’s brilliant musical, All That Jazz. It also made an impact at the Oscars, losing in the Best Foreign Language Film category to Vladimir Menshov’s Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. Awards, however, are not the most important thing. What matters is that with Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior, Akira Kurosawa gave cinema another masterpiece that confirms his greatness. Watching the film today, more than forty years after its premiere, and reaching its poignant finale, one cannot escape the feeling of encountering something truly monumental.

Identity Drama

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

The story Kurosawa in Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior tells is based on historical events. To avoid getting too detailed, it is set in the 16th century. Japan is in a state of civil war. Competing clans, led by generals known as shoguns, vie for control of the country. Their rivalry has continued unabated since the second half of the 15th century. The conflict is so fierce that there is no talk of peace negotiations. The war can only end when one of the clans achieves dominance over all of Japan and begins to govern according to its own rules.

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

One of the most influential leaders is Takeda Shingen. His opponents respect him for his excellent horsemanship and perfect mastery of swordsmanship. Shingen has a huge influence on his soldiers. The army is willing to sacrifice itself in the name of his ideals. When the leader is on the battlefield, their morale is so high that even death does not faze them. Unfortunately, during a night visit to an enemy castle, the general is seriously wounded by a shooter hidden behind the walls. Before dying, he asks his commanders to conceal his death for three years. After Shingen takes his last breath, the titular Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior steps in to take his place. The audience knows him from the film’s prologue. He is a thief caught red-handed, willing to do anything to avoid harsh punishment for his crimes. This petty criminal takes on the burden of convincingly playing the role of the charismatic shogun. He must deceive not only anonymous soldiers but also the deceased leader’s close relatives, particularly Shingen’s grandson.

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

At this point, Kurosawa and Tatsuya Nakadai, the actor playing the role of Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior, begin to create a compelling story about identity. At the start of his journey, the shadow warrior cannot rid himself of the character traits that accompanied him before his capture. One of the first things he does after being left in one of the shogun’s private rooms is attempt to loot a large vase. To his horror, he discovers that the tightly sealed container holds the embalmed body of the deceased leader instead of valuable stones and metals. This encounter with the dead Shingen is one of the most crucial moments in the film. It marks the beginning of the protagonist’s internal transformation, as he gradually starts to lose his own personality in favor of adopting the characteristics of the deceased shogun. The leader’s life, especially his close relationship with his grandson, who loved him unconditionally, begins to draw the protagonist in more and more. The necessity of constantly playing the role leads the shadow warrior to a crisis of identity. At a certain point, unnoticed, the thief abandons his own personality and loses himself in the character he is portraying. The shadow warrior adopts Shingen’s way of speaking, learns to perfectly mimic his movements, forms a strong emotional bond with the grandson, and begins to think according to the ideals of the deceased ruler. The line between the shadow warrior’s identity and Shingen’s blurs increasingly. Therefore, when circumstances force the commanders to expose and denounce the man before the subjects, the thief does not return to his old life. He remains a mere shell of a man—an empty vessel, initially filled with his own identity, and later with Shingen’s. Kurosawa brilliantly illustrates the demonic nature of masks, demonstrating how role-playing can lead to the destruction of identity. This is not about their theatrical dimension but their social one. When a symbolic mask appears on our face too often, the moment when we forget what our true face looks like is only a matter of time.

Samurai Elegy

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

However, Kurosawa would not be himself if he did not place Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior ‘s story in a much broader context. That is why the personal drama translates into the tragedy of the entire Takeda clan in his film. When the protagonist pretending to be the shogun for the commanders’ sake is expelled from the city, the symbolic mask of political intrigue among military leaders is also shattered. Without it, the clan becomes somewhat defenseless, naked, completely exposed. Shingen is dead, we have no leader, and the man you have been bowing to was a thief we picked up from a filthy street. Greatness was built on a lie. It is hard to follow people who make a shogun out of a criminal. Even when the rightful heir, the deceased leader’s son, comes to power, it is already too late. The chance for victory in Japan’s civil war died with Shingen, which is expressed in the poignant battle sequence of Nagashino.

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

This battle scene of Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior takes us to an even higher level of metaphor. It is hard not to get the impression that as Kurosawa carefully shows the bodies of soldiers and horses falling to the ground, killed by bullets fired by enemies hidden behind a solid palisade, a chapter in history is coming to an end. Swords, spears, and bows give way to firearms. In the smoke of burning gunpowder, old Japan dies. Although history teaches us otherwise, as we know that after the civil war, Japan entered a period of isolationism, and the role of firearms significantly decreased again, the battle sequence of Nagashino leaves little doubt about the director’s intentions.

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

When the titular character: Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior, observing the execution of Shingen’s army from hiding, at the end of the film, when it is all over, decides to run onto the battlefield and gallop towards the sinking family banner, we are witnessing a desperate attempt to save the existing state of affairs. Here is a man without identity, an empty shell, racing towards a piece of cloth symbolizing the ideals of the fallen soldiers. On one hand, it is a desperate cry of an individual making one last attempt to fight for his lost identity. On the other, it is a struggle to preserve the memory of a clan that has just ceased to exist. And thirdly, it is a sad reflection on times that—despite often falling victim to creating false mythologies—disappear with the shots of guns. No matter how you look at it, it is a lament. Profoundly sad, yet overwhelming in its beauty.

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FORTRESS 2. The Last Days of Christopher Lambert in Science Fiction

Fortress 2 is an attempt to continue the story from the first part, but it lacks a well-written script and sufficient screen time.

Odys Korczyński

18 June 2024

fortress

The title is, of course, a metaphor, and Christopher Lambert is still alive. However, I was looking through his acting portfolio for some cinematic farewell to those legendary roles in his career. I found “Fortress 2,” which is a sequel to a once well-known title. I’m sure it has its fans, but I will never count myself among them, even though I rate this production around 5 out of 10. Partly due to sentiment for Lambert, and partly because of its style. Geoff Murphy’s work is from the year 2000 and aesthetically stands in a crossroads. It’s clearly the ’90s, and some scenes even resemble the ’80s. It’s still available online, so I can only do one thing – recommend this title to everyone who wants to return to the old vision of underfunded science fiction cinema. You can laugh, get emotional, root for the characters, admire real explosions, cringe at the sight of plastic renders of spaceships, but in some strange way, you want to see the finale.

Director Geoff Murphy has films like “The Quiet Earth,” “Young Guns II,” and “Freejack” to his credit. I won’t mention “Under Siege 2” because it’s rather kitschy, like everything with Steven Seagal, but within the sci-fi genre, Murphy was able to say something timeless. And viewers still remember it to this day, often not even knowing the director’s name. So, even in the 21st century, Murphy could have put the final touch on it, but he failed. Mainly due to money, or rather the lack of it. “Fortress 2” is an attempt to continue the story from the first part, but it lacks a well-written script and screen time. Viewers don’t have to wait long for developments. John Brennick (Christopher Lambert), hiding from the omnipresent corporation ruling the world, is immediately captured again and placed in prison, but this time a much more advanced one than the one in “Fortress 1.” This time the prison is in space. By the way, I’m curious if both Fortresses were an inspiration for the “Escape Plan” series?

fortress

So, after Brennick is placed in the space prison, where it’s really cramped, co-ed, and the behavior of prisoners is controlled by neural implants, the escape plan begins. Brennick uses all sorts of inventive methods to find the weakest points of the prison. He does this along with a group of friends, including the beautiful Elena (Liz May Brice), who is undoubtedly the film’s attraction – I should immediately mention, very sexistly exploited. In the film, prisoners bathe together, and to prevent mass rapes of female prisoners, artificial intelligence precisely controls all the inmates’ reactions. Physical contact is forbidden. Theoretically, it’s an interesting and effective way to keep peace in the prison, but the problem is that the head of the facility is a very vile person, executing his most criminal orders, including against Brennick, through the head guard. A certain scheme from prison films is therefore preserved and is still used today. I agree that it still works. In “Fortress 2,” the problem is that it’s a bit too fast, the acting is poor, and the constantly buzzing music based on electronic trumpets and strings is ear-piercing. Who knows, maybe it would have been a good idea to remove the music altogether. The space sequences, surprisingly numerous for such a low-budget film ($11 million), would probably benefit from silence. But the best part is gliding in space without a suit.

In “Fortress 2,” this is really possible. Only a little blood pours from the nose and ears, but apart from that, one can survive in space for several, or maybe more, seconds without serious injuries. Neither pressure nor temperature matters. Brennick, as a superhero, can handle such danger. But seriously, Christopher Lambert flying in space thus reached the limits of his acting and closed the chapter on his cult roles, as it turned out, forever. I still have some hope tied to the newest “Highlander.” If only the creators planned his appearance alongside Henry Cavill, I have no idea on what basis and with what justification. I’m just speculating. You must admit it would be nice, and Lambert would return to his greatest cult role, if only for a moment.

fortress

Such a thing will probably never happen. So, we are left to watch “Fortress” and its sequel and judge for ourselves whether the role of Brennick can be counted among Lambert’s good ones, or just cashing in on the sentimental fame of the ’80s when Lambert played Tarzan and Connor MacLeod. An idea that’s somewhat audacious for Lambert’s career came to me. He is 67 years old. He is still professionally active. Nothing stands in the way of him returning to the role of Brennick and redeeming the somewhat wasted legend from the sequel. So, what if they made “Fortress 3?” We currently live in times of remakes and sequels, and in the Fortresses, we didn’t learn much about the earthly world governed by the Mental corporation. It would be worthwhile to open the cinematic reality, going beyond one prison or another, and Lambert, now an old anti-system veteran, would once again face his enemies, not in the form of people, but the system, the artificial intelligence that rules within the corporation’s structures, and its leaders are not even aware of it. And with such a planned future for Brennick, I can therefore wholeheartedly recommend the sci-fi comedy “Fortress 2” – a surreal film because I can’t describe it otherwise if I want to maintain my sentimental rating of 5/10.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

See other posts from this author >>>

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DERSU UZALA. A Small And Unassuming Masterpiece

What is Associated with Adventure Cinema? For me personally, it mainly involves fast-paced action, spectacular chases, forced humorous dialogues, and equally forced romantic subplots.

EDITORIAL team

17 June 2024

DERSU UZALA. A Small And Unassuming Masterpiece

Most films in this genre are so similar to each other that if it weren’t for the faces of the actors, it would be nearly impossible to distinguish them. If I had to say what is missing in adventure cinema, my answer would be: depth, reflection, and originality.

Dersu Uzala as an Adventure Film

Dersu Uzala is commonly classified as an adventure film. Yes, this movie contains elements of adventure cinema, but I can’t shake the feeling that calling Akira Kurosawa‘s classic work an adventure film somewhat diminishes it. While it is indeed a journey through an incredible, unspoiled land filled with numerous dangers for the daring explorers, this film is a poem that forces us to contemplate human nature and our place in the world. It is deep, philosophical, and challenging—qualities that I have rarely, if ever, found in the adventure films I’ve seen.

dersu uzala Maksim Munzuk Yuriy Solomin Mikhail Bychkov

The Historical Background of Kurosawa’s Film

The characters in Kurosawa’s film were real people. The expedition led by Captain Arseniev to the Ussuri region, which the film depicts, took place in 1902. The real Dersu Uzala, like his film counterpart, was a hunter whom Arseniev hired as a guide. The screenplay is based on two books by Arseniev himself. Kurosawa meticulously portrays the relationship between the two main characters and the backdrop of their story—the extraordinary landscapes, costumes (the real Dersu Uzala in photographs closely resembles the one played by Maksim Munzuk), and the customs of the Ussuri trappers. This time, the Japanese director was very sparing with his techniques—he stepped back, allowing the Ussuri region, Arseniev, and especially Uzala to speak for themselves.

Dersu Uzala Maksim Munzuk

The Wisdom of Dersu Uzala

Although there is little moralizing in this film, there is a lot of genuine, deeply rooted wisdom, making the story’s message easily graspable. This does not detract from Dersu Uzala; rather, it makes the film exceptionally cohesive, especially for a fact-based story. For an ordinary European accustomed to the comforts of civilization, it is hard not to admire the main character, who manages to survive in even the harshest conditions and help his Russian friends. From Dersu’s perspective, however, there is nothing extraordinary about him—he simply leads a way of life he has known since birth. Dersu does not have the inflated ego that almost every city dweller struggles with; he is at peace with himself and the world, and as long as he can be himself, he remains happy.

Dersu Uzala

The Tragic Ending

The film’s ending is sad – Dersu Uzala, cut off from the wilderness where he spent nearly his entire adult life, is unable to adapt to the city, despite having devoted friends around him. He is like an old tree that has been transplanted. The civilized world turns out to be far more dangerous for him than the unspoiled Ussuri region was for Arseniev’s cartographers, even though there are no wild animals or dangerous weather phenomena in the city. For Dersu Uzala, city life turns out to be simply empty.

Dersu Uzala Maksim Munzuk

This realization forces the viewer to reflect on whether their own life might be similarly hollow. Both Kurosawa and Maksim Munzuk, who plays the titular role, seem to understand deeply what Dersu felt. This understanding is what gives strength to this over forty-year-old film and is why Dersu Uzala won the 1976 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Words: Michal Bleja

EDITORIAL team

EDITORIAL team

We're movie lovers who write for other movie lovers!

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I watched JURASSIC PARK with my son. LEGO bricks ruined the fun for me

One of my dreamed-of movie nights, watching Jurassic Park with my son, was recently ruined. The culprit? Innocent-looking LEGO bricks.

Jakub Piwoński

17 June 2024

lego jurassic park

Being a father and a movie enthusiast at the same time is a big responsibility. Raising a child requires attention, and selecting the right movies for evening screenings does too. If a father’s role is to reveal the mysteries of the world to his child, film can be one of the elements supporting this journey. Right? However, things don’t always go as planned. One of my dreamed-of movie nights was recently ruined. The culprit? Innocent-looking LEGO bricks.

Showing your child movies from your youth is risky and problematic. We can never know if our offspring will react to the images the way we hope. There’s no guarantee they will understand what the father wanted to convey through the film. Sometimes, however, the problem is something entirely different. Popular culture has grown to such an extent that it’s very hard to achieve a surprise effect today.

From a young age, I have been interested in topics related to the past, history, nature, evolution, humanity, and culture. When Jurassic Park was released in 1993, I found in this film a reflection of these fascinations, presented in an accessible, entertaining, and engaging way. The film left a huge impression on me. To this day, it’s one of the films that has affected me the most. And that’s how it stayed.

I see many common traits in my seven-year-old son. He also knows dinosaur and animal species, excelling among his peers. He has many figures and books, and he also finds his interests expanded in films, series, and games. I knew that one day this moment would come and I imagined the moment we would watch Jurassic Park together. I thought I would be his guide through the world created by Steven Spielberg.

lego jurassic park

We’ve already had our first screening. More will follow, as we plan to watch the entire series. But during our first joint screening of Jurassic Park, something happened that I completely did not foresee. It wasn’t me telling my son what was happening on the screen, but him telling me. In fact, the kid even knew the sequence of scenes, which embarrassed me.

Did I miss something?

I wondered… Did I miss something? Did some intruder sneak onto my Netflix profile while I wasn’t looking and watch forbidden content?

Nothing could be further from the truth. It turns out the whole fuss is connected with LEGO bricks. More precisely, with games created based on LEGO sets and the worlds they are licensed from. It quickly came back to me that my son has been a proficient player of LEGO: Jurassic World for several months. One of the game’s storylines recreates key scenes from the first film in the series. Of course, everything happens with animated LEGO characters, but the voices are added from the original actors. These scenes are almost exactly replicated from the film in their composition, supported by original voices, sounds, and music.

Yes, John Williams’ music was also not new to my seven-year-old. When the grand musical theme played during the helicopter flight scene, my son wasn’t surprised or uplifted. He also perfectly recognized the character of Alan Grant. He was only curious about how “that old man with a cane” would be presented. When the park gates opened, I felt a shiver again, and when the brachiosaurus appeared, I almost got emotional. I’m not sure if my son shared these feelings. For him, it was simply engaging with something he already knew well, just in a more vivid form.

lego jurassic park

Fortunately, the fun wasn’t entirely spoiled. There were moments when my son clearly flinched because he experienced them in a more intense way. Two scenes stand out: the first exposure of the T. rex and the “kitchen revolution” with the velociraptors. This is a testament to the excellence of these scenes – even when watched multiple times, they still work, filled with tension that keeps your eyes glued to the screen.

New LEGO models reveal certain plot elements

I realize that today’s popular culture operates on different principles than it did when I was growing up. Back then, to access the content of a film, you had to either watch it or read the book it was based on. Magazines rarely revealed the plot. Today, the internet is bursting with analyses, summaries, screenshots, memes, and consequently – spoilers. And LEGO bricks contribute to this process, often revealing elements of a film even before its premiere. It has become a tradition that before major blockbusters, new LEGO models reveal certain plot elements, such as the appearance of a character. Star Wars and MCU fans know something about this.

My son loves the mentioned LEGO game. He will probably soon achieve all the goals in it. I must say, from the point of view of mechanics and playability, we are dealing with an engaging and well-made product. However, I have (as a journalist and somewhat as a father) a problem with how shamelessly the creators copied everything contained in the films into the respective storylines of the game. I have no doubt this was done with the studio’s consent (Warner Bros. for the game, and Universal for the films), but for God’s sake, did no one consider how such EXACT revelation of the film’s plot would affect its later reception by the young generation?

lego jurassic park

I know, I’m a boomer. After all, it’s LEGO, a separate entity meant to play with pop culture. The atmosphere of these productions and sets has been consistently and pleasantly nonsensical for years. So, it’s worth turning a blind eye and enjoying the fact that the bricks and games create the opportunity to transform the myth of a brand, developing it.

And while I understand this, I cannot ignore the fact that this practice RUINED my dreamed-of screening. So, I give it the middle finger instead of a thumbs up.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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BEVERLY HILLS COP: A Timeless Classic Perfectly Capturing the 1980s

If I had to pick a film that perfectly captures the 1980s, “Beverly Hills Cop” would be at the top of the list.

EDITORIAL team

17 June 2024

beverly hills cop

In the 1980s, one of my favorite genres, the action-comedy, enjoyed great success. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of one of the finest examples of this genre – “Beverly Hills Cop,” which launched Eddie Murphy into stardom. Axel Foley remains the actor’s best role to this day (yes, even better than Donkey from Shrek), and in just under three weeks, Foley will return in the fourth installment of the series. But let’s start from the beginning.

The script for the film, originally titled “Beverly Drive,” was written in the late 1970s and told the story of a cop transferred from an “ordinary” Los Angeles neighborhood to the elite Beverly Hills, where his unconventional methods astonish the polished officers of this exclusive area of the City of Angels. Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, and James Caan were considered for the lead role, though offers were never made (unlike Harrison Ford, who was offered the role but declined). When the decision to produce was made, the producers (Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson) immediately wanted to hire Eddie Murphy, but ultimately Sylvester Stallone was cast. Stallone rewrote the script, heavily shifting its tone towards action at the expense of humor. He also changed the protagonist’s last name from Elly Axel to Axel Cobretti. These changes would have increased production costs astronomically, so Stallone was let go (he later used his ideas for “Cobra”), and Murphy was brought back. The character’s name was changed again, this time to Axel Foley. The only thing left was to convince Martin Brest to direct. He resisted for a long time but finally agreed after being persuaded by the producers and a coin toss. Brest still has the coin framed.

beverly hills cop

Everyone likely knows the plot, but for the sake of completeness: Outspoken Detroit cop Axel Foley (Murphy), while trying to solve the mystery of a friend’s death, follows the trail of the murderers to Beverly Hills. There, with the help of his friend Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher), he uncovers a larger conspiracy involving a distinguished art dealer (Hollywood’s go-to bad guy, Steven Berkoff). Foley sets out to administer justice, using unorthodox methods that initially irk the Beverly Hills police officers.

When the film hit theaters in December, it was a sensation. Everything about it clicked: the fantastic main character who, with his unconventional methods, causes a stir in the prestigious LA district (and guarantees viewers a great time), supported by an excellently cast ensemble – from the amazing chemistry between Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Ashton), the police chiefs Bogomil (Ronny Cox) and Todd (non-actor Gilbert Hill), the villains, to the tertiary characters. Who doesn’t smile at the scene with Serge (Bronson Pinchot)? The camera focuses on Murphy, who, at just twenty-three years old, carries the film on his shoulders. His expressive personality, distinctive laugh, and improvisational skills make “Beverly Hills Cop” enjoyable even four decades later. Iconic scenes – the first visit to the art gallery, the banana in the tailpipe, the strip club sequence, or the visit to the elite club – are endlessly watchable. Phenomenal moments include when Axel cleverly sneaks into secure places, such as a customs warehouse or getting a room in a crowded, upscale hotel.

Additionally, if I had to pick a film that perfectly captures the 1980s, “Beverly Hills Cop” would top the list. Everything in it screams the decade it was made, especially the music. The wonderful theme song composed by Harold Faltermeyer sounds great and is still enjoyable (which I’m listening to as I write this review). Besides that, there are quite a few hit songs, such as “The Heat Is On” by Glenn Frey and “Stir It Up” by Patti LaBelle.

beverly hills cop

It’s also worth noting that the film breaks genre conventions as the main character does not have an on-screen romantic partner. There’s Jenny, but she and Axel are just friends. Interestingly, in Stallone’s version, the actress had a typical female role for action films of that period. Thankfully, this was changed (at least to some extent, as the characters still have to rescue her in the end).

Of course, you could nitpick, like the fact that the protagonist has little to do in the (otherwise spectacular) prologue or that some moments require suspension of disbelief, but why look for flaws when you can simply enjoy Foley and company’s adventures?

There’s no need to say more. “Beverly Hills Cop” is a timeless classic, and I enjoy revisiting it every so often. I’m sure I’ll watch it many more times in the future.

Written by Piotr Zymelka

EDITORIAL team

EDITORIAL team

We're movie lovers who write for other movie lovers!

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RASHOMON. One Of The Most Influential Films Of All Time

Through the curtain of torrential rain, the outlines of an abandoned, half-ruined structure emerge – part palace, part gate guarding a city drowning in streams of water.

Paweł Marczewski

16 June 2024

RASHOMON. One Of The Most Influential Films Of All Time

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

– Philip Larkin, This Be The Verse

Through the curtain of torrential rain, the outlines of an abandoned, half-ruined structure emerge – part palace, part gate guarding a city drowning in streams of water, Rashomon. Among broken boards, on the bare floor, sit two men. After a moment, evading the rain and jumping over puddles, a third joins them. A monk, a woodcutter, and a petty thief… This small group, neither particularly wise nor excessively righteous, will, not entirely of their own will, delve into the mystery of human baseness and repeatedly cross the thin line separating good from evil and truth from falsehood.

Rashomon Rashômon

Rashomon is derived from the stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa. One of the greatest twentieth-century writers from the Land of the Rising Sun committed suicide at the age of 35. He left behind over 100 stories, combining a fascination with traditional Japanese ghost stories with the formal and narrative precision characteristic of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, whose attentive reader he was during his student years. Akira Kurosawa selected two texts from the Japanese writer’s legacy and, together with Shinobu Hashimoto, created one of the best screenplays in cinema history.

Rashomon Rashômon

In the literary original, Rashomon is a gate leading to Kyoto, decimated by various plagues, and it is in its shadow that the drama of greed and lack of compassion unfolds – a servant robs an old woman wanting to weave a wig from the hair pulled from a deceased old woman, who herself had committed many basenesses in the vain hope of saving her life. Kurosawa and Hashimoto retained only the symbolic name, drawing the core of the story from another Akutagawa work, in which different versions of the same events – the rape of a woman and the murder of her husband – are confronted. The monk and the woodcutter, testifying in court as witnesses, recount to the rogue sheltering with them from the rain three stories: one heard from the criminal who is the main suspect in the case, the raped wife, and the man speaking from beyond the grave through a medium. However, there is yet another version… Or perhaps there are as many as there are viewers of the film?

Rashomon Rashômon

The ambiguity of the story is emphasized by extraordinary cinematography and a series of brilliant staging techniques. The scene of the woodcutter finding the corpse, for example, makes a huge impression thanks to the incredibly ingenious camera positioning. We see only the dead man’s hands and the terrified face of the simple man, as if pointed at by the stiffened fingers. The lens here gives the impression of the eyes of the deceased raising his hands in silent protest. During the interrogation scenes, the actors speak directly to the camera, as if the viewers themselves were the tribunal tasked with hearing the testimonies.

Rashomon Rashômon

It seems that nothing is obvious here – except for the pervasive baseness. Small lies, disappointed hopes, hidden grievances, sometimes a momentary, irrational impulse – all these make the web of lies and distortions too dense over time to reach the truth. Even the dead lie, and the victims turn out to be the executioners. Akutagawa wrote in his suicide note: We, human beings, being animals in human form, feel an animal fear of death. What is called vitality is nothing but animal strength. The animal driven into the trap of life quickly loses strength, sometimes, however, its very unbridled vitality becomes the cause of its misfortunes. This happened in the case of the common bandit Tajomaru, who suddenly desired a woman embodying beauty and bringing the promise of fulfilling some unspoken, shameful dream.

Rashomon Rashômon

Is goodness possible in this rain-soaked, mud-smeared world? Is new life possible on the ruins of the Rashomon gate, free from baseness, pure? After all, “sho” means life… According to some interpretations, the only character in this story who shows a desire to start everything anew and overcome his own shortcomings represents the director’s alter ego. However, in the final scene, holding a small child in his arms, he smiles at least ambiguously – either with relief or maliciously…

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BRIDGERTON, Season 3, Part 2: The Truth Floats to the Surface Like a Drowned Corpse [REVIEW]

In the Bridgerton series, it’s not just intrigues that matter, but also the context of relationships between people from the upper echelons.

Odys Korczyński

16 June 2024

bridgerton

About the truth, it obviously comes out after some time, usually at the least wanted and expected moment. The second part of season 2 is based on this confrontation of Penelope with her alter ego, Lady Whistledown, and consequently with her beloved Colin Bridgerton. Certainly, fans of this universe, in a sense, will appreciate the acceleration of events, as the previous four episodes could have had a livelier pace. Now the tension is much higher, and the plot has entered a phase where society balls are a backdrop to events, rather than the core of the story. It is good that from the very beginning of the second series, viewers are confronted with society’s reaction to the discovery of Whistledown’s identity. This twist has many levels, leading us to a surprising finale. In the Bridgerton series, it’s not just intrigues that matter, but also the context of relationships between people from the upper echelons.

The world of the Bridgertons appears to be an ideal reality, at least it seems that way initially, when we see the glamour and poise of the characters. In this world, there is no poverty, squalor, or the evil of wars, not even the typical male violence that was a much more common way of resolving conflicts at that time. However, this does not mean that the perfection of this reality is real and authentic. One can wound with a pen and words just as effectively as with a sword and a pistol. Wars can be fought through social promotions and demotions of opponents, not to mention compromising them in salons through skillful behind-the-scenes machinations. Even in the world of wealthy snobs, having money doesn’t prevent you from suddenly becoming a pauper if Queen Charlotte decides not to invite you to an important ball. The epitome of the injustice of this ideal world is loneliness, not so much for men, but for women. All women in these higher circles are raised to have respectable husbands, fulfill their whims, and hope to give birth to heirs of great family names. As Penelope’s mother aptly and suggestively states: “Ladies don’t have dreams, they have husbands.” The world of the Bridgertons, although so multiethnic, is a bitter portrayal of predatory and hypocritical social inequality that persists in our human culture to this day. Lady Whistledown can be seen as a beacon of enlightenment, a guide to freedom, which can easily be trampled on because she is a woman. How could she think independently, let alone write for a newspaper? For Penelope, putting her thoughts on paper was almost like having the right to vote, although the process of having articles printed in Bridgerton was not in any way similar to today’s standards. If Colin ever wanted to forbid her from doing so, he would show a very stunted personality, and that’s not what the creators of the series aimed for. Principles are important, but rational questioning is also necessary.

Bridgerton

The press has power – that is certain, and how strong it is in shaping the ideology of minds is shown quite realistically in the Netflix series. The press can destroy by spreading false rumors, but even in Whistledown’s edition, it can also bring uncomfortable truths to light, reducing hypocrisy in society, which is not liked – at least outwardly. Deep down, however, those less bound by conventions and more courageous support such unnoticed creeping changes. So there is hope, a voice of progress seems to whisper in Bridgerton – hence the multiculturalism, sexual openness, although unequal, varying depending on the pair of actors; the discreet presence of the disabled; as well as bisexual Benedict Bridgerton, all sealed by Guyanese Golda Rosheuvel as the English queen.

Bridgerton – Ideal reality

The main character is modern, or maybe even postmodern. Penelope, fighting for herself in the most controversial way she could imagine at that time. She undoubtedly takes advantage of her position. If she were from the common people, she would never have had a chance for herself. Society was her cushion. And what is Nicola Coughlan’s cushion as an actress? Some might say appearance. It is undeniable that in Penelope’s stance, and thus Nicola Coughlan’s, there is much of the body-positive approach, which raises controversy, and the Bridgerton series gives her a chance for a kind of manifesto. Not aggressive, I am sure, but clear – remember who in the series so openly showed their naked body – stomach, thighs, and especially breasts. It was a manifesto, much stronger than the sexual triangle in episode 8, where the bra remained on till the end. Nowadays, it is increasingly rare for actresses to take this step, as they treat equality in the opposite way. Nicola Coughlan acted rationally, showing that a naked body cannot be objectified in itself, and one should not worry about others’ attitudes but enjoy their preferences.

Bridgerton

Returning to episode 8, viewers will receive a well-executed conclusion to the intrigue. Side plots will be resolved, perhaps sometimes through overly lengthy dialogues and drawn-out scenes, but the finale related to Lady Whistledown will satisfy even the English queen, who has truly memorable entrances. Incidentally, Lady Whistledown apologizes too much for what she writes. Sometimes it ruins the effect, weakens her power, makes one doubt whether she really wants to live openly as Penelope and her alter ego. And if the drowning man has already surfaced, he should not be hidden at all costs in the reeds, but buried with dignity to become an unquestioned co-creator of the narrative that makes up this world.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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YOJIMBO. The Immortal Classic That Inspired Sergio Leone

The bridge between East and West that Kurosawa had been building for a decade reached a turning point in the early 1960s.

Mariusz Czernic

16 June 2024

Yojimbo is not only a classic of samurai cinema but also a precursor to the spaghetti western. After all, the beginning of this Italian genre is dated to 1964 when Sergio Leone completed A Fistful of Dollars.

It was not so much a remake of Kurosawa‘s Yojimbo as a plagiarism, as the producers did not want to pay for using the ideas from the screenplay written by Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima. A lawsuit ensued, which the Japanese won, thus earning more from the Italian western—a production that turned out to be more profitable than the original Japanese film.

I make a living by killing, and this town is full of people who deserve to die.

Yojimbo Yôjinbô

The life of the ronin Sanjuro is like a camellia flower flowing along the river’s current—he himself does not know where he is going, nor how long he will stay afloat. At a crossroads, he throws a stick to show him the way. And so he arrives in a town ruled by two gangs fighting for supremacy. In times of peace, this masterless samurai does not intend to take sides in the conflict, only his own. He lives by killing and intends to use this skill to earn a handful of ryō for his upkeep. To this end, he becomes a bodyguard, secretly plotting against his employer. But the boss does not intend to be fair to him either—after winning the fight, he plans to get rid of the samurai and thus save a handful of gold coins.

Yojimbo Yôjinbô

Sanjuro is decidedly a positive hero of Yojimbo. He does not forget the code of honor and defends the weak, even giving them his pay. There is a moment when he watches a massacre helplessly, hiding in a barrel, but that’s because he is seriously injured and coming out of hiding would be suicidal. His character is inspired by American westerns about riders from nowhere who, by defeating local bandits, earn the gratitude of ordinary citizens, mainly farmers (the flagship work of this type is Shane from 1953). The Asian equivalent of the western “good bad guy” later appeared in films: Sanjuro (1962, directed by Akira Kurosawa) based on a novel by Shûgorô Yamamoto, Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970, directed by Kihachi Okamoto), and Ambush (1970, directed by Hiroshi Inagaki) – all featuring Toshirô Mifune in the role.

What difference does it make whether you kill one or a hundred people? They’ll hang you only once.

Yojimbo Yôjinbô

It is hard to overestimate the contribution that the creator of Rashômon (1950) made to the world of cinema. An author who adapted the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky (The Idiot, 1951), Leo Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky (The Lower Depths, 1957), and William Shakespeare (Throne of Blood, 1957) reached Western audiences much more easily than other native creators. After the release of the western The Magnificent Seven (1960), inspired by Kurosawa’s classic, people paid even more attention to the works of the Japanese master and his actors. Particularly impressive was the instinctive and often expressive acting of Toshirô Mifune, who won his first Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his role as the bodyguard Sanjuro. He received his second such award four years later for the film Red Beard, which unfortunately marked his last appearance with the “emperor of Japanese cinema.”

Yojimbo Yôjinbô

An actor with directorial ambitions, who made his only film in 1963 (The Legacy based on a script by Ryûzô Kikushima), he eventually quarreled with his favorite filmmaker. Their collaboration ended, but the actor continued to shine on the international stage, mainly in monumental roles of historical figures. When Kurosawa was making his last super-productions—Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985)—he had a new favorite actor, Tatsuya Nakadai, who debuted in Seven Samurai (1954) and had significant roles in films by another Japanese cinema master, Masaki Kobayashi (the anti-war trilogy The Human Condition, 1959-61). Nakadai was excellent in samurai dramas like Harakiri (1962), Samurai Rebellion (1966), and Goyokin (1969), and he also developed his talent in theatrical plays (particularly in Shakespearean repertoire).

Yojimbo Yôjinbô

Of course, I wouldn’t mention Tatsuya Nakadai if he hadn’t played a significant role in Yojimbo. Unosuke, the character he portrayed, symbolizes the approaching modernization of the country. He does not carry a sword but an American firearm, a Smith & Wesson revolver—a brand later favored by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry series (1971–88). The gunfighter in Kurosawa’s film believes that with such a weapon, he has a significant advantage. He is partly right, as it is difficult to defeat an opponent from a distance with a samurai sword. A knife, however, is another matter. The masterful duel in the finale (knife versus revolver) between Sanjuro and Unosuke has inspired filmmakers many times. In the Italian The Big Gundown (1966) by Sergio Sollima and the American El Dorado (1967) by Howard Hawks, we see characters with knives challenging armed fighters, but perhaps the closest to the Japanese original was Walter Hill in The Warriors (1979). The same Hill presented his own version of Yojimbo years later titled Last Man Standing (1996).

Stop crying—it’s pathetic. I hate pathetic people—I’ll have to kill you.

Yojimbo Yôjinbô

Japanese policies aimed at building military power resulted in a negative perception of the Japanese for many years, viewed as aggressors and perpetrators of many misfortunes. Therefore, after World War II, they had to strive hard to gain respect and recognition. They quickly achieved victory in the film field—since Rashômon (1950), Japanese studios have produced many wonderful films that won awards at festivals and are now considered classics of cinema. This good streak lasted until the 1970s when the Japanese sun began to set, and Kurosawa could only make one film every five years. Even during the crisis, however, he created outstanding works, skillfully using Russian (Dersu Uzala based on Vladimir Arsenyev) and English literature (Ran based on William Shakespeare’s King Lear).

Yojimbo is a classic sword drama (ken-geki), in which the hero played by Toshirô Mifune kills his opponents in a few swift moves. This cinema is very visually expressive, conveying much about the world through meaningful images. When Sanjuro arrives in town, he sees a dog running down the street holding a human hand in its mouth. At that moment, the newcomer realizes that this is no ordinary town, but a battlefield. And thus, an ideal place for a samurai. His skills are impressive, so it is worth knowing who trained him. The fight scene instructor was Yoshio Sugino, who taught judo and iaidō (a form of Japanese swordsmanship slightly different from kendo) in his dojo. His expertise was also utilized in Seven Samurai (1954) and The Hidden Fortress (1958). In creating the fight choreography, he aimed to move away from the artificiality preferred in kabuki theater in favor of realism.

Yojimbo Yôjinbô

A truce is merely the seed from which an even greater battle will grow.

Yojimbo achieved its visual impact thanks to the support of Kazuo Miyagawa, one of Japan’s most outstanding cinematographers (he worked with Kurosawa only three times, the first time on Rashômon and the last as a consultant on Kagemusha). Kurosawa himself edited the film, introducing his favorite optical effect, the wipe, which usually symbolizes a short passage of time. This technique was perfect for this film, as the action takes place over a short period, and the characters have no time to sleep, always having to stay alert to avoid being assassinated. The contribution of composer Masaru Satô to the film’s atmosphere cannot be overlooked. His music, with a motif played on drums, is like an accelerated heartbeat—introducing a note of anxiety, foretelling misfortune.

It is also worth considering the screenplay, on which Kurosawa collaborated with Ryûzô Kikushima (this was their seventh joint project, including one film not directed by Kurosawa). Did the character they created have any precedent in literature or Western cinema? It is very possible that this film would not have been made without the work of American crime novelist Dashiell Hammett. The Japanese screenwriters drew ideas from his two novels: Red Harvest (1929) and The Glass Key (1931). Kurosawa and Kikushima created a character inspired by Hammett’s “man with no name”—a cynical hero caught between the clinking purse of coins and a sense of duty and justice, related to acting for the good of a community afflicted by violence and lawlessness. Unfortunately, Hammett died in January 1961—eight months before the American premiere of the film.

Yojimbo Yôjinbô

I see the entrance to hell—I’ll be waiting for you there.

In my opinion, Yojimbo is not as brilliant as the immortal classics: Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958), and the later films Dersu Uzala (1975) and Ran (1985). However, it is still a piece of solid craftsmanship, adorned with excellent dialogues and evocative scenes filmed from multiple cameras and various angles. The sound design and visual composition are impeccable. The set design and costumes allow the audience to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the Edo period’s twilight. Moreover, Yoshirô Muraki’s costumes were nominated for an Oscar (although the award went to Italian designer Piero Gherardi for La Dolce Vita). Yôjinbô is not only the prototype for A Fistful of Dollars and an unofficial precursor to Italian westerns, but it is also an excellent example of the Japanese school of filmmaking and a showcase of the prowess of one of its most outstanding representatives. Every filmmaker, regardless of nationality (Asian, European, or American), would want to be his student.

Mariusz Czernic

Mariusz Czernic

Tries to popularize old, forgotten cinema. A lover of black crime stories, westerns, historical and samurai dramas, gothic horror movies as well as Italian and French genre cinema.

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