bigsleepj wrote:High and Low
A classic Akira Kurosawa crime drama starring Toshiro Mifume....
I haven't seen any of Kurosawa's post-War Film Noir works yet. The closest to that I've seen to them is Ikiru
, which has some related themes, but doesn't count. In terms of American cinema and history, Hollywood pulled something of a P.R. hat trick that is documented in the Discovery Military channel's documentary Mafia vs. KKK
. In the first decades of the 20th century, the American public really liked the KKK's brand of domestic terrorism, making mega-blockbusters out of films like The Birth of a Nation
and Gone With the Wind
as they presented Klansman as knightly guardians of old-fashioned Southern feudal chivalry. But with the advent of the gangster picture during the Prohibition and Great Depression, you see their cultural rivals the Mafia reinvented as ambiguous anti-heroes trying to reclaim the American dream in a state of domestic warfare (i.e. Scarface: The Shame of the Nation
as the surplus of machine guns from World War I hits the streets of Chicago). As the Klansmen are portrayed more unsympathetically in film and media into the 50's and beyond, this helps to engender a culture-shift in American values.
One of the positive functions of Mafiosi is that they have been a concealed brute force protecting statements of cosmopolitan values against the threat of reactionary violence (i.e. when the KKK would show up at a Jazz concert). To be sure, gangster films after the New Hollywood tend to be filled with a stream of racist epithets, as other ethnicities signal rival gangs. And their rigid organization echoes something of feudalism, corporatism, and police forces. But I think gangster films tend to be about a wider cultural struggle for a society governed by cosmopolitan values. One becomes a gangster in these films because the society is a fraud only chumps believe in, and someone has to stand up for an alternative. One battles a gangster on behalf of the values of a progressive mudraker, as they used to say, even if the method is kung fu. To watch something like The Godfather
films or Goodfellas
, what this situation most reminds me of is the client-patron system that supported the Renaissance against the backlash from vestiges of the feudal order. I think that what these films offer is a vision of how an underground culture has reconciled the imperatives of tradition and cosmopolitanism, which is of course a major concern of Asian cinema.
Sanjuro is great. Its not as excellent as Yojimbo but it has a charm of its own. I enjoy watching it every now and again.
I haven’t seen Yojimbo
yet, but I probably will. I think the boldness and charm of Sanjuro
stems from its willingness to portray Japanese feudalism as something ludicrous, and certainly not worth nostalgia. Thematically, Kurosawa has always had a thing for human stupidity. Mifune’s ronin has achieved perspective because he has stepped outside the prescribed roles. Conversely, the samurai are naive and impulsive to a fault, while the court ladies are not very good at escaping in a timely manner. But the latter are educated, and they offer a counter-perspective on violence, anticipating the theme of the sword and sheath in Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal
. I like the running gag about the guard they capture, who ultimately defects to offer unexpected perspective and insight. The women free him in humanitarian naivety, for which he dutifully stays in their hideout. The men confine him to an offscreen room out of principle, from which he occasionally emerges to say something important. Beneath the comedy and action, Sanjuro
has an interesting recurring subtext of the concept of trust.