Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Kurosawa Lunch Special, Served With Miso Soup.

Dodeskaden
1970, Japan
Akira Kurosawa
VHS

I love foreign films. I don’t actually enjoy watching them, but I love the film reviews that accompany them. Even if the review is good, there’s this great atmosphere of patronizing cultural supremacy evident in the reviewer’s tone, coupled with a strange fascination with the “Other” that could fuel an ethnographic doctoral thesis. I’m not saying they’re racist, it’s just that there tends to be a subtle air of condescension that pervades the piece, a back-handed insult that comes with every compliment. There’s all kinds of use of baby talk, words like ‘joyous’ and ‘splendid’ that makes it seem as if the review was written to congratulate a kindergarten nativity play. “Good for you Japan, taking time out from buying Edward Furlong records and trying to say ‘baseball’ long enough to make cute little films”. I’m no different, to be sure, but what I pride myself on is being concise, so I’m just going to cut to the chase of xenophobia and not waste your time and mine with platitudes.

A voice like an angel, that one.

Dodeskaden is the first color film from director Akira Kurosawa. Aside from discovering Kodak Vision stock, Kurosawa has also apparently discovered the zoom lens, an effect as off-putting as seeing feudal Japanese walking around in what looks like a grainy 70s cereal commercial. Bad film quality and weak colors aside, the film reminds me a great deal of an earlier, better Kurosawa film, called The Lower Depths, which similarly explored the stories of various denizens of a Japanese slum. The Lower Depths mixed in some comedy with the tragedy, which somehow made the darker elements all the more moving, like the acoustic bridge in the middle of a Dissection song. Dodeskaden, however, is all darkness and confusion. The confusion stems from the fact that there are too many characters, and since they’re all Asian, they all look the goddamned same to me. Eventually, in a long movie like Dodeskaden, they all blur together into indistinguishable blobs, and by the time the film draws to a close confusion has reduced me to yelling sushi orders at the screen. I’d say that things would be cleared up by name-tags, but judging by the way Japanese sounds, they all speak Klingon so I’d probably be even more confused by chicken scratches representing guttural laryngeals laminated in plastic. There is still enough of Kurosawa’s power and feel for period pieces to make for a worthwhile film, but it’s definitely not one of his strongest. I’d recommend Throne of Blood, High and Low, or the Kamikaze maki roll.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Rin said...

I was watching Southern Comfort earlier and I found myself getting 3 people so confused that I thought I was going [more] mental [than I already am]. So it's not just true of Asian films, is my point. Maybe though something to do with casting for Southern Comfort rather than the actual racial barrier seen in Asian movies.

Either way, I like Southern Comfort a great deal more than words would do justice. And Ran is my favourite Kurosawa, but I've only seen about 10 of his films. All the famous ones, no doubt.

I also have a soft spot for Kar Wai Wong. I'm glad there are still good Asian directors around in this horrible Takashi Miike world we live in.

5:23 PM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Yeah, Southern Comfort is great. As is Ran. All the major Kurosawa films are famous for a reason, though I am partial to Judo Saga in terms of his less familiar ones.

Takeshi Miike is the antichrist.

Oh, and Rin, what the hell happened to Nonstuff?

5:37 PM  
Anonymous broadzilla said...

Eddie Furlong sings? No!

Yes, what happened to Nonstuff? Is England ok?

4:45 AM  
Anonymous Rin said...

You know those times when you obtain an illegal copy of the new Pirates of the Caribbean trailer and decide to host it. And it just so happens that you're the only site on the entire Internet to have it so one million people download it giving you an excess bandwidth fee of around £1,000.

It's something like that.

We're fixing it, though. With the technology of pretending nothing happened, ingoring their bills and going elsewhere.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Yeah, that happened to me once. Except that a million people will never, ever visit this site if it's up for a thousand years.

8:54 AM  

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