Dersu Uzala

  • Directors: Akira Kurosawa
  • Producers: Yoichi Matsue, Nikolai Sizov
  • Writers: Vladimir Arsenyev, Akira Kurosawa, Yuri Nagibin
  • Genres: Adventure, Drama
  • Actors: Maxim Munzuk, Yury Solomin

The film opens to a forest that is being cleared for development, and Arseniev searching for an unmarked grave. The film then flashes back to Arseniev’s surveying expedition to the region in 1902, before the village was built. A topographic expedition troop, led by Captain Arseniev (Yuri Solomin), encounters a nomadic, aboriginal Nanai tribesman named Dersu Uzala (Maxim Munzuk) who agrees to guide them through the harsh frontier. Initially viewed as an uneducated, eccentric old man, Dersu earns the respect of the soldiers through his great intelligence, accurate instincts, keen powers of observation, and deep compassion. He repairs an abandoned hut and leaves provisions in a birch container so that a future traveler would survive in the wilderness. He deduces the identities and situations of people by analyzing tracks and articles left behind.

Dersu Uzala saves the lives of Captain Arseniev and one of his men not once, but twice. First, when a sudden blizzard overtakes Dersu and the Captain, Dersu shows Arseniev how to quickly build a straw hut for shelter using tundra grass. The two men avoid freezing to death and are discovered by the rest of their comrades when the blizzard clears. Five years later in 1907, Dersu and Captain Arseniev again find each other in the wilderness. When Dersu and Arseniev fall into swift moving currents while crossing a river in a raft, Dersu forces Arseniev to swim while the raft is close to shore then directs the party to cut a tree which can reach him before he drowns.

Some while later, Arseniev receives a telegram informing him that the body of a Goldi has been found, with no identification on him save Arseniev’s calling card, and is requested to come identify the body. Arseniev finds that it is indeed Dersu. The officer who found Dersu speculates that someone may have killed Dersu to obtain the new rifle that Arseniev gave him.

Kagemusha

  • Directors: Akira Kurosawa, Ishiro Honda
  • Producers: Francis Ford Coppola, Akira Kurosawa, George Lucas, Tomoyuki Tanaka
  • Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Masato Ide
  • Genres: Drama, History, War
  • Actors: Tatsuya Nakadai

The film opens with a shot of what appears to be three identical Shingens. One really is Shingen, the second is his brother, Nobukado. The third man is a thief whom Nobukado accidentally came across and spared from crucifixion, believing the thief’s uncanny resemblance to Shingen would prove useful. Shingen agrees that he would prove useful as a double and they decide to use the thief as a kagemusha.

Shingen’s army has besieged a castle of Tokugawa Ieyasu. When Shingen visits the battlefield to hear a mysterious nightly flute player, he is shot by a sniper. Mortally wounded, he orders his generals to keep his death a secret for three years. Shingen later dies while being carried over a mountain pass, with only a small group of witnesses.

Nobukado presents the thief to the generals and contrives a plan to have this kagemusha impersonate Shingen full-time. At first, even the thief is unaware of Shingen’s death, until he tries to break into a huge jar, believing it to contain treasure, and instead finds Shingen’s preserved corpse. After this act, the generals decide they cannot trust the thief and set him free.

The Takeda leaders secretly dump the jar with Shingen’s corpse into Lake Suwa. Spies working for Tokugawa and his ally, Oda Nobunaga witness the disposal of the jar, and suspect that Shingen has died and go to report the death. The thief, however, overhearing the spies, goes to offer his services hoping to be of some use to Shingen in death. The Takeda clan preserves the cover-up by saying they were making an offering of sake to the god of the lake.

In full control of the Takeda army, Katsuyori leads an ill-advised attack against Oda Nobunaga, who controls Kyoto, resulting in the Battle of Nagashino. Wave after wave of cavalry and infantry are cut down by volleys of matchlock fire, effectively wiping out the Takeda. During this scene, much of the battle is offscreen. Although the charge of the Takeda army and the volley of fire from Nobunaga’s soldiers is seen, the actual death of the Takeda men is not shown until the battle is over and the viewer sees a vast scene of carnage as more time is given to the aftermath. (In reality, the clan continued under Katsuyori’s leadership for years after the battle). The kagemusha, who has followed the Takeda army, witnesses the slaughter. In a final show of loyalty, he takes up a lance and makes a futile charge against Oda’s fortifications, ultimately dying for the Takeda clan. The final image is of the kagemusha’s bullet-riddled body being washed away down a river, next to the flag of the Takeda clan.

Ikiru

  • Directors: Akira Kurosawa
  • Producers: Sojiro Motoki
  • Writers: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
  • Genres: Drama
  • Actors: Takashi Shimura

Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is a middle-aged man who has worked in the same monotonous bureaucratic position for decades. Furthermore, his relationship with his son has become strained, as his son and daughter-in-law seem to care mainly about his pension and their future inheritance.

After learning he has stomach cancer and has less than a year to live, Watanabe attempts to come to terms with his impending death. He plans to tell his son about the cancer, but decides against it when his son does not pay attention to him. He then tries to find escape in the pleasures of Tokyo’s nightlife, but after one night, he realizes this is not the answer.

Worth noticing in the night club scene is when Watanabe requests a song from the piano player. He sings this song, Gondola no Uta, with great sadness. His singing greatly affects those watching him. The song is a ballad encouraging young women to find love while they are still young and beautiful, for life is short.

The next day, a chance encounter with one of his former subordinates leads him to pursue a different solution. Watanabe is attracted to her joyous love of life and enthusiasm. He opens up to her by saying he just wants to live one day in such a carefree, youthful way like she does. She reveals that her happiness comes from her new job, making toys, which makes her feel like she is friends with all the children of Japan.

An iconic scene from the film is from the last few moments in Watanabe’s life, as he sits on the swing at the park he built. As the snow falls, we see Watanabe gazing lovingly over the playground, at peace with himself and the world. He again starts singing Gondola no Uta.

Ran

  • Directors: Akira Kurosawa
  • Producers: Katsumi Furukawa, Serge Silberman, Masato Hara
  • Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Masato Ide
  • Genres: Action, Drama, War
  • Actors: Tatsuya Nakadai, Mieko Harada

According to Stephen Prince, Ran is “a relentless chronicle of base lust for power, betrayal of the father by his sons, and pervasive wars and murders that destroy all the main characters.”[2] It is a tale about the downfall of the once-powerful Ichimonji clan after its patriarch Hidetora decides to give control of his kingdom up to his three sons: Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. Taro, the eldest, will receive the prestigious First Castle and become leader of the Ichimonji clan, while Jiro and Saburo will be given the Second and Third Castles. Jiro and Saburo are to support Taro, and Hidetora illustrates this by using a bundle of arrows.[3] Hidetora will remain the titular leader and retain the title of Great Lord. Saburo criticizes the logic of Hidetora’s plan. Hidetora achieved power through treachery, he reminds his father, yet he foolishly expects his sons to be loyal to him. Hidetora mistakes these comments for a threat and when his servant Tango comes to Saburo’s defense, he banishes both of them.

Following Hidetora’s abdication, Taro’s wife Lady Kaede begins pushing for Taro to take direct control of the Ichimonji clan, and engineers a rift between Taro and Hidetora. Matters come to a head when Hidetora kills one of Taro’s guards who was threatening his fool Kyoami. When Taro subsequently demands that Hidetora renounce his title of Great Lord, Hidetora storms out of the castle. He then travels to Jiro’s castle, only to discover that Jiro is more interested in using Hidetora as a pawn in his own power play. Finally Hidetora journeys to the third castle, which had been abandoned after Saburo’s forces followed their lord into exile, only to be ambushed by Taro and Jiro. In a horrific massacre that is the centerpiece of the film, Hidetora’s bodyguards and concubines are slaughtered, the castle is set on fire, and Hidetora is left to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). However, much to his dismay, Hidetora’s sword has been broken and he cannot commit seppuku. Instead of killing himself, Hidetora goes mad and escapes from the burning castle. As Taro and Jiro’s forces storm the castle, Jiro’s general Kurogane has Taro assassinated.

In the end, Saburo finally discovers Hidetora, hiding in a cave. The two are reunited and Hidetora comes to his senses. However, Saburo is promptly killed by an assassin that Jiro had sent out earlier. Overcome with grief, Hidetora finally dies, marking the end of the Ichimonji clan. The film ends with a shot of Tsurumaru, standing alone on top of a ruined castle while Saburo’s army mourns for their fallen leader.

Last Man Standing

  • Directors: Walter Hill
  • Producers: Walter Hill, Arthur M Sarkissian
  • Writers: Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Walter Hill
  • Genres: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller
  • Actors: Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, Christopher Walken, David Patrick Kelly

In Prohibition Era Texas, a mysterious character (later identifying himself as “John Smith”) drives into Jericho, a town mere miles from the Mexican border. Gang violence between the resident Irish gang (headed by Doyle) and Italian gang (headed by Strozzi) has decimated the town and left few legitimate citizens remaining, aside from the bartender Joe Monday, an undertaker and a corrupt sheriff, all of whom make their living by catering to Jericho’s criminal elements. Smith immediately establishes a reputation by outdrawing and killing Doyle’s top shooter, a brazen act that gets the attention of both gangs. Smith promptly hires himself out to Strozzi’s gang for what Strozzi predicts is an upcoming gang war following the impending dissolution of an uneasy ceasefire. He dispatches Smith to oversee an operation where the corrupt Mexican soldiers guarding Doyle’s illegal alcohol smuggling change alliances mid-operation and murder Doyle’s men, stealing the product and trucks in the process.

Amidst constant bickering and accusations by Strozzi’s hotheaded cousin Giorgio and unwanted attempts at investigating his past, Smith quits Strozzi’s gang. Doyle returns to Jericho and immediately asks Smith to join his gang, which Smith politely declines. Smith later tells Strozzi a rumor about the Mexican soldiers returning to Doyle’s ranks, forcing Strozzi to send Giorgio down to smooth things over. Later, Hickey (Christopher Walken) returns to Jericho and informed of the Mexican soldiers’ betrayal, travels to Mexico and ruthlessly guns down the soldiers, several of Strozzi’s men and an American police officer. Hickey leaves Giorgio alive as a hostage. An exchange is arranged between the two gangs, where Giorgio will be exchanged for money. At the swap, Hickey shoots Strozzi’s bagman, revealing the contents of the suitcase to be newspaper. When Doyle threatens to kill Giorgio unless Strozzi surrenders and leaves Jericho, Strozzi pulls out Felina, Doyle’s mistress whom he previously abducted and demands a clean exchange for Giorgio. The exchange is made and the two gangs scatter, leaving Smith standing alone over the discarded body of Strozzi’s bagman and newspaper blowing in the desert wind.

Two days later the Sheriff arrives at the church, informing Smith that Doyle has discovered the bartender’s complicity in Smith’s escape and will probably torture him to death to find him. Smith re-arms himself with a large bread-knife. The Sheriff gives him his dual 1911 Colt semi-automatic pistols instead. Smith goes back to the Red Bird Saloon, collects his hat and extra magazines then storms Doyle’s mansion, gunning down a dozen men before freeing the bartender. He mounts a tommy gun onto the shattered remains of the mansion, signaling Doyle and Hickey to meet him at Slim’s Roadhouse at sunset. In the final scene, Doyle, Hickey and Bob the Deputy meet Smith and the bartender. Doyle, happy with his victory over Strozzi, is despondent over the loss of Felina and begs Smith to tell him where to find her. The bartender promptly shoots Doyle and Smith shoots Bob before he can retaliate. Hickey raises his hands and asks if Smith is going to have the bartender shoot him too. The bartender lays his gun down and watches how Smith and Hickey will react. Hickey expresses no desire to die in Texas (“Chicago maybe”) before turning back on Smith. With lightning speed he quickdraws a pistol from his holster (just as he had done before when he killed the Border Patrol officer), but Smith is faster, and kills Hickey. With all the gangs dead, Smith slides holster’s his gun, steps into his car, and drives off into the sunset.