The Kurosawa Marathon – High and Low (1963), Stray Dog (1949) & Seven Samurai (1954)

It’s been two week since my last update on my Kurosawa watchings and I’m here to report that I have since then completed my planned marathon.  I did finish a month later than planned, but really who cares?  In the last two weeks I’ve watched High and Low (1963), Stray Dog (1949) and Seven Samurai (1954).  Here are my thoughts on each.

High and Low (1963)

On one evening before Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is about to buy a controlling share in the company he works for, so as to ensure that he continues to do the work he believes in, there is a kidnapping.  However, after discovering that the kidnapper had accidentally grabbed his driver’s son rather than his we begin the film in a tense discussion as to whether he should pay the ransom money that will surely bankrupt him and lose him his job.

This is quite possibly the best film about a kidnapping I’ve ever seen.  I love it for so many reasons.  Not only is the acting brilliant and the story well handled but it never treats you like a child.  It’s about people making the hard decisions knowing exactly how they will affect them and reminds me that good people remain in the world.

This film might just be structurally my favourite of all the Kurosawa films I’ve seen during this marathon.  It’s broken up into three easily distinguished sections. First is the kidnapping and the discussions between Gondo and the kidnapper, second is the police following every possible lead and hunch to find the kidnapper, and finally is about the kidnapper trying to cover his tracks while at the same time fleeing the police which are hot on his tail.  I loved how Kurosawa was able to handle each of these sections with such care that we got to understand and enjoy each part of the story equally and get to know each of it’s members.

The film is brilliant and gripping from opening to end. Definitely a must watch if you’re looking to educate yourself or just need something to entertain you.

Rating: 10/10

Stray Dog (1949)

After a an exhausting work day rookie Detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) has his pistol picked off of him.  He admits filled with guilt  for the mistake and is paired up with veteran Detective Sato (Takashi Shimura) from homicide to try and discover what happened to it after dead bodies start to pile up with bullets from his pistol.

Akira Kurosawa has entered so many film genres it’s astounding.  It’s almost so jaw dropping that you almost forgive him for that misstep.  I found this movie to be a serviceable ‘cop’ film, but didn’t find myself as engaged as I’ve come to expect from a film from Mr. Kurosawa.  It definitely had some great touches to it, like when Murakami spent the first twenty or so minutes searching for the pick-pockets and showing how ‘green’ he really is.  It was enjoyable to see Murakami interact with his higher ups, especially Sato.  Sato’s style as a veteran who knew who to squeeze, who to arrest and who to just sit down and talk to whether or not they are criminals.

I kind of found it laughable how with every dead body that came into the hospital that Murakami and Sato would say ‘one less bullet, now only 5 left’.  I found myself sitting there thinking, ‘what if he had bought more bullets and reloaded it?’  It would just be hilarious if at the end of the film Murakami confronted the murderer and was like ‘no more bullets’ and then he shot Murakami and said ‘i reloaded it bitch!’  While at the same time I knew this was the kinds of conventions that stories went by in the 40s cinema.

In the end nowhere near my favourite film by Kurosawa or this genre but definitely a worthwhile watch for Kurosawa purists.

Rating: 6.5/10

Seven Samurai (1954)

After two months I come to the end of my marathon with Kurosawa’s most famous film ever made.  The residents of a poor farming village are being terrorized by bandits and end up hiring seven samurais to protect them from the bandits.

Now, I must handle this topic with care.  I’m about to discuss one of the biggest films in ever made.  It sits #15 on the IMDB top 250 list.  I found myself asking myself when the movie was over what it was I actually liked about it.  I definitely knew watching this film that it was going to be epic and it was.  I however, was disappointed, as I find you can only be when finally watching a film as over-hyped as this.  I loved the first two hours of the film when we were getting to know the samurais that were coming to save the village.  The final hour which was a long battle after battle action segment of the film felt drawn out for me.  I believe that it could’ve been cut in at least half.  It’s surprising with how well Kurosawa handled the action sequences in Yojimbo which was less than two decades later, but seemed to struggle with it here.  I do believe that the grandness of the battles may have hurt its effectiveness in for me.

What this film did perfectly and did so greatly was bringing me another movie about a group of more or less strangers who came together by the end for a common cause.  I loved especially watching Mifune playing the role of Kikuchiyo, which was more or less the comedy relief for the viewer.  He was brilliant as the court jester for the film.  Shimura also fit the role as the much older Kanbe, who led the samurai and villagers in battle against the bandits.

So in the end I’m disappointed but not by much.  I liked it but didn’t love it.  There are so many other films I’ve seen by Kurosawa that are so much better than this movie, and I can’t believe this is the one people have chosen as THE film.

Rating: 8.0/10

Next Marathon:

The Romance Marathon

Dr. Zhivago (1965), Out of Africa (1985), The Notebook (2004), Romeo & Juliet (1968), Love With a Proper Stranger (1963), The English Patient (1996), The Graduate (1967), Gone with the Wind (1939)

  • Univarn

    High and Low is inarguably Kurosawa’s biggest unsung masterpiece, but I don’t know a single Kurosawa fanatic who doubts its greatness.

    I love Stray Dog for its style, and commitment to characters over story. The bullet thing you mention comes a bit with the character: you’re dealing with a man whose only killing because he can’t afford food, or anything for that matter. Growing more suspicious, and violent by the moment, not likely the type to stop and go to the nearest store or backalley where lots of people are to purchase a new set of rounds. Then again, he could have, they just go out on faith that he hasn’t.

    As for Seven Samurai *puts away shotgun* I’ll accept your 8, and even accept your argument about the way it handles its final battle. But in the context of the film the battle is only important for what it represents, its actual contents are rather meaningless. As well I never thought Kurosawa handled it poorly. I think he handled with a since of rush, and speed as he would perceive a real battle to occur: a sequence of quick moments of intense violence surrounded by long periods of wait.

    Either way, been fun checking out all of your reviews for Kurosawa films, hope you get a chance to see more of his work in the future :).