Ed note: For the next several weeks, composer and film aficionado Lewis Saul has agreed to supply us with in-depth commentary about the films of Akira Kurosawa, now showing in an extended festival at the Film Forum. Even if you're unable to stop by the Forum, we think Lew's insights will deepen your appreciation of these important movies.PLAYING January 24th at The Film Forum
This is Kurosawa's 10th film.
For a detailed frame-by-frame analysis of this film, click here.
Those intrepid freaks who may have checked out my insanity may have noticed that my comments and references only plow through about half of this film (although the entire film is "transcribed"). This is where I was rudely interrupted by my musical career at some point, and have never gotten back to them.
I am thankful now for the opportunity to get back to this fantastic film.
Actually, this is considered by almost every single Kurosawa scholar -- and most of his fans -- to be a "minor" picture. Richie complains that once the lawyer, Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) "takes over the picture" it somehow loses momentum.
I don't know -- I just know that the very first time I saw this (in 1999), it deeply affected me.
The disheveled attorney Hiruta has just sniffled his way into Aoe (Mifune)'s studio.
- As he tells them about all the sewage he's just stepped through, he empties his boots in the foyer. He mistakes Sumie (Noriko Sengoku) for Aoe's wife.
- He takes his wet socks off and eventually is waving one of them in front of Sumie's nose (!)
- Finally, he concludes his long ramblings with this: "I'll take the case. I was enraged after reading that story. It's pure slander. Have people no basic rights? I can't find the words. I'd fight this without the retainer. That's how confident I am. I refuse to recognize men like that as part of the human race. They're scum. They're sneaky, and above all, they stink."
- A wipe and he's gone and Sumie and Aoe are laughing about the lawyer's stinky feet...
- Aoe hires him (over Sumie's objections) and decides to see where he lives. Thus, he meets Masako (Yoko Katsuragi), Hiruta's daughter who has been bedridden for five years with TB (the disease of the Occupation).
- A wipe and Aoe is looking for HIruta's law office, on the roof of a run-down building. Hiruta is not there and Aoe notices the racing forms on his desk. Nevertheless, Aoe picks up a piece of chalk and writes (in gorgeous Kanji characters): "APPOINTING YOU AS MY LEGAL COUNSEL. DETAILS LATER. -- Ichiro Aoe"
- A quick scene showing what's going on in poor Miyako (the stunningly gorgeous Yoshiko [Shirley] Yamaguchi)'s life...
- Aoe confronts a man with one of those A-frame sandwich-board signs advertising the latest issue of Amour magazine. He decides to cancel his show, although he won't sell the "mountain" painting, which reminds him of Miyako...
- Hiruta is corrupted ... he confesses all to Masako, the only one who understands him ...
- Kurosawa now cuts quickly back and forth between scenes of the lawyers' scheming with Aoe's new infatuation with poor Masako. He plays Santa Claus ...
- A drunk (Bokuzen Hidari, in his first role ever, at age 56!) stands up on the seat in his booth: "Friends! One more week, and another year is gone..." He is a memorable character and Kurosawa would use him in many great roles in the future...
- After Aoe's words spoken on my image above, he continues: " ... an old villain like you gets such a charming daughter." Hiruta: "You refer to my Masako? Thank you! Thank you! Yes, she's as lovely as those stars. And I'm just a no-good bum." Aoe: "Quiet! Someday even you may become a star. You may shine too! What mortal can know what God has in store for us?" Perhaps some may find this all a bit corny, but I am moved every time I see it...
- A unique wipe occurs here -- the only one of its kind in 30 films! It is a "spiral" wipe and it occurs right after Hiruta enters the courtroom wearing an old fashioned robe and cap. "What's with him" and "Those robes went out years ago!" And then the wipe!
- As the wipe ends, we continue to experience a counterclockwise motion! In the middle of the frame is a movie camera -- newsreel style. This camera is framed by ghostly, hazy images of other movie cameras, five or six of them, moving in a counterclockwise circle!
- The trial moves along quickly due to Kurosawa's use of wipes to speed up the action.
- I guess if you look up "melodrama" in the dictionary, they have a picture of Hiruta, confessing that he took the check. Sure, it's a bit over-the-top -- but Kurosawa's point is a fine one ... and indeed -- a star is born!
- There are 32 wipes in this film. 31 horizontal (17l/14r) and one unique spiral wipe.