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Cinema du Parc keeps serving the Japanese favs

Red Beard
Red Beard
The Criterion Collection

As the Akira Kurosawa centennial celebrations go on strong in Montreal, Cinema du Parc serves more than your typical Japanese dramas.  In fact, the next batch of Kurosawa classics for August 24-25 are anything but standard Japanese fare.  Uncommon even for Kurosawa himself, the mark of a great director is to step outside his comfort zone and actually succeed.  Had he been alive today, granted he would have been 100 years old, we can only begin to imagine how much more he would have offered us. 

First off, the most uncommon Kurosawa film, Dersu Uzala (1975), is certainly not his most popular.  Although it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture in 1976, it certainly wasn't well received at first, especially back home.  It mostly had to do with the fact that it is the only Kurosawa film not in Japanese.  Although towards the end of his career, in the few color films he had done, he began adding some English and French, reaching a more international audience (as if he needed it).  But Dersu Uzala  is completely devoid of Japanese; in fact, the film is entirely in Russian. 

Based on true incidents, the adventure tale follows the Russian explorer Captain Vladimir Arseniev as he scours Siberia, and befriends the hunter Dursu Uzala.  Years later, he meets up with Dursu again for another expedition, but Dursu, being older and weaker, is invited to leave the dark forest and come live with the captain in the city.  Safe to say the transition is not easy for the woodsman. 

If this is too bizarre for you, you may stick to the familiar with the Kurosawa favorite Red Beard (1965).  An amalgam of his own work, Kurosawa took the samurai out of the period piece, and crafted an 185-minute drama in 19th century Japan.  The story follows the rollercoaster relationship between a clinic director and his arrogant pupil-turned-doctor.  Kurosawa claimed that "I started looking around for something else to do and quite by accident picked up [the novel] Red Beard by Shugoro Yamamoto. At first I thought it would make a good script for [fellow director] Horikawa but as I wrote I grew so interested that I knew I would have to direct it myself."

This film is significant for two reasons: it is his last collaboration with the brilliant actor Toshiro Mifune, and it his Kurosawa's last black-and-white film.  The classical-minded director was very reluctant to transition into color, until he realized what can be done with it in his next feature film, which will be talked about in our next article.  So in the meantime, check these ones out, and remember to keep those cameras rolling.