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Kurosawa retrospective inches towards finale

The Criterion Collection

We are in the last week of the centennial celebrations of renowned director Akira Kurosawa, as presented at the Cinema du Parc.  It seems like his most major works have already been presented, but there are a few surprises left.  The retrospective of over 25 films has been mostly presented chronologically, so coming up are his famous last few films, as Montreal viewers venture into color territory.  The next couple of picks offer the some of his best dramatic ensemble work.

What stands out in the next couple of days, August 26-27, is an older Kurosawa film, The Lower Depths (1957).  One last time we get to feast our eyes on Kurosawa's black-and-white mastery, as well as another epic performance by Toshiro Mifune.  The film is based on Maxim Gorky's classic proletariat play of the same name.  One of the bleakest of his films, about lower class denizens of an apartment complex, follows Gorky's play quite faithfully, in comparison to the other brilliant version, by Jean Renoir in 1936.  But it seems as though Kurosawa took many more liberties, by completely changing the setting and time period, although keeping the postwar glumness he was riding on. 

Sticking to the ensemble work of characters at the lower ends of society comes his most bizarre and misunderstood film.  Towards the end of his career, Kurosawa was becoming more magical and transcendent, and this is a clear example of a director wanting to be playful.  A series of vignettes following the inhabitants of a Japanese slum, it is at times tragic, heart-warming and heart-wrenching.  Being his first color film, and having been reluctant to follow the trend and leave his black-and-white world behind, he found reason in Dodes'ka-den (1970) to finally make the switch.  The playfulness in color and rainbow imagery is very apparent, and he never looked back.  This is the work of a more mature and wise man, one who can tell simple stories with a mastery of a man who has been behind the camera all his life.