Posts Tagged ‘Akira Kurosawa’

I am painfully aware of, and grimly resigned to, the fact that many of those among my friends and heavily Teutonic extended family are reflexive Francophobes.  But I would urge even those who are, and especially those who are not, if they are any true lovers of the cinema, to tune in to Turner Classic Movies this month for the second installment of their excellent new Friday Night Spotlight series, starting at 8:00 PM ET.  They’re featuring the work of François Truffaut, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, the former Cahiers du Cinéma critic who spearheaded the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) as the writer-director of The 400 Blows (1959) and the co-writer of the dreaded Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

TCM is showing all but two of the 21 features Truffaut directed, and if you do yourself a favor by dipping liberally into his oeuvre, you may find it more diverse than expected.  That’s the experience I had several years ago when frantically attending as much as I could of the comprehensive “Tout Truffaut” festival at New York’s Film Forum (which now won’t even deign to send me a printed schedule, and thus will no longer receive my longtime financial support, but that’s another rant).  Twenty-one features is a sadly small number for such a giant talent, and bespeaks both his criminally short life—he died at 52—and his productivity, averaging almost a film a year through Confidentially Yours (1983).

By way of encouragement, I’m taking the unusual step of enumerating TCM’s entire Truffaut schedule, and while it is beyond the scope of this post to editorialize on every film, I hope it will at least give you some idea of his impressive range.

They kick off on 7/5 with back-to-back showings of his semi-autobiographical Antoine Doinel series, in which we watch Jean-Pierre Léaud age 20 years as his alter ego.  Succeeding The 400 Blows are Antoine and Colette (a short that represents Truffaut’s contribution to the 1962 anthology film Love at Twenty), Stolen Kisses (1968, my personal favorite among his work), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979, both a continuation and a recap of the series, inspired by a marathon showing of the prior entries).  These are followed by the lesser-known but fascinating The Green Room (1978, inexplicably retitled The Vanishing Fiancee), a Henry James adaptation and one of several films in which Truffaut also acts, in which capacity he is best known to American audiences for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

On 7/12, they focus on Truffaut’s noir adaptations, most notably those of Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish):  The Bride Wore Black (1968), featuring Jeanne Moreau and a score by Hitchcock mainstay Bernard Herrmann, and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), with Breathless star Jean-Paul Belmondo (feh) and Catherine Deneuve, which—like the steamy Banderas/Jolie remake, Original Sin (2001)—was based on Waltz into Darkness.  In between they’re showing his swan song, Confidentially Yours, a black-and-white homage to Hitchcockian romantic thrillers, based on a book by Charles Williams; it stars Fanny Ardant, who gave birth to Truffaut’s daughter Joséphine about a year before he died, and French legend Jean-Louis Trintignant (’nuff said).  Topping it off are Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972), a black comedy from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? author Henry Farrell, and his sophomore feature, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), which has celebrated signer Charles Aznavour in the title role and did double duty during last month’s Friday Night Spotlight segment devoted to noir author David Goodis.

TCM provides a mixed bag on 7/19, starting off with The Soft Skin (1964), a tale of adultery featuring Deneuve’s ill-fated elder sister, Françoise Dorléac, and two adaptations of books by Henri-Pierre Roché, both about romantic triangles:  Jules and Jim (1962), starring Oskar Werner and Moreau, and Two English Girls (1971), also with Léaud.  Next is a real rarity, A Story of Water (1961), a short co-directed with Godard, whose work—excepting Alphaville (1965)—I normally loathe; I have yet to see that or the next offering, The Woman Next Door (1981), with Gérard Depardieu and Ardant as dangerously obsessive lovers.  Finally, The Man Who Loved Women (1977) is one of my least favorite Truffaut films, a situation doubtless exacerbated by the reflected shame of the head-scratching eponymous 1983 Blake Edwards/Burt Reynolds/Julie Andrews/Kim Basinger remake.

Ending on a generally high note, 7/26 opens with Day for Night (1973), Truffaut’s love letter to filmmaking itself, in which he really stretches his range by playing a director, joined by Jacqueline Bisset and Léaud.  I’ve been slow to warm up to The Last Metro (1980), a tale of refugees and the Resistance during the Nazi occupation that stars Deneuve and Depardieu, but I loved The Wild Child (1970), the true story of a late-18th-century doctor (Truffaut) who tries to educate a boy raised by wolves.  As a perfect capstone, Isabelle Adjani—so luminous in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979)—impressively portrays the mental deterioration of Victor Hugo’s daughter in The Story of Adele H (1975)…which, oddly, is not the only film in which we see Adjani go spectacularly mad, e.g., Possession (1981).

The two films not being shown are, fortuitously, both in the Bradley Video Library:  Fahrenheit 451 (1966), his love-it-or-hate-it adaptation of the late Ray Bradbury’s classic SF novel, featuring Werner, Julie Christie in a dual role, and another Herrmann score, and Small Change (1976), a largely improvised composite character study of the children in a small French town, played by non-actors, which is better than it sounds (at least to me).  Meanwhile, inspired by this outpouring of Truffaut-Amour, I’m doing something long overdue, dusting off some of the tapes I made when TCM devoted a similarly thorough marathon to Akira Kurosawa to honor his centennial back in 2010.  In this, at least, Madame BOF is my eager co-pilot, and we’ve already traveled back to the beginnings of his directorial career with The Most Beautiful (1944) and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945); on deck at the moment are my first viewings of Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945) and No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), plus One Wonderful Sunday (1947).

Addendum:  Film Forum did finally send me a printed schedule.  “Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles…”

Bradley out.

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The life part is easy, because it being the wee hours of Christmas Day as I write this, we’re now celebrating the birth of J.C., despite being the least prepared for this holiday we have ever been.  Kicking off a ten-day vacation, I slept until 10:00, finished writing a Matheson post for Tor.com, and availed myself of the last opportunity for some, uh, “quality time” with the wife before our daughter and her boyfriend fly in from Oregon.  Then we gorged ourselves on corned beef (an unusual gift from the senior Mrs. B., who sent us a Box o’ Ruben Fixin’s from Zabar’s in New York) and I slipped in a nap, with Mina sleeping on my lap, and a workout on my exercise bike, while embarking on Kurosawa’s The Idiot (1951), before I had to shower and change for church.

Although I’m technically an agnostic, Madame BOF and I attend a local Congregational church and are in the choir, singing on Christmas Eve at 7:30 and 11:00.  In addition to the traditional carols for which we join the congregation (e.g., “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night, Holy Night”), this year we did a pretty French carol, “Saw You Never, in the Twilight,” and a rousing English one, “Masters in This Hall.”  In between the two services, we repair to the home of a fellow choir member for potluck food and drink—albeit hopefully not too much of the latter—and a nicer bunch of people to sing or socialize with cannot be imagined.

The death part is a little trickier, and I’ll state at the outset that this is going to be one of those I’m-not-really-crazy-about-So-and-So-but-feel-I-must-acknowledge-their-passing posts, in this case (belatedly) that of writer-director Blake Edwards, who left us on the 15th at 88.  Without wishing to speak ill of the dead, especially on Christmas, it’s become a running gag among the Movie Knights that our Host with the Most will not allow any Edwards films to be shown, yet he takes his Hostly duties seriously enough that more than once he’s made exceptions for a Knight to see his favorite Pink Panther film.  Gilbert loves A Shot in the Dark (1964), I favor The Return of… (1975), and the mighty Turafish comes down squarely on the side of …Strikes Again (1976).

I’m sure part of Gil’s fondness for Shot is due to the fact that William Peter Blatty, whom people forget worked in comedy before he struck gold with The Exorcist (we’re still waiting to receive the new issue of Cinema Retro featuring our interview with Bill), co-wrote that and three other films with Edwards.  Yet I’ve seen two more, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966) and Darling Lili (1970)—the latter starring Julie Andrews, who married Edwards the year before—and didn’t care for either of them.  I haven’t seen Gunn (1967) or the Edwards-created private-eye TV series that spawned it, although I absolutely adore the driving theme song (especially the Art of Noise version) by Henry Mancini, his longtime, and perhaps most valuable, collaborator.

Interestingly, as much as I admire Peter Sellers (TCM’s star of the month for January), I also saw the only non-Inspector Clouseau movie he made with Edwards, The Party (1968), and found that painfully unfunny.  This suggests that Clouseau created a special alchemy among Sellers, Blatty and/or Edwards that may not have existed elsewhere, just as director Jack Arnold and producer William Alland seemed to do better work together than apart.  And because the Edwards/Sellers relationship was a fractious one, it also calls to mind a milder version of the almost murderous love-hate bond between director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski, which was documented in Herzog’s My Best Fiend (1999), and nonetheless produced some brilliant work…but I digress.

Edwards worked as an actor and screenwriter before graduating to director, making several films with Tony Curtis:  Mister Cory (1957), The Perfect Furlough (1958), and Operation Petticoat (1959); in spite of Cary Grant’s presence in the latter, I think that as an undiscriminating teen, I actually preferred the TV spin-off.  Now, I’m not dumb enough to say that I think Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) isn’t a good movie, but I will say it wasn’t my cup of tea, nor was I crazy about his other pre-Panther successes such as Experiment in Terror or Days of Wine and Roses (both 1962).  I’ll also freely admit that my feelings toward Days have since been colored by my loyalty to John Frankenheimer, who directed the Playhouse 90 version and was passed over for the film.

The Pink Panther (1963) changed everything, giving Mancini his second immortal theme, and if the scenes involving top-billed David Niven and his aspiring jewel-thief nephew Robert Wagner have aged less well, Sellers steals the film with no less aplomb.  The eponymous diamond did not appear in many of the sequels, but as with The Thin Man (1934), the inaccurate name stuck, eventually becoming synonymous with Clouseau himself.  It’s clear from his contemporaneous work with Stanley Kubrick on Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) that when Sellers was on, nobody could touch him as a comic genius, and the early Clouseau films bear this out, but I would agree with Hostly that they—selectively, at that—are the only Edwards movies to watch.

Although I seem to recall that a case could be made for Victor Victoria (1982), my impression is that most of his subsequent non-Panther films—although, God knows, I didn’t subject myself to all of them—relied overmuch on slapstick, toilet humor, mean-spiritedness, or some combination thereof.  I’m thinking particularly of 10 (1979), despite the frenzy over cornrowed Bo Derek, and S.O.B. (1981), for which he persuaded wholesome spouse Julie to bear her breasts.  But his worst sin was milking the Panther series beyond Hollywood’s most avaricious dreams, descending into first a patchwork quilt utilizing outtakes of Sellers from …Strikes Again (Trail of…, 1982), and then a pair of films in which Clouseau does not even appear (Curse of…, 1983; Son of…, 1993).

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Believe it or not, it’s been almost fifty years since Swiss goddess Ursula Andress arose from the sea, clad only in a white bikini with a knife at her hip, and set the standard unbelievably high for all future Bond girls in 007’s first big-screen adventure, Dr. No (1962).  That’s only tangentially related to the subject of my post, but since a more attention-grabbing piece of pulchritude could scarcely be imagined, she can certainly serve the same purpose here.  Robert Aldrich wisely built up to another memorable Andress entrance in 4 for Texas (1963) as she directs a fusillade of rifle shots at Dean Martin from offscreen, before realizing he is her new partner and revealing herself.

Aldrich’s film is one of a quartet with Martin, Frank Sinatra and, in some cases, other members of the Rat Pack such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, each of which has a numeral as part of the title.  The others are Lewis Milestone’s Ocean’s 11 (1960), on which our very own George Clayton Johnson shared story credit with Jack Golden Russell; John Sturges’s Sergeants 3 (1962); and Gordon Douglas’s Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964).  I’m no numerologist, but I noticed, back when they used to air some of them on The 4:30 Movie during my youth, that the numbers added up in several ways (e.g., 3 + 4 = 7, 4 + 7 = 11); maybe it’s a gambling thing?

I’m also no expert on Aldrich—I’d love to read a good book on him, if there’s one out there—yet knowing what I do, I had trouble imagining such a strong personality getting on with the notoriously volatile Sinatra.  Then I read on the IMDb that he “intensely disliked Frank Sinatra’s non-professional attitude and tried unsuccessfully to have him dismissed from the film” (since it was produced by The SAM Company, as in Sinatra And Martin, it’s a wonder it wasn’t the other way around).  It’s certainly interesting that each film had a different director, although Douglas did work with Sinatra on Tony Rome (1967), The Detective (1968), and several others.

It’s also interesting, in light of the lounge-lizard personae of the Rat Pack (epitomized by Oceans 11), that two of the films were Westerns made by masters of the form.  Sergeants 3 transplanted Gunga Din (1939) to the West, and featured Martin, Sinatra, and Lawford in the roles created by Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., with Davis as the Din analog.  Sturges made Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), its underrated sequel, Hour of the Gun (1967), and The Magnificent Seven (1960)—itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954)—while Aldrich directed Burt Lancaster in Apache, Vera Cruz (both 1954), and Ulzana’s Raid (1972).

Although by no means a classic, 4 for Texas has several things going for it, including Andress (who, in my view, completely eclipses co-star Anita Ekberg) and Charles Bronson as Matson, the killer hired by crooked banker Harvey Burden (Victor Buono).  Both men appeared in other Aldrich films—most notably The Dirty Dozen (1967) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), respectively—as did Martin’s right-hand man, Nick Dennis, who essayed a similar role in Kiss Me Deadly (1955).  But along with The Choirboys (1977), disowned by original author Joseph Wambaugh, and The Frisco Kid (1979), it showed that comedy was not Aldrich’s forte.

Fortunately, 4 for Texas is more of an adventure film than a comedy; such inanities as Martin’s mugging and double takes (including his reaction to a walk-on by Arthur Godfrey), plus a cameo by the Three Stooges, take a back seat to the action.  Bronson gets to kill Jack Elam in an early scene, as in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), and is gunned down twice by our boys, finally succumbing to a head shot on the paddle wheel of a riverboat that is central to Frank and Dino’s rivalry as would-be gambling bosses of Galveston.  I seem to recall reading somewhere that Bronson later sued somebody for promoting this as a starring vehicle for him.

I’ve been wanting to write something about Aldrich here for a long time, something a little more substantive than including several of his films in the B100, and this post is a roundabout excuse to do so.  I can’t think of a single filmmaker, alive or dead, who could do no wrong, be it Bava, Hitchcock, or Kubrick, and Aldrich is certainly no exception, but he had more than his fair share of noteworthy credits in his oeuvre.  Among other things, he worked with Lancaster, a big BOF favorite, on four films—more than any other director except The GREAT John Frankenheimer—which in addition to those aforementioned Westerns included Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977).

At his best when prefiguring or subverting entire genres and subgenres, Aldrich made heroes of a sympathetic Indian in Apache, at a time when few would do so, and unsympathetic—but weirdly compelling—p.i. Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) in Kiss Me DeadlyThe Flight of the Phoenix (1965) anticipated the wave of all-star disaster films launched, as it were, by Airport (1970), and Ulzana’s Raid used a Western setting to make a statement about the war then raging in Vietnam.  In The Dirty Dozen, he turned the star-studded WW II epic on its head twice, first by making a bunch of convicted criminals his main characters, and then by making us really care about them.

With Baby Jane, Aldrich could lay claim to creating an entire subgenre of his own, unleashing a torrent of “dotty old lady” thrillers, which he perpetuated as both a director (Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte [1964]) and a producer (What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? [1969]).  In fact, he often produced his own films and, like Dino De Laurentiis, used his early success to establish his own production company, only to have it shuttered by a series of flops.  Among his directorial efforts, he’s credited as a writer on only three (Ten Seconds to Hell [1959], 4 for Texas, and Too Late the Hero [1970]) and, perhaps predictably, was never so much as nominated for an Academy Award.

Clearly, Aldrich inspired loyalty among his actors, many of whom worked with him repeatedly, from stars like Lancaster to such supporting players as Richard Jaeckel.  Lee Marvin appeared with Jaeckel in the anti-war film Attack (1956) and The Dirty Dozen, also starring in the Tom Flynn fave Emperor of the North opposite Aldrich regular Ernest Borgnine, while Jack Palance toplined the Hollywood exposé The Big Knife (1955), Attack, and Ten Seconds to Hell.  Other familiar faces include Cliff Robertson (Autumn Leaves [1956], Too Late the Hero), Bette Davis (Baby Jane, Sweet Charlotte), and Burt Reynolds (The Longest Yard [1974]; Hustle [1975]).

I won’t keep you from your DVD player much longer, but I can’t resist closing with a couple of quotes, courtesy of the IMDb.  On Davis:  “[She] is a tough old broad and you fight.  But when you see what she puts on the screen you know it was worth taking all the bull.”  On Lancaster:  “He has matured gracefully, plays men his own age and understands the need not to win the girl.  He is much more tolerant of other people’s point of view.”  On Marvin:  “Look, this feller is a pretty good boozer, he’s got a short fuse, but he can be handled okay.”  And, finally, on Sinatra:  “Unpleasant man.  No one has yet worked out what really makes him tick.  But he sings well.”

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Ishirô Honda

On the occasion of his 99th birthday, we revisit this profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who oversaw the SF films produced by Toho Co., Ltd., for four decades, and director Ishirô (aka Inoshirô) Honda (1911-93) were two of the most consistent creative forces behind the kaiju eiga (giant monster) genre. Honda joined PCL Studios—later to be absorbed by Toho—in 1933, and rose through the ranks from cameraman to assistant director.

In that capacity, Honda often worked alongside rising star Akira Kurosawa, and went on to assist his friend, Japan’s most celebrated director, on Nora Inu (Stray Dog, 1949) and others. He alternated filmmaking with eight years of military service, including a period as a prisoner of war in China, and made his feature-film directorial debut with Aoi Shinju (The Blue Pearl, 1951).

Honda formed a talented troika with Tanaka and special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya on such early efforts as Minato e Kita Otoko (aka The Man Who Came to Port, 1952) and Saraba Rabaura (Farewell Rabaul, 1954). Along with composer Akira Ifukube and several key writers, this became the creative team that would stun the world with Gojira (Godzilla, 1954) and its ilk.

Having visited the ruins of Hiroshima in 1946, Honda evoked those memories in scenes of mass destruction by Godzilla, a mutated dinosaur that—significantly—levels Tokyo with his radioactive breath. A far cry from some of the more colorful sequels, the original was somber in tone and shot in black and white, co-starring Kurosawa mainstay Takashi Shimura as a scientist.

Gojira’s magnificent score by Ifukube introduced a theme that would be used throughout the series, and it featured soon-to-be kaiju regulars Akira Takarada and Akihiko Hirata. As with many Toho films, it was dubbed, retitled, and extensively recut, interpolating scenes of Raymond Burr for American appeal, when it was released here as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in 1956.

Jû Jin Yuki Otoko (Beast Man Snow Man, 1955) underwent a similar fate, butchered and released in the U.S. as Half Human: The Story of the Abominable Snowman (1957), with scenes featuring genre stalwarts John Carradine and Morris Ankrum. Like Gojira, the original starred Takarada and Momoko Kôchi, and was scripted by Takeo Murata from Shigeru Kayama’s story.

Honda and Murata began building a stable of kaiju “stars” with the titular pteranodon in Sora no Daikaijû Radon (Rodan, Monster from the Sky, 1956). Murata’s co-scripter, Takeshi Kimura (who began using the pseudonym of Kaoru Mabuchi in 1965), had worked with Honda on Saraba Rabaura, and they would eventually collaborate on ten SF films, kaiju and otherwise.

Chikyu Boeigun (Earth Defense Force, aka The Mysterians, 1957) substituted Mogera, a giant robot used by alien invaders—and added at Tanaka’s insistence—for the giant monster. Its cast included Shimura and other Gojira veterans (one of whom, Kenji Sahara, rose from his brief debut therein to leading roles in Rodan and more than a dozen kaiju entries over half a century).

Radiation resulted in another kind of monster in Bijo to Ekitainingen (aka The H-Man, 1958), as the crew of a ship that passed through an H-bomb test site became blobs and dissolved their prey. Having liquefied men in The H-Man, Honda later turned Yoshio Tsuchiya gaseous in Gasu Ningen dai Ichigo (aka The Human Vapor, 1960), courtesy of an odd scientific experiment.

The forgettable Daikaijû Baran (The Great Monster Baran, 1958) marked the genre debut of screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa, who traded off kaiju scripting chores with Kimura. Subjected to more than the usual share of editing indignities—including an American star of strikingly low wattage, Myron Healey—it was belatedly released in the U.S. as Varan the Unbelievable (1962).

Uchu Daisenso (aka Battle in Outer Space, 1959) and Yosei Gorasu (aka Gorath, 1962) bore a resemblance to Antonio Margheriti’s roughly contemporaneous Italian space operas. The former featured astronauts battling alien saucers, while the latter concerned a runaway star on a collision course with Earth, plus a scene of a giant prehistoric walrus, Magma, added per Tanaka and then deleted in the U.S.

Sekizawa’s first major contribution to the Toho roster, Mosura (Mothra, 1961), appeared in both larval and winged forms, and attacked only to rescue tiny twin fairy princesses played by “The Peanuts,” singers Emi and Yûmi Ito. Kidnapped by an evil entrepreneur, they summon the giant moth from their native island with a catchy Ifukube melody heard in several of the sequels.

Motoyoshi Oda’s Gojira no Gyakushû (Godzilla’s Counterattack, aka Gigantis the Fire Monster, 1955) had introduced a minor creation, the spined dinosaur Angilas. Honda returned to direct the next four sequels, and for the first time Toho went outside its own mythology in Kingu Kongu tai Gojira (King Kong vs. Godzilla, 1962), as the two titans duked it out atop Mount Fuji.

Although undeniably exploitative, the U.S. title Attack of the Mushroom People was not inaccurate for Matango (1963), in which castaways consumed fungi with a transformative effect. Kaitei Gunkan (aka Atragon, 1963) concerned a Captain Nemo-esque scientist (Jun Tazaki) and his “flying supersub,” Atragon, with a brief appearance by a serpentine underwater beast, Manda.

Toho began matching up its major “stars” in Mosura tai Gojira (Mothra vs. Godzilla, aka Godzilla vs. the Thing, 1964), marking the last time in Godzilla’s classic period that he would be depicted as a menace. From then on, the havoc he wreaked would be more or less for the benefit of humankind as he defended the Earth from an increasingly bizarre array of aliens and monsters.

Honda varied his output with jewel thieves and a tentacled blob in Uchu Daikaijû Dogora (Dagora, the Space Monster, 1964). An odd mix of East and West, Furankenshutain tai Chitei Kaijû Baragon (aka Frankenstein Conquers the World, 1965) pitted a behemoth that grew from the Frankenstein Monster’s heart, irradiated in the Hiroshima blast, against the reptile Baragon.

In the interim, Honda and Sekizawa had provided Godzilla with his most enduring and formidable foe in San Daikaijû: Chikyu Saidai no Kessen (Earth’s Greatest Battle, 1964). Like the U.S. and Japan, former combatants became allies when Godzilla and Mothra teamed up with Rodan against Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster, as King Ghidorah was initially known here.

Another important addition, Ifukube’s theme “Monsters Appear in Yokohama,” was used in the climactic battle of almost every Godzilla film from then on. Godzilla and Rodan, this time sans Monthra, were briefly controlled by evil aliens from Planet X in Kaijû Daisenso (The Giant Monster War, aka Monster Zero, 1965) before returning to their senses to tackle Ghidorah again.

War of the Gargantuas, the U.S. version of Furankenshutain no Kaijû: Sanda tai Gaira (Frankenstein Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira, 1966), omitted the fact that the gargantuas grew out of tissue severed from “Frankenstein.” In a more overt follow-up, Toho’s Kong met a robot carbon copy in Kingukongu no Gyakushu (King Kong’s Counterattack, aka King Kong Escapes, 1967).

By now, Toho was casting American actors directly, rather than having them shoehorned in by U.S. distributors. Nick Adams starred in Monster Zero and the first Furankenshutain film, with Russ Tamblyn in the sequel, all co-produced by America’s Henry G. Saperstein, while King Kong Escapes was a spin-off of the Rankin/Bass cartoon King Kong, and starred Rhodes Reason.

Jun Fukuda directed Gojira, Ebirâ, Mosura: Nankai no Daiketto (Big Duel in the South Sea, aka Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, 1966)—a highlight of the series, in this iconoclastic writer’s opinion—and Kaijûtô no Kessen: Gojira no Musuko (Monster Island’s Decisive Battle: Son of Godzilla, 1967). The mother of the latter’s overly cute offspring, Minya, remains a mystery, but he bears little paternal resemblance.

Honda returned to pull out all the stops with Kaijû Sôshingeki (All Monsters Attack, aka Destroy All Monsters, 1968), which opens with Toho’s kaiju stable conveniently centralized on Monster Island. As in Monster Zero, they are unleashed against humankind by yet another alien race, the Kilaaks, until the fiendish control is ended and they retaliate against Ghidorah en masse.

Spectacular scenes of destruction in the world’s major cities involved Godzilla, Rodan, a larval Mothra, Manda, Minya, Angilas, Gorosaurus (from King Kong Escapes), Baragon, Spiga (aka Kumonga, a giant spider from Son of Godzilla) and—in the briefest of fly-ons—Varan. The film also boasted one of Ifukube’s best scores and a cast of kaiju veterans headed by Akira Kubo.

In another co-production, Ido Zero Daisakusen (aka Latitude Zero, 1969), Joseph Cotten and Cesar Romero fought for the fate of an undersea city. A low budget and Tsuburaya’s failing health forced Honda to use stock footage in Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Oru Kaijû Daishingeki (aka Godzilla’s Revenge, 1969), a fantasy in which Minya helps a lonely latchkey kid cope with life.

Toho’s first kaiju produced after Tsuburaya’s death, Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no Daikaijû (aka Yog: Monster from Space, 1970) is a lackluster affair about alien spores that inhabit and enlarge a variety of fauna. Along with several other cast and crew members who had long worked in the genre, Honda then took a hiatus, working mainly in television until 1975.

Following Yoshimitsu Banno’s Gojira tai Hedorâ (Godzilla vs. Hedorah, aka Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, 1971), Jun Fukuda presided over the nadir of the series. Gojira tai Gigan (Godzilla vs. Gigan, 1972), …Megaro (…Megalon, 1973), and …Mekagojira (…Mechagodzilla, 1974) were little more than wrestling matches, with tag teams in unusually outlandish costumes.

Honda ended the first cycle of Godzilla films with Mekagojira no Gyakushu (aka Terror of Mechagodzilla, 1975), but remained active in the industry until the end of his life. He worked on Kurosawa’s five final films—Kagemusha (1980), Ran (1985), Dreams (1990), Rhapsody in August (1991), and Madadoyo (1993)—in a wide variety of credited and uncredited capacities.

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The Day of the Hunter

Mother’s Day came early this year, at least in the BOF branch of the Bradley clan, when I took Wednesday off to treat Mom to a showing of Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (1975), brought briefly back to Manhattan’s Film Forum by popular demand after its inclusion in their centennial retrospective (see “Kurosawa’s Hundred (Years) et al.”). I told my colleagues, “I’m taking her to a long, slow, sad, Russo-Japanese film about two guys in Siberia…and she’s gonna love it!” I wasn’t kidding: it had been twenty-five years, minimum, since I’d seen the film in college, and my only crystal-clear recollection was that it had her name written all over it.

Something of an anomaly in Kurosawa’s career, it came during a difficult time following Red Beard (1965), his final collaboration with Toshiro Mifune, which marked the end of his classic period. Sometimes due to poor box-office and/or elusive funding, a five-year gap elapsed before each of his next five films:  Dodes’ka-Den (1970), Dersu, Kagemusha (1980)—arguably his post-Mifune masterpiece, financed in part by well-heeled admirers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas—Ran (1985), and Dreams (1990). An abortive attempt to film his script Runaway Train (shot in 1985 by Andrei Konchalovsky), the fiasco of his involvement with Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), and the commercial failure of Dodes’ka-Den had led Kurosawa to attempt suicide, feeling that his creative powers had ebbed, but he survived and accepted an offer from Soviet studio Mosfilm to make this adaptation of Captain Vladimir Arsenyev’s eponymous memoir.

An Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Dersu can be a bit disorienting for those more accustomed to the likes of Seven Samurai (1954), right from the first three words to appear onscreen: “Roger Corman Presents.” While laughing out loud, I remembered that exploitation-movie king Corman burnished his image by acquiring U.S. distribution rights for his New World Pictures to this, Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972) and Autumn Sonata (1978), and Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H. (1975) and The Green Room (1978), neatly encompassing all three of my favorite foreign-language art-house directors. It’s also a little jarring to see a Kurosawa film in color (only his second, after Dodes’ka-Den), and featuring a minimal non-Japanese cast speaking Russian, complete with those big-ass ’70s subtitles, but two minutes in, Mom leaned over and whispered, “I like it already!”

The story opens in 1910 as military surveyor Arsenyev (Yuri Solomin) seeks the unmarked grave of his friend, Goldi tribal hunter Dersu (Maksim Munzuk), in an area aptly being uprooted for new development. It then flashes back to 1902 as Dersu first meets Arsenyev, whom he charmingly refers to only as “Captain,” and agrees to be his guide through the remote Sikhote-Alin region of Siberia. Blowing away Arsenyev’s amused (and sometimes bemused) soldiers with his woodcraft, Dersu is like a superannuated Siberian Tarzan, and when the two men become separated from the rest of their party, the hunter saves Arsenyev from freezing to death on the desolate tundra by erecting a grass hut around his tripod as night falls and a blizzard looms.

The first half includes a poignant encounter with an elderly Chinese hermit (Mom’s major Kleenex action kicked in here), and ends with Dersu being invited to the departing Arsenyev’s home in Khabarovsk, but declining in favor of profitable sable-trapping. We then flash forward to their reunion in 1907 during Arsenyev’s next topographic expedition, and endure another nail-biter as Dersu is swept toward roiling rapids on a raft, narrowly rescued with a tree chopped down by the Russians. An incident with a Siberian tiger convinces Dersu that he has angered the spirit of the forest (known, in a moment of hilarity for A.A. Milne fans, as Kanga), which along with his failing eyesight persuades him to accept Arseneyev’s hospitality, but he is unsurprisingly miserable in the city, and his decision to return to the forest leads indirectly to his death.

Mom was captivated by Dersu’s humor, wisdom, simple humanity, and ultimate plight; by the respect and unselfish friendship between the two men; and by Kurosawa’s spectacular widesecreen vistas of the rugged Siberian countryside in various seasons. In particular, the wintertime shots of Arsenyev and Dersu, dwarfed at sunset by the featureless wasteland that threatens their lives, command deep respect for filmmakers who spent two years on location in Siberia without CGI at their disposal. After the obligatory sushi dinner (one could argue that Russian food would have been more appropriate, but the only place I know is the astronomical Russian Tea Room, and in any event the siren song of what Dad used to call “dead fish” is too strong in the blood), we returned home, and she uttered the magic words: “That was a perfect day.”

I love you, Mom.

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Just a reminder that Turner Classic Movies kicks off its centennial celebration of legendary Japanese writer-director Akira Kurosawa tonight at 8:00 with a superb cross-section of better- and lesser-known films that display his diversity: Ikiru (1952), with the great Takashi Shimura unforgettable as a dying civil servant; Throne of Blood (1957), with Toshiro Mifune in Kurosawa’s version of Macbeth; The Hidden Fortress (1958), a major inspiration for Star Wars (1977); the little-seen The Idiot (1951), based on the novel by Fyodor Dosotyevsky; and The Lower Depths (1957), based on the play by Maxim Gorky. They’ll have more starting in prime time next Tuesday, and then on the 23rd, the actual 100th anniversary of his birth, they’ll pull out all the stops with a 24-hour marathon. So fire up your VCR or DVR or Tivo or just barricade yourself in front of the set, but don’t miss this chance to wallow in the work of one of the cinema’s greatest.

Speaking of TCM retrospectives, not to mention Japan, I’ve just started watching Tokyo Joe (1949), an early example of what I think of as Humphrey Bogart’s “sourpuss period.” In fact, it’s funny how neatly Bogie’s career breaks down by decade. During the 1930s, he was honing his craft and paying his dues in a series of largely similar and/or unrewarding roles, with a few standouts, e.g., The Petrified Forest (1936), Dead End (1937). The 1940s saw the full flower of his Warner Brothers years, including most of my favorites: The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946). These culminated in 1948 with his Oscar-worthy The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, for which he was inexplicably not even nominated, and his fourth and final film with fourth and final wife Lauren Bacall, Key Largo.

Afterward, right through the ’50s to his death in 1957, he obviously tried to vary his output, especially with the films (like Tokyo Joe) made by his own production company, Santana, but the results were mixed indeed. Again, there was the occasional standout such as The African Queen (1951), for which he finally won an Oscar, and The Caine Mutiny (1954), which featured another of his best performances. For the most part, however, those later films were lackluster affairs in which one could see his hard-drinking and -smoking lifestyle catching up with him. He didn’t look any too happy to be in some of them, a sentiment I sadly shared all too often.

Anyway, I know it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Tokyo Joe, which is why I’m watching it now, even though I don’t much care for it. But it must have been longer than I thought, because I don’t remember ever seeing it with the awareness that its leading lady is Florence Marly, who (as Florence Marley) played the title role in Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood (1966). I mean, how can I take her seriously in this film when all I can see is her in green makeup draining Dennis Hopper’s blood? Well, at least it co-stars Alexander Knox, so memorable as George Smiley’s ailing boss, Control, in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979), and Sessue Hayakawa, Oscar-nominated for his supporting role as the camp commandant in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), so there should be some compensations.

One final, and truly bizarre, small-world note. As many of you know (although I didn’t mention it in my morning-after post), a woman named Elinor Burkett interrupted the Oscar acceptance speech of Roger Ross Williams, whose film Music by Prudence won for Best Documentary Short Subject. I didn’t place the name until I saw the news reports on the kerfuffle yesterday, and realized that I had once been her publicist when she and her husband, Frank Bruni, published A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church in 1993. Although I wish I had some amusing anecdote about the time we worked together, I honestly recall only an amiable relationship with her and Frank. I’m not defending her actions, and have no idea what she’s been up to in the meantime, but no “Kanye West moment” alters the fact that we were doing our best to get the word out on a subject about which I felt (and feel) strongly, at a time when far fewer people were doing so than today.

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As you can see, I have finally been able to devote some time to the bells and whistles (e.g., the “About” and “Publications” pages), so you’ll have to content yourself with those while I work on my next “real” post.  A point of possible interest is the fact that the collage behind me is not a product of PhotoShop, but an actual collage I created on the wall of my workstation at the now-defunct GoodTimes Entertainment, where the photos were taken.  And yes, that is the benevolent presence of Richard Matheson looming to the right.  My very special thanks to the anonymous benefactor who synthesized the above image.

Meanwhile, a correction:  as I near the end of series 2, I realize that Reggie Perrin’s shop (see “Grot Expectations”), while it might reasonably have been expected to fail, was never intended to fail.  My apologies.

Finally, in the Life’s Little Ironies Department, it seems that Film Forum is not alone in celebrating a certain filmmaker’s 100th (see “Kurosawa Centennial”).  Fresh from knocking my socks off with an incredibly inclusive Bogart retrospective in December, TCM has scheduled a line-up nearly identical to Film Forum’s Akira Kurosawa festival, airing every Tuesday in March (including a 24-hour birthday marathon on the 23rd).  It does not, however, include The Quiet Duel…which is some consolation after all of the time and money I just spent trekking into Manhattan on three successive Sundays to see that and three of the same rarities now upcoming on TCM.  Once again, there being only so many hours in the day, I’ll be focusing not on the obvious films like Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and Yojimbo, but on some of the lesser-known ones that I’ve seen only once or not at all.  Can’t wait.

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Kurosawa Centennial

I don’t expect to be writing a lot of time-sensitive posts, but here’s one.  Those who are at all able to do so should immediately hie themselves to Manhattan’s Film Forum, now celebrating the centennial of Japanese writer-director Akira Kurosawa with an admirably inclusive six-week retrospective (http://www.filmforum.org/films/kurosawa.html).  Some history is in order:  my eleven years as a full-time book publicist culminated in a stint (1990-96) at the prestigious Penguin USA, where I had the honor of working with, among many other Viking authors, a guy named Stephen King.  My Penguin pals and I—friends to this day—then had the supreme luxury of being located a single block from Film Forum, one of the all-time great repertory and art-house cinemas, which back in the day had an annual festival of horror, science fiction and fantasy films, not coincidentally my area of special expertise.  Since I now work in my home state of Connecticut, it’s tougher to get there, but I’ll make the pilgrimage for something special…like Kurosawa, part of my “holy trinity” of foreign-language directors (along with Ingmar Bergman and François Truffaut), each of whose work I am endeavoring to see in its entirety.

Like many people, I came to Kurosawa through his 1954 epic Seven Samurai (still my favorite among all his works), to which I was drawn in turn by its Westernin every senseremake, John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven (1960).  In fact, one of the reasons Kurosawa fascinates me is the frequency with which his stuff has been reworked by filmmakers from other cultures, not least of them George Lucas, who has acknowledged The Hidden Fortress (1958) as a major influence on Star Wars (1977).  Kurosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo (1961), which owes more than a little to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, was remade as Sergio Leone’s seminal spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and that same year his breakthrough hit Rashomon (1950), whose title has become a household word, was remade by Bradley-fave Martin Ritt as another Western, The Outrage.  Kurosawa himself has adapted films from a fascinating range of works by Dostoyevsky (The Idiot, 1951), Shakespeare (Throne of Blood [1957], from Macbeth, and Ran [1985], from King Lear), Maxim Gorky (The Lower Depths, 1957), and even one of Ed McBain’s excellent 87th Precinct novels, King’s Ransom, filmed as High and Low (1963).  On top of that, Kurosawa worked extensively during what I consider his classic period (i.e., through Red Beard in 1965, although many fine films followed) with two of Japan’s greatest film actors, Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, often at the same time.

The past two Sundays, I have trekked into New York to see The Idiot with my daughter and a double-bill of The Quiet Duel (1949) and Scandal (1950) with my wife.  Donald Richie, the great expert on Japanese cinema in general and Kurosawa in particular, didn’t seem to think too much of those early efforts, which may help to explain why they had eluded me up until now, but I enjoyed all of them.  Today, they are showing Kurosawa’s late masterpiece, the somber epic Kagemusha (1980), and there’s still time to see the likes of Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Red Beard, Yojimbo (paired with its 1962 sequel, Sanjuro), and Ran, which will be showing for two weeks in a new 35mm print starting on February 5.  Madame B and I plan to return this Sunday to see The Lower Depths.  Hope you can join us!

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