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Showing posts with label Akira Kurosawa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Akira Kurosawa. Show all posts

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Green Slime

When I find something interesting on the station, I certainly do enjoy watching TCM - Turner Classic Movies on television.

It's why I watched Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven, an American version of Kurosawa Akira's (surname first) Seven Samurai classic... which itself was inspired by American westerns.

Preceding it that night was The Blob, an American monster movie classic that I had never seen on TV before. It also starred Steve McQueen. It was actually quite a good flick! Perhaps realizing that showing too much of the monster, owning to the cost of special effects in the 1950s, or the lack of sophistication in such effects, The Blob didn't show the creature very much.

If only such restraint had been shown in the movies following the Steve McQueen bundle on TCM, specifically The Green Slime, a 1968 monster movie.

Since I had not even heard of this movie until I saw it listed, speaks volumes... but what the heck... in for a penny, in for a pound.

The Green Slime started off quite well... decent enough science... and a plot that was eventually stolen by the sci-fi disaster flick Armageddon. In Armageddon, a group of deep-core drillers is sent to space by NASA to load explosives deep into an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

In The Green Slime, some space jockeys ride a rocket out from a space station set that looked like it was borrowed from the British marionette TV show The Thunderbirds a few years previous, to an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. They job is to plant some explosives by digging into its surface in the hope that it blows up before striking Earth.

The plot for The Green Slime differs when the astronauts encounter a green slime that gets all over their equipment, and they inadvertently carry it back with them to the return rocket and thus to the space station. To the movie's credit, the astronauts all underwent a decontamination procedure, but said procedure did not kill the alien slime.

The slime grew, and then morphed into a really crappy-looking alien... which is when the movie falls flat on its face.

If they had only worked with a green slime monster rather than an alien that grows from the slime, it would have been a better movie... though even then I'm unsure.

So what has this to do with Japan? I've mention Steve McQueen, The Magnificent Seven and the Seven Samurai and Kurosawa... but none are directly related to The Green Slime.

The Green Slime (ガンマー第3号 宇宙大作戦, Ganmā Daisan Gō: Uchū Daisakusen was directed by Fukasaku Kinji (surname first), and produced by Walter Manley and Ivan Reiner. It was written by William Finger, Tom Rowe and Charles Sinclair based on a story by Reiner.

Wait a minute... William Finger... Bill Finger... the guy who co-created Batman??!!?? with artist Bob Kane. Yes... the very same. Sigh.

The Green Slime was filmed in Japan using the Japanese director Fukasaku, along with a Japanese film crew, but with a non-Japanese cast.

It starred Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel (the training sarge from The Dirty Dozen), Italian actress and former Bond Girl Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball), who despite her beautiful red hair and curvaceous fleshy parts, was quite wooden in The Green Slime.

American Robert Dunham was also in The Green Slime playing Captain Martin... he lived in Japan during the 1960s, and in the 1964 flick Dogora, he played Mark Jackson. He also played Antonio, Emperor of Seatopia in 1973's Godzilla vs. Megalon. He sometimes was billed as Dan Yuma or Danny Yuma.

The rest of the cast were mostly semi-professional or amateur actors - meaning, if you were a White dude living in Japan in the 1960s, you could have been part of this... mess.

Here... I'm taking this from Wikipedia:

The Green Slime was a co-production between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Toei Film Company. MGM provided the funding and script while Toei provided the film crew and location to shoot the film.
The original storyline for The Green Slime originated in Italy, where MGM also had dealings. Years before The Green Slime went into production, MGM had contracted Italian filmmaker Antonio Margheriti to direct what was originally intended to be a series of four television movies about the adventures of a space station called Gamma One. Margheriti's films in the series consisted of Wild, Wild Planet, War of the Planets, War Between the Planets and Snow Devils, all created over a period of three months and released in 1965. MGM was impressed with Margheriti's films and released the four films theatrically. Gamma One producers Manley and Reiner were eager to take advantage of these films and made The Green Slime as an unofficial fifth entry in the film series. The only connection the film had to Margheriti's films is the space station, retitled Gamma Three, which had a similar design as the one in Margheriti's films.


Wow... four movies made in three months...

Anyhow... a truly horrible movie was The Green Slime.

Of true historic note however, is that The Green Slime was the very first movie speared in the pilot episode of the film-mocking television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1988.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Akira Kurosawa Movie Poster #2

I guess I just got lucky.

My pal Vinnie recently purchased and gifted me with five movie posters, two of which feature director Kurosawa Akira (surname first) movies.

The first one I detailed, was Dodes'ka-den (in English Clickety-clack), a Toho Studios movie he made in 1970. While International response to the film was very positive, the Japanese response was so fickle as to cause the great director to attempt suicide.

Clickety HERE to read more

The second (and last) Kurosawa movie poster I received is for the 1993 comedy-drama called Madadayo (まあだだよ, "Not Yet”), which is perhaps most notable for it being the 30th and last film to be completed by him as director.

Kurosawa passed away on September 6, 1998, after a film career that spanned 57 years.

Again, just like with Dodes'ka-den, Kurosawa himself provided the artwork for the Madadayo movie poster.

The film Madadayo is based upon the life of Japanese academic and author Uchida Hyakken (surname first) of 1889–1971, and is essentially about him not being ready to die.

Since Kurosawa was 83-years-old at the time of the film’s completion, it was also obviously a reference to himself and his own mortality.

Impressive artwork, ne?

I wish I could provide a better image for you, but the poster(s) are too large to scan, to photocopy and even to photograph for myself.

The image above is the only one I could find (at the film's Wikipedia site), and is unfortunately not a hi-resolution scan.

The only true original poster shows the tiny bit of Japanese writing on the white border at the TOP of the theatrical poster.

Ah, what the heck, here's a next generation version of the print so you can see the artwork better:
It's the same artwork, but you can see that it is missing the movie's title at the bottom, instead having the Japanese characters inside the artwork, with English below... but at least now you can see Kurosawa's art better.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Akira Kurosawa Movie Poster #1

It's good to have friends, or so I am told.

My buddy Vinnie was at an art and book sale last week in the eastern U.S. and picked up five movie posters... for me.

One of them is the poster above... it's for the Kurosawa Akira (surname first) movie Dodes'ka-den (in English Clickety-clack), a Toho Studios movie he made in 1970. He is credited as director and  partially as writer.

Kurosawa was called the Hitchcock of Japanese films - because of his ability to heighten suspense.

He was, however best known for his samurai dramas such as: Rashomon (1950), my personal favorite - Seven Samurai (1954 - the movie that inspired The Magnificent Seven cowboy flick(s)), my next favorite - Throne of Blood 1957 - a Hamlet-inspired flick), Yojimbo (1961) and Ran (1985).

I only mention those above, because they are the only ones I have actually seen. I was inspired enough by the Seven Samurai to have created a LEGO diorama:

The true homage is the hillock at the top, where the flag waves...

A samurai duel in the Seven Samurai inspired me to create this LEGO scene... replete with the katana sword being dragged behind the samurai in the foreground as he ran towards this opponent...
 Based on a book by Yamamoto Shūgorō (surname first), Dodes'ka-den was actually Kurosawa's first directed film in color.

Dodeska-den are the playacting "words" uttered by the film's boy character to mimic the sound of an imaginary trolley car.

Dodeska-den-dodeska-den-dodeska-den (clickety-clack-clickety-clack-clickety-clack).

The word is not a "real onomatopoeic word (the word sounds like the real sound - like quack, moo, crash, pow, bam!) but was created by the author in his story Kisetsu no nai machi ("A Town Without Seasons"), upon which the film is based.

Dodeska-den was a commercial and critical failure upon its initial release, which caused Kurosawa to become clinically depressed enough to attempt suicide in 1971, slashing himself with a razor over 30 times.

He survived.

However, despite the failure in Japan, the movie was well-received abroad.

Along with winning the Grand prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association, it was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 44th Academy Awards.

What is actually of greater interest than the movie, is that this was drawn by Kurosawa himself.

I guess here's another Kurosawa flick I'm going to have to watch. I'll put away all sharp objects.

Thanks, Vinnie!!!!!

Andrew Joseph

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Hidden Fortress - Where Star Wars Came From

Last Saturday, I watched the 1958 Kurosawa Akira (surname first) movie The Hidden Fortress for the first time… and I don’t know why, but it made me think of Star Wars.

So I looked it up, and sure enough – as many of you already know, Star Wars creator George Lucas freely admits that Star Wars was indeed inspired by The Hidden Fortress.

Now… maybe I had heard that somewhere else before, and I’ve conveniently forgotten that for this blog… tough to tell.

May I be excused? My brain is full. That’s from an old Far Side cartoon I haven’t thought about in decades. No… I don’t have any collections of that series… though I probably should.

Anyhow… Lucas, and his inspired Star Wars movie and Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress...

Just as I was always confused at how grandiose the title of Star Wars was – really… war amongst the stars? A bit… but not much… we all know that the real wars are fought in the senate. Sorry… kidding.

Anyhow… the same with The Hidden Fortress… it  - a hidden fortress - was there… but it really wasn’t all that important in my mind… at least not enough to warrant the movie being named after it.

But no… the similarities I saw that do exist are the fact that Lucas seems to have based the two ‘droids R2D2 and C-3PO after a pair of bumbling, greedy peasants in The Hidden Fortress.

In The Hidden Fortress, the two peasants reluctantly help an old warrior help save a princess from the enemy samurai, trying to get her from her overrun lands to a safe far, far away.

Look at the photo at the very top - guess which two are the peasants, guess who is the warrior, and guess  who's the princess... 

Okay…. It’s not an exact match, but we do have to give Lucas some credit here… as he does NOT copy Kurosawa, but rather pays homage to The Hidden Fortress in Star Wars.

Lucas, in fact, says The Hidden Fortress did inspire him to write Star Wars.

With Lucas borrowing the scene swipes prevalent in the Kurosawa movie, we have the two bickering ‘droids helping an old Jedi Knight rescue a princess and then get her to a safe place. At least that’s the hope.
Although the character of the Princess is supposed to be 16, she's an adult actor, and thus I feel safe in saying she looks all hot brandishing that thin bamboo whip.
I suppose one could also liken an X-Wing run through the trenches of the Death Star to the way the old samurai runs after on horseback and chases down two enemies – but aside from the way it was filmed, I think we might be pushing it.

The Hidden Fortress is supposed to be Kurosawa’s best work… but I still think The Seven Samurai is better. (Think The Magnificent Seven – it came out six years after the Japanese flick, and is most definitely an homage/copy. And The Magnificent Seven is one helluva great flick. )

The Hidden Fortress was initially told through our two peasants… escaping from having to dig holes to bury the dead, being caught up separately by rival forces, and then through dumb luck, being afforded the opportunity to escape…

There is comedy galore in this flick… most of it from our two hapless peasants… from watching them complain about how each other stinks, to their comedic climb up a hillside slippery with loose rocks, to their abuse by the old samurai, and watching how their greed constantly gets them in and out of jams… all the while they unwittingly help save the day. Sort of. They don’t really save the day.

It’s also why C-3PO and R2D2 don’t get a medal. But then again… the peasant’s kindda do.

No… I think I did know this stuff about Star Wars and Kurosawa. Dammit… I thought I might have been smarter than even I thought I was.

Oh well… excellent movie… go see if your library has a copy of The Hidden Fortress.

And... tomorrow... something different to acknowledge the 5th anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Macbeth - Japanese Style

Out, damned spot! Out I say!

I am a fan of Macbeth. I'm not in a theater, so it is perfectly fine for me to say that word here.

And so, thanks to Android TV, I was able to finally watch the Kurosawa Akira (surname first) directed movie: Kumonosu-jō (蜘蛛巣城) which means "Spider Web Castle" - but outside of Japan, it is best known as Throne of Blood, a Japanese take on William Shakespeare's The Tragedy Of Macbeth.

Filmed in 1957, the black and white film is a tour de force masterpiece by Kurasawa - but if you've ever heard of Kurosawa, you already knew that. 

Knowing that the samurai drama was supposed to be a version of Macbeth, I eagerly awaited the Lady Macbeth scene where she tries to wash away the treason and murders from her hands... and wow... I was not disappointed. 

Seeing the scene where the Japanese lord's wife goes mad with what she has helped wrought by trying to wash her imagined blood-stained hands stinking with blood in an empty bowl was pure horror. 

Lady Washizu Asaji (surname first) - aka Lady Macbeth - was played by actress Yamada Isuzu (surname first). When we meet her, thanks to the white-face makeup, and shaved eyebrows, and the new eyebrows painted in high on the forehead in the fashion style of feudal Japan, we see a calm, even-keeled wife suggest a treasonous plan to fulfill the prophecy of a demon spirit (the Three Witches in Macbeth).

Her mouth barely opens, her face always calm and blank... and then to see her as the madness takes hold is shocking.

We see her blackened teeth (also a fashion statement of feudal Japanese times) - which when presented against the whiteness of her facial make-up and those  - forgive me - horrible painted on eyebrows, as her eyes appear wide and dark with pain and mental anguish, as she sees herself failing to wash away the damn blood stains from her hands... it's just creepy, horrible and exciting.

I kept expecting the forest demon to pop out of her - then again, she had her own internal demons to worry about.

Macbeth - aka Washizu Taketoki (surname first) was played by famed Japanese actor Mifune Toshiro... apparently the only actor Japan has not fitted into a giant rubber lizard suit.
Japan's only samurai actor Mifune Toshiro as Macbeth/Washizu Taketoki
Seriously... if you are doing a samurai drama, then Mifune is the only actor who can play the lead role.

Although he died nearly 20 years ago, Mifune is still identified as THE samurai actor, and his wild-eyed, guffawing acting is, as always spectacular.

I won't give it away, except to say that the arrows shot, were real... hence the real face of fear on Mifune's face.

But really... despite the roles and the actors, and the title of the Shakespeare play, Lady Macbeth/Lady Washizu Asaji is the star... as she moves the plot with all of her plotting... the real steel behind the katana sword.

By the way... the way the actors look in the movie... it is based on the typical masks worn in Noh theater.

Anyhow... I really just wanted to say... if you get the chance to watch Throne of Blood, do so. It's not gross with unnecessary blood and gore (though you may cry if you want to), and it may seem slow in places with too much unnecessary horseback riding through the fog - but it's not.

Like in one of William Shakespeare's best plays, everything happens for a reason - and as long as you know that, you'll reason out for yourself what Kurosawa had in mind when he directed the scene.

Somewhere wondering if I should dig out my Japanese kyudo bow and arrows,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Lesley Gore sang It's My Party (I'll Cry If I Want To). She died last year. Despite that, it beats me where the hell in my mind that lyric popped up from to become part of this blog.
PPS: As mentioned early in this blog: In theater, actors will not mention the Shakespeare title "Macbeth" out loud fearing the play is cursed. It is instead referred to as "that Scottish play". Ah yes... the play's the thing. Different play. Different meaning.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon

A couple of nights ago, I watched the Kurosawa Akira (surname first) flick Rashomon (羅生門 Rashōmon) on TCM - Turner Classic Movies.

Although made in 1950 and set in Japan's 8th century, there is proof that movies have changed quite a bit in the ensuing 60 years.

What's it about? Well… I won't give anything away, suffice to say there is a rape and a murder, and the story is told from multiple perspectives, including: the rapist, the rape victim, the murder victim (??!!) and…

Although the movie's storyteller would have you believe it is a horrible, horrible story that he has just heard - perhaps in 1950 it was - but us jaded 2015 viewers might say, 'uh, no.'

That, however, does not detract from the black and white movie one iota.

Because the movie involves basically common people, the sword fight scenes we are treated to are less a work of art than they are a work of realism.

Imagine you and I having a sword fight. We might know the basics, but the odds are pretty good we'll cut ourselves open in an attempt to lop off a head. That's how realistic the fight scenes were.

Each character tells their version of events, with each highlighting different aspects - and when you are sure you've got it all worked out Kurosawa tosses in a curve ball.

Even the ending… with the surprise twist of an additional character… although the movie's character's aren't stating who it is, the viewer who paid attention earlier should realize the answer. Let's just say it wasn't a McGuffin, after all.

I know, I'm being vague… but this is Kurosawa… I don't want to give away anything that would detract from your enjoyment of Rashomon… and believe me, you will enjoy it.

The movie stars: the great Mifune Toshiro (my favorite Japanese actor after the guy in the Godzilla rubber suit), Kyō Machiko, Mori Masayuki and Shimura Takashi - all surname first.

It is actually based on two stories by Japanese writer Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (surname first): "Rashomon" for the setting, and "In a  Grove" for the plot and characters.

Akutagawa is regarded as the "Father of the Japanese short story", with Japan's premier literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, named after him. Born March 1, 1892 and passing on July 24, 1927, he committed suicide in true artist angstafter an overdose of barbituates. Duuuude. It's why I sometimes think I shouldn't be a writer... I don't have all that angst. I mean I do, but I don't let it mess me up as it does everyone else. Hell, my uncle (dad's brother) Harold Joseph - conductor of the New Delhi Symphony was a major booze hound, a fact that disappoints me more and more every time I mention it. It contributed to his death. Fricking artists.

By the way… whenever a director uses several characters to provide alternative and contradictory versions of a single event, it is known as a 'rashomon'. Really.

I saw it on AMC (American Movie Classics)… and wish I received a monthly notice of programming it has planned… Most of the good stuff is on the wee hours of the morning, but that's what  a PVR is for.

If you don't have a PVR - you could purchase the movie, but whomever owns the rights charges some insane amount for all Kurosawa flicks - over $100 each.

For those who prefer alternative methods, I have heard that acquired files often lacked subtitles. Of course, some people don't know how to access the subtitles from these alternative methods.

Whatever… Rashomon… watch it, and enjoy it.

Rashomon, which won the Golden Lion award the 1951 Venice Film Festival and an Academy Honorary Award at the 1952 Academy Awards, was the movie that pushed Japanese film onto the world stage.

Although on the list for one of the greatest films ever made, I can not lie, I think Kurosawa's Seven Samurai kicks bigger butt.

Andrew Joseph 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Star Wars: Samurai In Space

When I watched Star Wars - hell... I read the book before the movie came out in 1977 - I always assumed this was the classic Knights and princess story… you know… where a nothing, little farm boy dreams of going up against the evil Duke of Earl to rescue the Princess and become a Knight of the Round-ish table…

Which it is…

But according to the CineFix, I just got a fantastic lesson in how Star Wars was inspired by samurai films, as well as a decent history of movies and American influence in Japan, as well as how Japanese movie director legend Kurosawa Akira (surname first) and famed American director George Lucas (surname last) became influenced and why they created the movies they created.

The video is eight-minutes long and is well worth every single stinking second of it,

It's brilliant.

Andrew Joseph