Akira Kurosawa

1943
Sanshiro Sugata

1944
The Most Beautiful

1945
Sanshiro Sugata Part II

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail

1946
No Regrets for Our Youth

1947
One Wonderful Sunday

1948
Drunken Angel

1949
The Quiet Duel

Stray Dog

1950
Scandal

Rashomon 93
[ A priest, a farmer and a vagrant meet in rain-drenched ruins and discuss the day’s court hearing regarding the murder of a samurai. We hear and see what happened according to the accused, the widow and even the victim himself speaking through a medium. It is clear that the bandit raped the woman and that this lead to the death of her husband, but no one can agree on the details… Akira Kurosawa’s film is rather slow, with sparse dialogue and intentionally non-spectacular scuffles, but where it becomes riveting (aside from the superb b&w cinematography and Toshiro Mifune’s gleeful overacting) is in the way the story is structured. By having each protagonist’s testimony contradicting the others, “Rashomon” sets up an ambiguous morality tale in which one’s truth is another’s lie. The sexual politics are questionable (“Women are weak by nature”) but probably reflective of Japan at the time, and the conclusion is underwhelming (“Thanks to you I can keep my faith in men.” “Don’t mention it.”) but this remains a masterful picture that’s still influential to this day. ]

1951
The Idiot

1952 Ikiru

1954
Seven Samurai 96
[ review ]

1955
I Live in Fear

1957
Throne of Blood

The Lower Depths

1958
The Hidden Fortress

1960
The Bad Sleep Well

1961
Yojimbo 83
[ Toshiro Mifune is the mother of all badass antiheroes. Sonny Chiba, Clint Eastwood, Uma Thurman… They should all bow down to Sanjuro, bodyguard to whoever can afford his services, loyal to none. Behind the camera, Kurosawa is equally merciless, never wasting a shot, just like Mifune never draws his sword unless it’s for a kill! This isn’t as epic as “Seven Samurai” or as formally groundbreaking as “Rashomon”, but it’s still pretty damn great. ]

1962
Sanjurō

1963
High and Low 93
[ All the other Kurosawa films I had seen previously involved samurai, so the fact that this one is contemporary already sets it apart. Then, it kicks off with a long discussion by men about shoes! Yet it’s still gripping, thanks to the always intense Toshiro Mifune and to the way it depicts the cutthroat business world. And then, about 15 minutes in, there’s a kidnapping that instantly makes things all the more tense, followed quickly by an unexpected twist, which brings up some wrenching moral queries. This is basically a huis clos for the first hour, but it doesn’t feel like a stage play because of the masterful mise en scène and the striking anamorphic widescreen B&W cinematography, which make for a series of brilliantly composed shots that cleverly position the characters so that, at key moments, we see the chauffeur for instance, who has an emotional investment in the whole situation. And then we go out of the shoe factory executive’s mansion for a particularly suspenseful sequence on a train, which could have been a great climax, but here, it’s still early in the story, which somewhat surprisingly turns into a police procedural. There’s an extended scene where numerous cops discuss the progress of the investigation, which could mean a lot of dry exposition, but Kurosawa keeps cutting away to show glimpses of what each cop is talking about, so it remains dynamic. And after that, there’s a gripping scene where two cops look for the kidnappers’ hideout and… Well, you’ll see! Also riveting is the shadowing sequence… And that Dope Alley climax? That’s some dark and distrubing shit for 1963, and even for 2015! But “High and Low” isn’t just a great thriller. It’s also a thought-provoking depiction of class struggle that wears its title well. ]

1965
Red Beard

1970
Dodesukaden

1975
Dersu Uzala

1980
Kagemusha

1985
Ran

1990
Dreams

1991
Rhapsody in August

1993
Madadayo