The Bad Sleep Well

We round out Akira Kurosawa’s Shakespearean adaptations with the loosest of the bunch, so loose in fact that we posit that the “adaptation” is a construction of Western critics grasping at straws instead of a purposeful, or even unpurposeful, decision by Kurosawa. In any case, as Kaori Ashizu argued in the journal of the Shakespeare Society of Japan, going into The Bad Sleep Well understanding it to be a Shakespeare adaptation actually undermines a lot of the excellent storytelling Kurosawa is doing.

Donovan Hill joins us, and along the way we also talk about public office corruption in Japan and Ohio. Good times!

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Samurai Rebellion

We kick off the Rebel Samurai boxset this week with Masaki Kobayashi's aptly named Samurai Rebellion. Toshiro Mifune stars in a film that plays as a companion piece to Kobayashi's great Harakiri that we talked about back in July. Donovan Hill joins us this episode and for the rest of the boxset, and it's always a joy to have him.

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Stray Dog

Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura are two of the greatest actors of the 20th century. It happens that they also frequently collaborated with one another and with some of the greatest film directors to come out of mid-century Japan. As such, it seems they may be the actors who most often appear in the Criterion Collection as well, though it's hard to track that information without it becoming a whole new obsession.

They costar in Stray Dog under the helm of Criterion standard Akira Kurosawa from 1949 and it would be a feat of pure disaster if all that talent didn't make for an amazing film. Plus it's a police procedural! Who doesn't love a good police procedural?

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Throne of Blood

There's an old theater superstition that you should not utter the name Mackers, er, MacB. The Scottish King? MacBeth.

If we shadows have offended

Akira Kurosawa seems to have taken the Scottish Curse a bit too literally, transposing his adaptation of the Bard's play into his usual feudal Japanese setting, infusing it with Noh theatre tropes, and editing profusely, the last of which everyone needs to do when adapting Shakespeare to film.

Good thing, too. Because if 1957's Throne of Blood had been cursed, our beloved Toshiro Mifune definitely really would have died during his final scene.

Oh, and friend of the show Donovan Hill stops in for this episode, as well. What a treat!

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Red Beard

Apparently Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune did not end their relationship on the best of terms, but if they had to part ways fighting, they still managed one heck of a film, but then could either ever make a bad film? Red Beard, from 1965, is not only the two greats' final collaboration, but also Kurosawa's finally black and white film. That probably makes it special, too, right?

Sanjuro

Yojimbo proved so popular that Akira Kurosawa reworked his next project, another period piece starring the great Toshiro Mifune, into a sequel/prequel/parallelequel starring possibly the same character or maybe not but Mifune plays him similarly and they have similar names.

Anyway, however they're ultimately related, a year after Yojimbo came out Kurosawa released Sanjuro (1962), a film that has decidedly more to say about how samurai weren't all that great. It's no wonder this one wasn't remade as often.

Donovan joins again and we thank him for his time. It's always so exciting and long-winded when he's around.

Yojimbo

Akira Kurosawa's 1961 period drama Yojimbo is one of the most influential films in history, not to mention the most ripped-off. It's most famous unofficial remake is arguably as well known as Yojimbo itself: Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars. I'll forgive the rip-off since Leone made a pretty impressive film but we won't talk too much about that.

Being our resident Kurosawa-obsessive, Donovan Hill returns to us once again and will be with us next week as well for Kurosawa's related follow-up film Sanjuro. Toshiro Mifune stars, and I never get tired of seeing him.

Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island

Well, Donovan Hill finishes off Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy with us as we discuss the 1956 end to the saga: Duel at Ganryu Island. It's not quite as action oriented as the other two films, but it does a lot to tie up loose ends and put a cap on the story.

Hopefully Donovan will be back, it was pretty fun having him on.

But I don't think we'll convince him or anyone else to join us next week. 

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto

This week marks a string of episodes where we have a special guest to help us discuss Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy, a historic biopic of Japanese legend Musashi Miyamoto. Please welcome to the show Donovan Hill, an old friend whose father first tossed him into the river of Samurai culture at an inappropriately young age, but we'll let Donovan tell you all about that in this weeks episode. We're always happy to have guests, and if you'd like to join us, please feel free to ask in the comments section.

The Trilogy stars Toshiro Mifune, who was also in Seventh Samurai (a film Donovan probably would have loved to discuss with us as well), whose birthday was just this past Monday. How coincidental.