13 November 2009

The Good and the Bad

Watched two movies today of note. First, the good:

Drunken Angel (1948) by Akira Kurosawa. An early film from post-war Kurosawa, marked by the first appearance of Toshiro Mifune in one of his films. Mifune would, of course, go on to become a major star of Japanese cinema and would star as well-known characters in many of Kurosawa's films such as Tajomaru in Rashomon (1950), Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai (1954), Koichi Nishi in The Bad Sleep Well (1960), the wandering samurai in Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962), and Red Beard in Red Beard (1965).

In this film, Mifune plays a yakuza named Matsunaga, who is diagnosed with tuberculosis. He is diagnosed by the rash, alcoholic doctor Sanada, played by Takashi Shimura. Shimura himself was also well utilized by Kurosawa, from his directorial debut Sanshiro Sugata (1943) all the way through to Kagemusha (1980).

The power of the film rests strongly on the interactions of these two characters. Both are "unsympathetic" in their own ways, and thus allowed to come off as extremely humanistic characters. Neither are perfect characters. Matsunaga is a yakuza gangster, who often places the perhaps "dated" concepts of feudal loyalty and honour above his own life. Sanada is a rough drunkard of a doctor, who is prone to anger.

In his Something like an Autobiography (1982), Kurosawa writes that the drunken doctor was the last piece of the puzzle in writing the script. The basic premise was already constructed and laid out, but the perfect humanitarian doctor was bland and lifeless. Then, in talks with a real life doctor akin to the one portrayed on the screen, he hit the final breakthrough: to reduce the doctor to the same level of imperfection as the yakuza. He made them so alike that the two would inevitably butt heads. From there, everything fell into place.

The film is certainly one of the greats of that early era of Kurosawa, notably the pre-Rashomon films. It was Rashomon that catapulted Kurosawa and his favoured actors to internationally stardom, and that cemented his image as a director of jidaigeki (Japanese period films/notably samurai epics). These pre-Rashomon films certainly have a bit of a rawer feel than his later works. His style was not quite as sure and experienced, though still excellent nonetheless. Of course, he would continue to direct films placed in contemporary Japan as well after this period, but for most of his career he would be chiefly known thereafter for his portrayal of feudal Japan.

Like most of his films, Drunken Angel is well worth the watch. However, for those of you who have yet to see anything by the masterful director, I would recommend to first view one of the following:
Rashomon (1950) or Seven Samurai (1954) for his samurai epics; Yojimbo (1961) for his black comedy; or Ikiru (1952) for one set in contemporary Japan. All four are beautiful masterpieces that you best be prepared to fall in love with.

On the bad side of things, I also watched Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus with Dan and Alex. Okay, so it wasn't bad because it was with friends, and if you're looking for something uproariously terrible for bad movie night, this is it. I was expecting something on par with the SciFi exclusive Sharks in Venice. This movie proved it is possible to do something even worse. The amount of repeated footage in this movie is mind-boggling. Every 3D rendered scene is reused 3 to 20 times depending on how generic it is. Don't think pivotal scenes with specific action are exempt from this. I don't want to give away any surprise plot points, but the octopus is maimed twice by the shark. Both occasions involve the exact same footage, except the image is flipped horizontally the second time. And if it's something simple like a submarine running from the shark? Expect to see that once every two minutes.

Also, live action shots are repeated with surprising frequency. I believe we see a tracking shot of a soldier walking past another soldier into an army base at least three separate times. These aren't flashbacks or anything, mind you. These are all separate events in the story. And then there's the flashback scenes...

Speaking of flashes, they seem to like randomly flashing colours at the screen and slowing/speeding up action for split moments all the time. I suppose it's trying to mimic that CSI "action montage" style that's pretty bad to begin with, but they seem to throw it in at entirely inappropriate times and transitions. And speaking of transitions, I'm not sure the editor really understood how those things work. The acting was horrible and I don't think I need to tell you that the writing in a movie which has as its main premise a fight between a colossal shark and a gargantuan octopus is going to be about at the level of Twilight fanfic.

Of course, all this atrociousness just lead to the three of us laughing so hard we missed half the dialogue, and becoming overly excited about the "fight scenes," cheering and pumping our arms in the air, screaming things like, "DAT'S MAH MAIN MAN GIANT OCTOPUS!" To clarify, we all placed bets on who would win the fight. Alex put his 5¢ on Mega Shark. I rooted for Giant Octopus. Dan took the route of Mankind. I'd tell you who won the 15¢ pot, but I don't want to ruin the ending. (Hint: We all lost. When you watch Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, there are no winners.)


  1. Ahh, the case of Mega Shark v. Giant Octopus 666 U.S. 13 (2009). Both parties made some valid claims but were often redundant in their litigation. In all seriousness, your line about the writing and acting was genius.

  2. Ah, yes, one of the landmark cases from the Supreme Court of Cyborg Justice. I believe that was the first major ruling from Supreme Court Justice XRRL Neo-Unit 0005, correct?