Akira Kurosawa: A Filmmaker Extraordinaire, The Master of Movement

Akira Kurosawa Directing

What is the distinction between good filmmakers and great ones? Is it their artistic voice and expression or is it simply their unique perspective and experience? There might not be any straightforward answers. But one thing common with the great filmmakers is that they don’t seek external validation from audiences and critics alike. It is their intimate and personal expression that they pursue, that could be lucid in nature, yet profound and universal in context.

“Man is a genius when he dreams. Dream what you are capable of. The harder you dream it, the sooner it will come true.”

A quote by the legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa who did not just create incredible masterpieces. But inspired the generations of film directors and artists.

Akira Kurosawa, Francis Ford Coppola. George Lucas, Kagemusha
Akira Kurosawa, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas during the filming of Kagemusha

Every Frame A Painting

Each Kurosawa film is a masterclass in itself and moves like no one else’s. Each one showcases the different types of motion and the ways to combine them. An educational breakdown of his films by Tony Zhou described the use of four types of movements Kurosawa uses in his films that is ‘The Nature’, ‘The Group’, ‘The Individual’ and ‘The Camera’ to provide meaning to the narrative. Using movement to cut to the next frame allows his scenes to flow smoothly. Then changes the rhythm to end the scene from going into static and back straight to movement again. This technique keeps the audience engaged as the outcome is always unpredictable. Acclaimed filmmaker Sidney Lumet once admirably said:

“For me, Kurosawa is the Beethoven of movie directors, it’s that recognizable full sound that Beethoven had, that is so unmistakable”

The Rashomon effect

A concept made famous by the writing style of the 1960's film Rashomon

Rashomon Effect
What is The Rashomon Effect — Definition, Examples in Film

This term is derived from the 1950’s period psychological drama film ‘Rashomon’ which is considered one of the greatest movies ever made. It is the first Japanese film to receive momentous international recognition. The term is described as a situation in which an event is described with contradictory narrative and interpretation by the individual characters involved. This is a method of writing in cinema where different perspectives and points of view are formed for the same event or incident. Films like Vantage point (2008), The Usual Suspects (1995), Gone Girl (2014) were greatly influenced by this method of writing in their storytelling.       

Influence of Kurosawa on artists and their work

Akira Kurosawa inspired many great directors and tons of his influence can be seen in their popular movies. George Lucas’ original Star Wars (1977) has the samurai elements inspired by The Hidden Fortress.

Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai had some spectacular rainy action sequences which blended the movement and the atmosphere to create powerful and compelling set-pieces. This technique is very effective in bringing the emotions out of the motions of the characters in the frame. The directors of films such as Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Blade Runner, Pirates of the Caribbean acknowledged this. Also, used the rain to build up the tension in their film’s action sequences.

The Seven Samurai formula of assembling up to save the townspeople from the bandit’s attack is very popular. This can be seen in countless movies throughout the history of world cinema. Some of these blockbusters such as The Expendables, The Avengers, Saving Private Ryan, Sholay, etc. used the same formula for their success.

In closure, I would say that it is in a law of nature that once in a while we get introduced to an extraordinary personality. They not only influence the generations to come but also leaves a legacy to inspire, innovate and discover. Making a positive impact in the lives of others. Akira Kurosawa was one of those individuals.

At last, I'll leave you with a video by Tony Zhou, breaking down a scene of "The Bad Sleep Well", a 1960 film by Akira Kurosawa. Enjoy! 

Tran Anh Hung and His Vietnam Trilogy

There is nothing can beat the trilogy by Tran Anh Hung when you want to recommend films about the Vietnamese culture to your international friends. Those three movies bring fully Vietnamese spirit to the audiences, not only by the antiquated architecture, mind-boggling language, sophisticated cuisine, but also the way the characters live and react in each scene.

Tran Anh Hung’s career- from a refugee to the icon of Vietnamese cinema.

Tran Anh Hung was born in the south of Vietnam. Then, he and his family emigrated to France at the age of six after the fall of Sai Gon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. After seeing ‘A Man Escaped by Chance’ of Robert Bresson, he decided to study photography at the Louis Lumiere Academy in Paris. Over the last two decades, Tran Anh Hung has been in the vanguard of a wave of internationally recognized Vietnamese arthouse cinema. [1]

Tran Anh Hung and his wife
Tran Anh Hung and his wife- Tran Nu Yen Khe, the main actress in his trilogy about Vietnam/ Dep Magazine.

Hung started his professional career with The Scent Of Green Papaya (1993), his Oscar-nominated film for Best Foreign Film, and also won two top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. Thanks to the success of his debut, he was able to secure money for his second picture, Cyclo (1995), which won the Golden Lion at the 52nd Venice International Film Festival. What’s more, he also was one of the youngest directors to be honored in this festival, at the age of 33. Then, in 2000, he released The Vertical Ray Of The Sun, the third puzzle piece to complete his “Vietnam trilogy” picture. [1]

Tran Anh Hung official poster
The official poster of ‘The Vertical Ray Of The Sun’

His works intended to re-create the image of Vietnam that he had lost when he moved to France, as well as to present audiences with a different perspective about Vietnam, which has long been dominated by French and American cinemas. The storylines are based on his understanding of Vietnamese culture as well as his first-hand experience from journeys to the motherland. [1]

Tran Anh Hung set decor
The kitchen of Sai Gon in the late 1940s/ The Scent Of Green Papaya

The Vietnam Trilogy by Tran Anh Hung

The factor that impressed me the most about this thematic trilogy was its unique cinematic language and the atmosphere in those movies. Most scenes were frequently filmed through and against windows, door openings, mirrors, and other naturally occurring frames. This can have a variety of connotations, the most obvious of which is a sense of entrapment, in which people are stuck in roles imposed on them by the old society and family expectations, arranged marriage, deep-rooted norms, or by their own complex emotions.

decorative
Hung has followed the perfection in every single frame in his film, from the lighting to shot composition in order to convey the hidden message or reveal the unspeakable feelings of the characters/ The Scent of Green Papaya

The lighting and framing techniques played a vital part of what makes Hung’s cinematography beautiful and atmospheric. The use of close-up shots in all three films had brought a very specific, almost tangible texture to the scenes. I must admit that the whole significance of all of these frames, which Hung claimed to be highly meaningful and deliberate, eluded me at the first time I watched them (when I was 16 If my memory serves me well). Nevertheless, I found those art pieces very aesthetically pleasing!

One of my most favorite frames within his Trilogy/ The Scent Of Green Papaya

The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)

The Scent was a film that depicted a Vietnamese household in the late 1940s and early 1960s through the perspective of a young girl, Mui (her name also means ‘scent’ in Vietnamese), who was a servant in a wealthy family. She paid close attention to everything around her, and as she blossomed into a lovely woman, her simple decency impressed people surround. When she first started working for the family as an adopted orphan child, she learned her chores fast and well, and she completed them in such a quiet and discreet manner that she could become invisible right in that house. But this girl is still a very real person. She is patient, all-seeing, and the film is a reflection of her awareness. She saw beauty in the tiniest of details: The aroma of green papaya, a drop of water quivering on a leaf, a line of ants, a frog in a puddle after the rain, the sunray went through the green leaves outside the window. The audiences will be immersed in the bright, innocent visual of the film, following scene by scene like observing the exquisite poem for the naked eyes.

Mui- the orphan child was adopted by a wealthy family in Sai Gon/ The Scent of Green Papaya

Cyclo (1995)

Cyclo was an entirely different, much darker street-life experience that was mesmerizing, complicating, excessively violent, and infuriating all at once compared to his first film. The story is about a group of people who live in the outside of society. The main character was a humble pedicab driver (cyclo) attempting to make a living by carrying passengers around the city in order to support his family. He was just scraping by until he is targeted by a local gang. They steal his cyclo, making him unable to work. He had no choice but to run errands for the gang’s madam.

Cyclo is much darker than Hung’s first movie. Vietnamese government even banned this movie at that time because it brought up the naked truth of the society in Sai Gon after the War / Cyclo

The Vertical Ray of the Sun (2000)

Hung’s third feature film portrayed the story of three sisters, two married, one single in a typical family in the old Ha Noi. The film opened with the death anniversary of their mother and ends a month later with the death anniversary of their father. In the meanwhile, their peaceful, perfect life was completely shattered by betrayal, miscarriages, lies, and increasing incestuous sentiments between siblings. Every single scene in the film brilliantly captured a season of heat and humidity in the North of Viet Nam, when daily motion was to be avoided, and wandering around when the temperature was still cool was the most delightful moment of the day. Sisters got together, cooking, singing, and sharing their secret concerns. The guys were shown in a more hazy manner throughout the film.

Three sisters are preparing the meal for their father’s memorial day/ The Vertical Ray Of The Sun

The director made me feel that it’s so pointless to wrap up and solve the character’s problems that, eventually the audiences won’t remember if it did or not when it’s finished. It’s not about a happening itself, but rather a longing for the slower pace and tranquility of bygone moments. Similarly, all three films luxuriated in scenes of women singing, either professionally or in their home. That was ultimately the impression that will last the longest in my mind: of a Vietnam in which life passes by languidly, occasionally with Vietnamese cuisine and beautiful music, while the dramatic also happens to happen.

 

Together this Vietnam Trilogy created a vibrant image of Vietnam, portraiting love, family bonds, class divides, wealth, and good food, but also of betrayal, despair, and poverty. In one of his talks, Tran Anh Hung shared that he was inspired by Picasso’s idea about the existence of language even in the most abstract forms of art. From this, he created his own cinematic language and certainly, the filming techniques used in his movies, which helped him communicate with his audiences. A New York film critic, Janet Maslin, stated that Tran Anh Hung was a filmmaker of ‘unusual sophistication’ in his generation.

Bibliography:

[1]. Tran Anh Hung biography. Accessed Feb 5, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tran_Anh_Hung

Sorry, Digital Events Only:
Is This The New Normal?

Heading towards a virtual world where for the sake of convenience, we are locking ourselves in a room.

Digital Events Issues
Stock Image | Photo Courtesy: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Covid-19 has created problems in all of our lives and led towards digitalization, but should we allow it to change the way we socialize and interact permanently?

With Sundance Film Festival shifting its programming to a digital format, the end of coronavirus seems like a faraway dream. Months after announcing in-person screenings when things seemed normal, the Utah-based festival retracted due to the rising covid-19 cases. As a film lover, it is frustrating to transition from a theatre projection to a virtual event on a laptop screen.

 

Is this the future where digital events are the new ‘normal’ and are there any issues with going digital?

 

Sundance is one of the thousands of events affected by the pandemic, and small events with not enough resources, unfortunately, had to cancel their lineup. After this announcement, Michel Hazanavicius’ team pulled out Final Cut from the lineup. It indicates how uncomfortable filmmakers are currently with digital showcases due to piracy issues.

Sundance Film Festival Goes Virtual
Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre at Salt Late City, Utah, USA | Photo Courtesy: Sundance Film Festival

Are event organizers able to recreate a similar experience by shifting events online?

According to a survey from Bizzabo, there was a 26% increase in respondents commenting that the last virtual event they attended was not fun. People are experiencing ‘Zoom fatigue,’ a problematic state where the experience gets lost online. Even Hot Docs made changes to its plans and hosted its podcast festival online in January. However, they still have planned to go for a hybrid film festival for their audience.  Bands and artists like Aerosmith, Elton John and Rage Against the Machine cancelled their shows instead of shifting it online. It is clear that artists want their audiences to enjoy the art in the way it was meant for consumption.

Aerosmith cancels events
Band Members of the Aerosmith | Photo Courtesy: Grammy Awards

Attending digital events from the comfort of homes is a privilege, but is this making you antisocial?

According to a report, people who are feeling antisocial are going out frequently. As a result, they are following fewer social distancing measures in public. Loneliness is making people withdraw from the activities that were of interest before. Narratives have become monotonous where every host opens with the line, “Are you able to see my screen?” Social distancing is necessary to reduce the spread of the virus. Shifting activities completely online would make you lose your audience.

How long do people need to wait and adjust to the virtual space?

People debate that the reason that the virus will stay around is that it is ‘best for business.’ Pharmaceutical companies have made billions by selling drugs and medicines. Most of these companies get research funding from the governments collected from the taxpayers. So where does this money go? Surely, the money is not re-invested to make a plan to end the virus but has funded bonuses of pharma executives, and marketing of the companies.

Governments should invest in technologies to live with the virus around. Solutions may include working on recycling indoor air to reduce transmission during events. By reducing barriers to entry in pharma, and encouraging alternate drugs we can develop more resistance towards the virus.

The benefits of the pandemic include conventional businesses rethinking their strategies to use digital space, but they cannot be a permanent alternative. Before the ‘digital’ events becomes the new normal, we hope to go back to the theatres and concert halls to enjoy events as we did before.

Coachella cancels events
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival | Photo Credits: Pitchfork Media