December 31, 2008

Yojimbo (1961 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Akira Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima.

Sanjuro Kawabatake. "Thirty-year-old mulberry field." That's the name our hero, played by Toshiro Mifune, introduces himself by, though he quickly follows it with the admission that it's complete fiction. The field is one he passed on his random trek into this small desert town. As for the age, with a stroke of his stubbled chin, he admits he's more than just a tad older than thirty.

December 30, 2008

Red Harvest (1927 novel)

Written by Dashiell Hammett.

The Man With No Name, the one who sweeps into a story and causes all sorts of hell before departing, is a convention which goes way back. But rarely has it been used to quite as much effect as here.

December 26, 2008

The Bad Sleep Well (1960 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Akira Kurosawa, Eijiro Hisaita, Ryuzo Kikushima, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni.

It opens with a day of merriment, of celebration, as Public Corporation Vice President Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori) marries off his beloved daughter to his new secretary and son-in-law Koichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune). Despite a gaggle of reporters in the lobby sharing whispers of some brewing event, the large, formal ceremony goes off without a hitch. But then an ominous cake is rolled into the room. It's modeled after a partner company's office building and, in an office window remembered for a mysterious suicide five years ago, there rests a red rose.

Hamlet (1599? play)

Written by William Shakespeare.

When King Hamlet of Denmark suddenly dies during a time of war against the invading forces of Norway, his brother Claudius quickly assumes the throne and takes Queen Gertrude as his wife in a marriage hastily designed to keep the monarchy stable. Everything seems to be going well, until young Hamlet, son of the former King, starts to suspect his father's death was murder. Thus begins a long, tormented journey of madness, despair, and revenge.

December 22, 2008

The Hidden Fortress (1958 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Akira Kurosawa, Ryuzo Kikushima, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni.

When the majority of the Akizuki clan is killed during a time of civil war, General Rokurota Makabe (Toshiro Mifune) does his best to smuggle the surviving Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara) and a pile of gold across occupied borders with the hopes that her house can one day be rebuilt.

My Own Worst Enemy #9 "Henry and the Terrible... Day" (2008 episode)

Directed by David Straiton. Written by Tyler Mitchell, Rafe Judkins, Lauren LeFranc. Series created by Jason Smilovic.

Aw, bugger.

Well, this is it, folks. The last episode of one of the most consistently strong series I've had the pleasure to follow.

December 13, 2008

The Lower Depths (1957 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Akira Kurosawa and Hideo Oguni. Based on the play by Maxim Gorky.

The Setup:

A tinkerer with a dying wife. An alcoholic actor. A prostitute who dreams of romance. A vendor with the hots for a bumbling cop. A shogun stripped of his fortunes. A gambler. A pilgrim just passing through. A thief in the midst of an affair with his landlord's wife, even though his heart is dedicated to the woman's sister.

The Lower Depths (1902 play)

Written by Maxim Gorky.

The Setup:

A locksmith with a dying wife. An alcoholic actor. A prostitute who dreams of romance. A vendor with the hots for a policeman. A baron stripped of his fortunes. A pair of middle eastern brothers. A cap-maker. A shoe-maker. A tramp just passing through. A thief in the midst of an affair with his landlord's wife, even though his heart is dedicated to the woman's sister.

My Own Worst Enemy #8 "Love in All the Wrong Places" (2008 episode)

Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton. Written by Scott Murphy. Series created by Jason Smilovic.

The Setup:

While on a mission to kidnap a brutal African dictator, Edward discovers a batch of hostages that will surely be killed. One of them is Alexander De Santos (Michael O'Neill), an old flame of Mavis Heller.

My Own Worst Enemy #7 "Down Rio Way" (2008 episode)

Directed by Michael Watkins. Written by Daniel Knauf. Series created by Jason Smilovic.

The Setup:

Henry has a gun in his hand and is face to face with the man who killed Edward's parents, but he doesn't know if he can pull the trigger.

December 6, 2008

Throne of Blood (1957 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Akira Kurosawa, Ryuzo Kikushima, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni. Based on the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare.

The Setup:

In a time of feuding houses, Washizu, a general to the Lord of Spider's Web Castle, turns what promised to be a crushing military defeat into a decisive victory. While on his way to receive praise from the Lord, Washizu gets lost in a fog and encounters a forest spirit who tells him he will quickly rise the ranks until he himself is Lord of the Castle.

My Own Worst Enemy #6 "High Crimes and Turducken" (2008 episode)

Directed by Adam Kane. Written by Mark Rosner. Series created by Jason Smilovic.

The Setup:

When Edward steals a valuable hard-drive which he hopes to exchange for information about the death of his parents, Henry finds himself in a sticky position as he grapples with whether or not to help in the committing of high treason.

Macbeth (1603? play)

Written by William Shakespeare.

I'll be honest, the last time I had to read Shakespeare was in high school, and even then I largely cheated my way through with cliff-notes. But my tastes and abilities have improved a great deal when it comes to my reading, so it was with a surprising amount of anticipation that I once again approached the final subject of my Senior Year English class.

November 29, 2008

I Live in Fear (1955 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Fumio Hayasaka, Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni.

In what is considered the last of his films to explore the immediate after effects of WWII and the US occupation in Japan, Kurosawa took another lift in censorship to explore one of the boldest topics of the time:

The Bomb.

Seven Samurai (1954 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni.

In 16th century Japan, a farming village learns the upcoming harvest will bring with it a bandit raid, so they set out to hire a pack of samurai to protect them. Though the setup is simple, this film, Kurosawa's deserving masterpiece, most certainly isn't.

My Own Worst Enemy #5 "The Night Train to Moscow" (2008 episode)

Directed by David Semel. Written by Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc. Created by Jason Smilovic.

One of the reasons Edward signed up for this program was the understanding he wouldn't have any more serious relationships, wouldn't have to endanger his missions because of thoughts of someone waiting back home, wouldn't have to fall in love. When a presidential candidate in Kazakhstan is kidnapped by the KGB, Edward is paired up with the man's wife (Isabella Hofmann), a Russian operative who fell for the politician she was meant to spy on, and all of the lines between real relationships and cover start to crumble.

November 22, 2008

Ikiru (1952 script/film)

The Script
Undated published draft translated by Donald Richie. Written by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni.

What would you do, how would you react, if you discovered you had less than a year left to live? These are the questions posed to Kanji Watanabe, chief of a department in City Hall. Every day for the last thirty years have been a thankless routine of stamping papers he doesn't read and sending desperate citizens on an endless romp from division to division, none of which want to take any responsibility. Outside the office, he is a widower who gave up his own dream early to support a thankless son.

My Own Worst Enemy #4 "This is Not My Son" (2008 episode)

Directed by Fred Keller. Written by Kim Clements and Courtney Kemp Agboh. Created by Jason Smilovic.

I've been wondering since the first episode how the producers managed to sign an actress of Saffron Burrows's caliber to play a largely thankless role like that of Dr. Norah Skinner, the company analyst who acts as little more than a wall for Henry to bounce his frustrations off of. But now I see there's a deeper plan for the character, a broader thread which elevates her to a much higher degree of importance.

November 18, 2008

The Idiot (1951 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Eijiro Hisaita and Akira Kurosawa. Based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Ever since he was a young man, Akira Kuroswa was an absolute fanatic when it came to the writings of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. So it's no surprise that, from the moment he started work as a director in the film industry, his ambition was to put a faithful, loving adaptation of a Dostoyevsky classic up on the big screen. Sadly, it was not to be. At least, in part.

The Idiot (1868 novel)

Written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Aside from the handful of backlogged reviews I posted last Wednesday, I'm sure all of you (there has to be at least one semi-regular reader out there) have noticed the site has been a little dead the last couple of weeks. The reason is that my current trek through the works of Akira Kurosawa has led me down a road I've never before traveled: 19th century Russian literature. Scoff if you will but, while I have occasionally dabbled in bits of reading considered above the average, my high-school educated, film novelization accustomed mind nonetheless filled with doubts as I looked upon the 700-page, tiny text monstrosity that lay before me. I figured I'd give the first few chapters a read and see how it went from there. Suffice it to say, I got through with surprising ease, even if it did take much longer than expected.

My Own Worst Enemy #3 "Hello, Henry" (2008 episode)

Directed by Bryan Spicer. Written by Tyler Mitchell. Created by Jason Smilovic.

I'll be honest, I feared this was a concept that would quickly get stale as the producers/writers settled things into a formulaic procedural which would play out their kooky scenario over and over and over again. But I must applaud them. They've found some really clever ways to build developing plot threads which look to carry this season into a sturdy arc. Kudos.

November 12, 2008

My Own Worst Enemy #2 "The Hummingbird" (2008 episode)

Directed by Felix Enriquez Alcala. Written by Jason Smilovic. Created by Jason Smilovic

Trumbull (James Cromwell), the enigmatic leader of the government organization, is concerned with the erratic behavior Edward has started to display on his missions, so he decides to personally supervise the interrogation of a recently recovered prisoner. The problem? Edward isn't Edward at the moment. He's meek, everyday Henry.

October 21, 2008

Rashomon (1950 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Shinobu Hashimoto and Akira Kurosawa. Based on the short stories Rashomon and In a Bamboo Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

It's a rainy day in 12th century Japan. Buildings are in a heavy state of disrepair, bodies litter the streets, and the hungry masses scrounge for whatever they can. Taking shelter beneath a massive, crumbling gatehouse on the edge of town, three men - a woodcutter, a priest, a commoner - recount the testimony of a bizarre murder. While passing through the woods, a samurai and his wife have a run-in with a bandit. The woman is raped, her husband killed. Not a bizarre incident, in and of itself, but the three people involved (including the late husband, through a medium) offer up completely contradictory explanations for who ultimately killed the man.

October 15, 2008

Mantech: Robot Warriors #2 (1984 comic)

Written by Rich Margopoulos. Illustrated by Dick Ayers and Chic Stone.


After the exciting events of the last issue, our heroes have managed to recover a Terrorizer, a rocket glider used by Tyranik's evil robo-goons. What they don't know is that the vehicle is a Trojan Horse of sorts as, when they try to disassemble it, the Terrorizer springs to life, spreading destruction under Tyranik's remote control.

In a Bamboo Grove (1922 story)

Written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

When a man is found dead in a bamboo grove, the testimonies of various people are collected to piece together his fate. They all seem to agree on the setup - a man and his wife travel down the road and are captured by a bandit who ties up the man and rapes the wife - but what exactly happened next is anyone's guess as the three characters involved (even the dead man, thanks to a medium) have different reasons for his demise.

October 14, 2008

Rashomon (1915 story)

Written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

Seeking shelter from the rain beneath a pillared gate, a recently dismissed servant ponders his future. Noticing a light over discarded, diseased corpses, he finds a woman plucking hair for a wig.

My Own Worst Enemy #1 "Breakdown" (2008 episode)

Directed by David Semel. Written by Jason Smilovic. Created by Jason Smilovic.

Edward is an operative for a top secret branch of the government. He's ruthlessly efficient with absolutely no qualms about using people before taking them out. 19 years ago, he volunteered for a program where chips were implanted in his brain to create a cover identity: Henry Spivey, an average joe in the suburbs with a wife, two kids, and a boring desk job.

October 10, 2008

Scandal (1950 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Ryuzo Kikushima and Akira Kurosawa.

When a painter offers a ride to a popular singer on a mountain road, a photograph hits newsstands and the two are branded a secret item. Embarrassed and angered, they sue the publisher in this, a harsh criticism from Kurosawa of corrupt, slandering tabloid culture.

October 9, 2008

Stray Dog (1949 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Ryuzo Kikushima and Akira Kurosawa.

While I've enjoyed many of the Kurosawa films I've gone through up until now, this right here is the first one I'd call a masterpiece. It's so simple, so powerful, so elegant, so... masterful.

October 4, 2008

The Quiet Duel (1949 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Senkichi Taniguchi and Akira Kurosawa. Based on the play by Kazuo Kikuta.

In the days leading up to the war, Kiyoji Fujisaki (Toshiro Mifune) was a successful surgeon with a promising future and a loving fiance. But after he spends several years in a combat medical tent, he returns to post-war Japan a different man. He takes up residence in a shabby ghetto clinic which caters to those who can rarely afford treatment. He builds around him a staff of volunteers or people who owe him favors. And he refuses to marry his dedicated fiance because of a devastating secret: while working on a patient wounded in combat, he caught his finger on a scalpel and became infected...

October 1, 2008

Mantech: Robot Warriors #1 (1984 comic)

Written by Rich Margopoulos. Illustrated by Dick Ayers and Chic Stone.

Chapters titled: "Seige of the Renegade Robots", "Tomb of the Robots", "Aquatech: Hero or Traitor?", and "Aftermath: Tales of Planet Mekka".

Notable mainly for their oddly proportioned anatomy and detachable, interchangeable limbs, Mantech is a line of toys from the early 80s which completely escaped my attention until an awesome dude named Rebelwookiee featured them in a nostalgic article on his blog. Being a fan of media tie-ins, I just couldn't resist when I learned Archie put out four issues of a Mantech comic.

Drunken Angel (1948 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Keinosuke Uegusa and Akira Kurosawa.

In a postwar ghetto on the edge of a disease-ridden cesspool, the lives of two men change when a criminal pays a visit to a doctor.

September 20, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008 film)

Directed by Stephen Spielberg. Written by George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson, David Koepp, and Lawrence Kasdan. Created by George Lucas.

After a wait of nearly 20 years, everybody's favorite fedora-donned archaeologist leaps back to the big screen in a new adventure... which flops around like a mortally wounded baby seal begging for the club to drop a second time and put it out of its misery.

September 14, 2008

Hancock (2008 film)

Directed by Peter Berg. Written by Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan, John August, Akiva Goldsman, and Peter Berg.

Man, what a frustrating film. It usually only takes me 10-20 minutes after getting home from a picture to hack out a review. This sucker's taken me all of two days, mainly because I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

August 28, 2008

Midnight Meat Train (2008 film)

Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. Written by Jeff Buhler. Based on the short story by Clive Barker.

Leon Kauffman is a young photographer trying to capture the heart of New York City. But, try as he might, he can't sell his work, so he and his waitress girlfriend struggle their way along. Until one night when he photographs a girl who goes missing and finds himself drawn into an ages old conspiracy.

August 24, 2008

One Wonderful Sunday (1947 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Keinosuke Uegusa and Akira Kurosawa.

Now why doesn't this movie get more play on TCM?

In the years immediately following WWII, Japan is still pulling itself together amidst bombed out streets and economic recession. A young couple, too poor to get married, meets every Sunday to do whatever they can on as much pocket change as can be spared.

August 22, 2008

No Regrets for Our Youth (1946 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Eijiro Hisaita and Akira Kurosawa.

Imagine an idyllic day. Young students skipping through fields of grass and flowers, singing songs, exuding the joy of youth and innocence. The moment is interrupted suddenly by machine gun fire and the body of a dying soldier. This masterful sequence is our introduction to a tale of personal and political turmoil.

August 20, 2008

An Instance of Treason: Ozaki Hotsumi and the Sorge Spy Ring (1964 book)

Revised and expanded in 1990. Written by Chalmers Johnson.

I've spent over two weeks slowly chipping away at this sucker and, sorry to say, I'm at a loss.

August 6, 2008

The Incredible Hulk (2008 film)

Directed by Louis Leterrier. Written by Zak Penn and Edward Norton. Based on material created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

You all know the plot by now: scientist Bruce Banner is exposed to gamma radiation, which causes him to turn into a raging monster in times of emotional distress. Since the origin story was already covered in the 2003 film by Ang Lee, this sorta-sequel/sorta-reboot picks up with Bruce deep in hiding as the government continues its search. The two, of course, end up colliding when Bruce sets out to find a cure.

August 1, 2008

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945 film)

Written & directed by Akira Kurosawa. Based on the play Kanjincho by Namiki Gohei III.

In a time of feuding houses, a wily porter is surprised to discover the band of monks he's been hired to lead through the woods are actually Minamoto no Yoshitsu, prince of an overthrown clan, and six warriors dedicated to smuggling him across a road policed by a rival house.

July 31, 2008

The Most Beautiful (1944 film)

Written & directed by Akira Kurosawa.

In a story somewhat similar to then contemporary situations in the U.S., propagandist banners hang from the rafters as the wives and daughters of Japan pick up the slack in the factories when the men go out to fight in WWII. With it come the additional burdens of leaving their families behind to live in state dorms, of being required to simultaneously form a marching band to play moral-boosting anthems on the streets, and of dealing with a constant "always increase production" mentality which looks upon sickness and injury as dishonorable acts committed against family, company, and nation.

July 30, 2008

Sanshiro Sugata (1943 film)

Written & directed by Akira Kurosawa. Based on the novel by Tsuneo Tomita. Kurosawa also worked on the film as an editor.

Legendary director Kurosawa made his debut with this little known martial arts film about a young man who sets out to master a new form of fighting, Judo, and finds himself involved in an old rivalry between schools.

June 12, 2008

Krash Bastards #1: Honor and Sacrifice (2008 comic)

Written by Joe Casey. Illustrated by Axel #13.

Pop-bizarre writer Joe Casey quickly became one of my favorites with off-beat titles like Intimates and Godland, so when I saw he was scripting an original manga-style graphic novel, I just had to pick it up.

I wish to whatever omnipotent universe-creating being which may or may not exist that I hadn't.

April 24, 2008

The Prince of Nothing #3: The Thousandfold Thought (2006 novel)

Written by R. Scott Bakker.

In the last two months, I've had the pleasure and horror of witnessing a year and a half in the life of Bakker's rich and twisted world. The clash of armies. The death of friends. The execution of enemies. The changing of beliefs. The manipulation of masses. The sorcery of concepts. Blood. Hope. Love. Rape. Famine. Faith. Pestilence.

April 11, 2008

The Prince of Nothing #2: The Warrior-Prophet (2004 novel)

Written by R. Scott Bakker.

The Holy War marches on.

Once again, I find my pathetic reviewing skills put to the test as I try to sum up this, the second in a truly astonishing trilogy of books.

March 23, 2008

The Prince of Nothing #1: The Darkness That Comes Before (2003 novel)

Written by R. Scott Bakker.

This tome, the start of a trilogy from first-time novelist Bakker, is graced on its front cover by a plug from Steve Erickson which reads:

"Take note, one and all, something remarkable has begun."

March 17, 2008

Masters of Horror #26 "Dream Cruise" (2007 script/episode)

The Script
Undated draft. Written by Naoya Takayama and Norio Tsuruta. Based on the story by Koji Suzuki.

Man, what a mess.

February 24, 2008

Dark Water (1996 story)

Written by Koji Suzuki.

To bookend the seven tales of his collection, Suzuki gives us an interesting character study of an elderly woman named Kayo, who takes daily walks along the beach, dreaming up stories to go with debris drifting along the shore. In the opening piece, her granddaughter tags along during a visit. Kayo promises she'll give the girl a treasure if she'll walk with her all seven days and listen to seven stories. Cute, but a bit unnecessary.

February 17, 2008

Forest Under the Sea (1996 story)

Written by Koji Suzuki.

Ah, Suzuki, Suzuki, Suzuki. I don't know what to do with you. You give me so many mediocre horror tales that you become easy to dismiss, then something as beautiful as Paradise, or Loop, or this marvelous little gem comes from your mind and leaves me conflicted. Sure, the ghastly ghost stories sell better and get people chatting on message boards, but I feel your true talents are going to waste.

February 12, 2008

Watercolors (1996 story)

Written by Koji Suzuki.

As with many Suzuki stories, we open with a realistically described little piece of Japan. In this case, a former S&M disco where a small theatre troupe is staging a play. And also like many of his previous parables, Suzuki populates it with morally grey, everyday people. Our main focus today is on the overbearing director and his disgruntled sound technician, both of whom have the hots for the leading lady. It's mainly a bit of throw-away melodrama which Suzuki would rework to slightly better effect in his Ring related short, Lemon Heart.

February 5, 2008

Adrift (1996 story)

Written by Koji Suzuki.

When the Wakashio VII - a fishing boat headed home with a full berth of tuna - come across an abandoned yacht, Kazuo Shiraishi volunteers to man the derelict while they tow it to shore. Pouring over the log, Kazuo reads the unfinished tale of a wealthy family who shared dreams of murder and felt a strange presence after the daughter plucked a mysterious object from the sea.

January 22, 2008

Dream Cruise (1996 story)

Written by Koji Suzuki.

This starts off a nice social satire as Masayuki Enoyoshi has the misfortune of being conned onto a yacht by a well-to-do couple, the Ushijimas, who are trying to lure him into their pyramid scam. Suzuki plays to his strengths, with morally grey characters and rich descriptions of Tokyo Bay.

January 14, 2008

The Hold (1996 story)

Written by Koji Suzuki.

Despite a steady income as a fisherman, Hiroyuki Inagaki's life is a nightmare of alcohol and anger. His once abusive father has gone senile and slumps around the house, munching on a steady diet of jelly rolls. His daughter has developed a speech impediment that's keeping her from school. And his son, Katsumi, is a quiet, apologetic boy who fears water - blasphemy to a fisherman!

January 9, 2008

Solitary Isle (1996 story)

Written by Koji Suzuki.

Kensuke Suehiro is a washed-up drop-out who is best friends with his successful peer, Toshihiro Aso. During an evening of drinking and debate, Kensuke learns his friend has left a female companion alone in the car. She is Yukari Nakazawa, a meek member of a local religious cult who drags after Toshihiro despite his frequent verbal abuse. Kensuke is shocked by his friend's repulsive behavior, and even more so when, a couple months later, Toshihiro tells him the tale of how he abandoned Yukari on a small artificial island in Tokyo Bay. Kensuke is uncertain about the event's validity but, before he can learn more, Toshihiro catches a rare cancer and quickly dies.

January 4, 2008

Floating Water (1996 story)

Written by Koji Suzuki.

Following a divorce, Yoshimi Mitsuba and her 5-year-old daughter Ikuko have spent the last three months making a life for themselves in a small apartment. During a trip to the roof to light off some fireworks, they discover a Hello Kitty bag.