17 December 2007

Ode to Stagecoach

I was assigned to watch Stagecoach for my American Film class and I was also assigned a poetry rough draft for my creative writing class. After brainstorming and doing freewrites for the poem I ended up with what is now the two verses of the poem pasted below.

Stagecoach

It was something about the way he held her,

maybe, or the infinite nature of the Western plains,

but it wasn’t until they rode into the black and white

horizon on that stagecoach that I really felt

life is something sad and wonderful --

a horse-drawn wagon carrying our baggage

until we turn into the dust that sweeps up

against pretty women’s faces or from under

the leather boots of some cowboy who will

also grow old and fade to black.



14 December 2007

Psycho vs. Psycho

One of the biggest questions asked in response to Gus Van Sant’s remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is simply “Why?” Why remake something that is almost inarguably perfect? Why tamper with one of the most iconic films of one of the most iconic directors in film history? It is impossible to explore these questions and examine Van Sant’s Psycho without comparing it and contrasting it to Hitchcock’s original. In doing so we can see the differences – both subtle and obvious – and determine what the significance of those differences are, if any. Once that can be made clear, it is then possible to find out why this project was undertaken by Van Sant, what its value is in terms of film history, and what it tells us about filmmaking and directing now as opposed to the 1960s when Psycho was originally released by Universal.

(Gus Van Sant - Psycho Killer?)

The major differences of the film are obvious ones of the use of color, cast, crew, director, wardrobe, and set (the Bates home is different!). Of these differences, the most significant are the change in director and the use of color. The fact that Van Sant, a respected director in his own right, is not adapting Hitchcock but recreating it almost shot for shot really forces us to examine which parts of the film are Hitchcock and which are Van Sant. Whether or not Van Sant’s own personal style or authorship can be conveyed through a paint-by-numbers type project of another director’s work is certainly an issue. If it is not conveyed, is there any point in recreating Psycho beyond Van Sant’s own artistic expression?

The use of color is one of the most immediate differences of the new Psycho. When we first see Marion’s room the brightness of the colors really catches the eye: a bright green bra, pink walls, blue covers, orange dress. In fact, it is Marion who is the most colorful in the film in her wardrobe, which is contrasted against the more pastel-like colors of the city and her workplace. Why she is so brightly dressed beyond being visually pleasing is not very clear until the use of color is utilized again when we see the bathroom in the motel room. It is a bleached white that shines under fluorescent lights and absorbs the paleness of Marion’s hair and skin. In her wardrobe Marion is noticeable and seems vivid through her dress, but when she is naked and in the shower she becomes less visually discernible, a symbol and indication of her impending death. The bright red blood that splatters during the shower scene then becomes much more of a visually stimulating scene when it is contrasted against the sterile whiteness of the bathroom, an effect that could not be attained in Hitchcock’s black and white original. Beyond these examples, however, it is difficult to see effective uses of color in the film and past the halfway point of the film it becomes questionable whether or not there is any benefit to the film being in color or not.

Some more subtle differences appear in Van Sant’s Psycho and are worth examining. A majority of these subtle differences are sexual in nature, which is interesting considering Van Sant’s status as a figure of the New Queer Cinema and as a gay male director. His films are often embedded with issues of sexuality, often non-straight, such as in Mala Noche and My Own Private Idaho. When we first see Marion with her boyfriend Sam, it becomes curious to see what Van Sant would do with an intimate scene without the production codes Hitchcock had to skirt around. Instead of having Marion nude to go along with the sensuality displayed by the first Marion (Janet Leigh) in her bra, Van Sant opts to make Sam nude and have him exude all the sexuality in the scene. In the same bedroom scene we also here a couple having sex in the room next door, an audio track not in the original version. The choice to make the male character sexually attractive is not only a reversal from standard Hollywood films in which the female is the object of gaze, but it is also the first taste we get of Van Sant’s own style or ideology.

Another explicitly sexual moment in the film that is completely of Van Sant’s creation is the scene in which Norman watches Marion through the peephole in the parlor. In his version, Van Sant has Norman masturbate as he watches, making Norman’s creepiness and lustfulness that we feel in the original Psycho more obviously clear and explicitly shown. The explicitness of the scene in which the audience is forced to watch and hear Norman masturbate from the neck up is not unlike Van Sant’s tendency to deal with sexual issues or situations in his other films. Mike receiving a blow job in My Own Private Idaho and the camera staying on his face is quite similar. The effect of both of these scenes is a type of uneasiness in the audience in witnessing an extremely private and even disturbing moment.

More subtle sexual changes are seen through the characters of Lila and Sam. Though it is not said clearly in the film, certain hints – her aggressiveness, her outfit, her mannerisms – indicate that Lila is a lesbian. It is Lila’s aggressiveness which makes her to obvious leader of the Lila/Sam pair. This is also supported by the alteration of Sam’s character. Van Sant makes Sam a type of cowboy who wears tight pants. His interests in the film are almost always sexual: we see him writing a letter to Marion in which he hints that he wants to sleep with her, he looks at Marion’s sister in an almost lustful way (which is supported also by his earlier comment in the film in which he asks Marion if her sister looks like her), and the news of Marion’s disappearance does not seem to upset him nearly as much as it does Lila. The aggressiveness seen by Sam in the first Psycho is almost entirely displaced by his desire to sleep with Lila in Van Sant’s update. Again, these changes are consistent with Van Sant’s interest in sexuality and especially in a character’s sexual motivations.

Besides the sexually-themed changes, there are very peculiar inserts of Van Sant’s that do not appear in Hitchcock’s original at all. These are the images of storm clouds when Marion is being slashed to death and the images of a naked woman wearing a blindfold and a cow in a road when Arbogast is getting slashed. These images are very similar to the home movie-type mental images that flash in the head of Mike in My Own Private Idaho. Van Sant also makes use of a character’s internal thoughts through abstract images in Drugstore Cowboy through Bob. Though instantly characteristic of Van Sant’s style – wedging in odd images or montages in the middle of the narrative – these images in Psycho do not do much beyond making Van Sant’s presence in the film be felt. I would argue that their appearance in the film doesn’t really do anything to add to the film and stick out so obviously that they come off as almost gimmicky. When these stylistic inserts do not speak to or incorporate theme or form, it ultimately comes off as “doing it for the sake of doing it.”

It is left to wonder, then, if these mentioned changes are significant enough to validate Psycho’s reconstruction. I would argue that it does not. Ultimately, the majority of the changes mentioned are so subtle or implied that it becomes difficult to assume that they hold enough weight to make Psycho significant as a recreation. Actually, Van Sant’s faithfulness to shot recreation in itself is somewhat radical and ultimately says more than the changes do. Since Van Sant’s own personal style or signature is hard to determine for the average viewer, it becomes possible that his intentions lay elsewhere. I believe that the advertisement posters of the film are incredibly telling in this regard. The poster shows Marion’s hand against a shower curtain which is half-soaked in blood, emphasizing the “killer” aspect of the film to attract a generation of movie-goers who grew up on Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and the Scream movies. The fact that many young viewers of the general public had not seen the original Psycho or (God forbid) never heard of Alfred Hitchcock when Van Sant remade it would certainly be a reason to recreate and “update” the masterpiece in order to reintroduce it to a new generation. This new demographic of movie-goers ultimately plays a big part in this discussion because the art/craft of film that Van Sant is working with is geared towards a different audience under different guidelines than those of Hitchcock and the early ‘60s. I would argue that this “new audience” is a much more sensationalist one. Since movie-goers who would be in their teens or early twenties 1998 (when Van Sant’s Psycho was released) grew up on films that did not have the Hollywood production code Hitchcock had, they are used to seeing much more graphic scenes in films in terms of sex and violence. In order to attract them to see a movie like Psycho, it most definitely had to be in color, since black and white would remind them of their parent’s generation, and it most definitely had to emphasize the violence of the film, which the color poster certainly does. Van Sant’s Psycho can not stand alone to an audience already familiar with Hitchcock since comparisons are inevitable and the original would always be considered “better,” but to a fresh audience with no conceptions it can be viewed independent of its source.

In the end, it is clear that Van Sant’s own personal voice is not really loud enough in the film to consider it as his main reason for taking on such a project. Instead, it is quite possible that his motivation was in doing something new (a shot-for-shot recreation) and in reintroducing Hitchcock to a generation who may have never known him in a way that they can relate (red blood and slashing knives). This brave attempt of his, though revolting to most, certainly sets some kind of precedent in an art form that is still fairly young. The courageousness and audacity to attempt such a project is actually quite characteristic of Van Sant as a director and certainly deserves some merit, if not for its success (or lack of success), for its spirit of experimentation and its courageous/reckless/insane abandon.

05 December 2007

Heart of Darkness?

I took some personality quiz that is supposed to equate your personality to a film according to how you answer some (47) questions.

I got:



Interesting.

What did you get?

25 November 2007

Six Characters in Search of a Dylan

Thanksgiving tradition in my house usually involves turkey and a trip to the movies since it's one of the few businesses open to the public. It's usually a family movie that we all watch, but since the selection of movies this year was mostly unappealing to me - Bee Movie, Enchanted - I decided to see the new Todd Haynes film, I'm Not There, with my wife. I think everyone else went to see Enchanted.
The film is a mostly non-narrative meditation on the different personas, myths, and contradictions of Bob Dylan. Each of these different representations of his persona, that is, not him but what he presents to us to be him, are played by different actors (except Bale, who plays two): Marcus Carl Franklin as a 10-year-old African American boy who represents Dylan's young, romantic ambitions to be the next Woody Guthrie; Ben Whishaw as Dylan the prophet, who's screen time is strictly him looking into a black and white camera and giving whimsical one-liners while avoiding eye contact and smoking a cigarette - an emodiment of Dylan's Rimbaud persona; Cate Blanchette as Dylan in Don't Look Back when his image was most iconic in the mid-1960s; Heath Ledger as an actor playing Bob Dylan in a film within in the film whose life paradoxically comes the closest in the film to portraying actual events in Dylan's life with his marriage to Suze Rotolo (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg); Christian Bale as Dylan the young folkie protest singer, still wet behind the ears and not yet completely cynical, and as Dylan the Christian convert; and Richard Gere as Dylan's Billy the Kid persona.

The effect of all these different Dylans is something jarring, as narratives are mostly cut between each other and not presented chronologically, and can be confusing if your expectation is for a conventional narrative film. Also, this film is very reflexive of Don't Look Back and No Direction Home, the two wonderful documentaries made on Dylan by D.A. Pennebaker and Martin Scorsese, so having seen those two films or having knowledge of Dylan's life/myth is a great help in appreciating Haynes's film. In other words, this is not for the Dylan-uninitiated viewer. The film is also reflexive of '60s cinema and makes several nods to 8 1/2, Hard Day's Night, as well as to the films of Godard. In his article in Film Comment on the film, Larry Gross argues that I'm Not There is more closely tied to Godard's Masculin-Feminin than anything else in both of the films conveyence of the '60s youth culture as well as in the technical aspects of filmmaking. While I can't comment completely on this, since I have not seen Masculin-Feminin, I can certainly agree that Godard is present in I'm Not There in more ways than one. The reference of other filmmakers that is mostly inaccessible to the common viewer in itself is characteristic of Godard, who would often make pop culture references in his films that I usually need the help of audio commentary to figure out. Also, in terms of the way the film is edited, I strongly felt that Haynes was trying to not only represent Dylan and the '60s culture that comes with him, but the cinema of the '60s, specifically of Godard who brought in a whole new era of filmmaking with Breathless. Some characterstics of the editing that I am referencing is the use of jump cuts, of jumbled narrative, of mysterious, poetic voice-over narration, and of pastiche.

As far as 8 1/2 goes (I know this is boring to anyone who hasn't seen 8 1/2, but I was so excited when I saw it in the film that I just have to write about it) the entire Cate Blanchette narrative is saturated with elements of Fellini's film. There are two scenes in particular: the first one has an outdoor parlour/lounge in which everyone is having drinks and talking loudly, the second scene, which makes the reference of 8 1/2 explicit, has Blanchette floating in the sky held by a rope as if a balloon, which is the same as Guido in the opening scene of 8 1/2. The first scene I mentioned is almost exactly like the health spa scene in 8 1/2 in which Guido walks around in a type of daze and has people calling over to him, everyone talking loudly and drinking some kind of mineral water for their health. In this same outdoor parlor scene, we see Blanchette rolling in the grass with four mop-topped boys who are all giggling like Chipmunks. After Blanchette leaves them they walk arm in arm to the background where we see them chased by a mob of screaming girls as they run offscreen - Hard Day's Night anyone? The theatre laughed out loud for that one.

Cate Blanchette is a topic of discussion for a lot of people when mentioning this film in terms of her portrayal of Dylan. My wife loved it especially and said that she sometimes forgot she was watching an actress play Dylan instead of seeing the troubadour himself. I thought it was a good job, but unfair as a comparison between the other actors who had a much less literal embodiment of Dylan to play. Even so, she was incredibly convincing, even without an Adam's apple. My favorite, though, was probably Christian Bale as the young folkie Dylan. Something about the way he was able to play the innocent Dylan, singing "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" in front of a bunch of farm workers, to the fed-up Dylan realizing he was becoming more of an publicly-shaped image rather than himself (this was climaxed with a recreation of Dylan's speech at the NECLC award dinner, Haynes making Dylan's rambling an effect of his drunkenness) , and finally the completely isolated Dylan who discovers Christianity and sings a gospel in a small auditorium with a dozen people in it, his face pale and confused. His job was to show the transition between the cute kid on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan to the cynical Blonde on Blonde Dylan played by Blanchette. I thought that was really great.

The least effective, I thought, was the use of the Billy the Kid persona played by Richard Gere. The time period, message, and situation were pretty foggy to me, though that could be due to my ignorance of the full story of Billy the Kidd or its connection to Dylan besides his admiration of him and his iconic resemblance. Haynes does open with a shot of Gere's eyes opening and then end it with him on a train, so the character is certainly important. All I could really take from it is that Billy the Kid, or Dylan, is an outcast, completely detached from the rest of the world in some small cabin in the middle of the woods, hiding from the world, yet somewhat above it. The Billy the Kid scene does feature a made-up Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) singing a beautiful cover of "Goin' to Acupulco," which brings me to the MUSIC.

A film about Dylan, no matter how impersonal or indirect, has to include his music since it is so closely connected to everything he is and presents us to be him. In the recreation of the Newport Folk Festival where Dylan first goes electric with "Maggie's Farm," Haynes plays a great cover done by Stephen Malkamus & the Million Dollar Bashers. This song and others featured in the film, such as the aforementioned Jim James cover, Mason Jenning's cover of "Hattie Carroll," as well as thirty others not featured in the film are compiled in a wonderful soundtrack, which I bought the day after. The music is fantastic! Unlike a lot of cover albums which can seem uninspired and hacked, this soundtrack has a texture and continuity that melts together the essence of Dylan as well as that of each of the performers. A lot of this has to do with the repeated presence of a lot of the same artists (Malkamus has three songs, Jennings has two, etc.) as well as a type of house band - the Million Dollar Bashers - which is comprised of members of Sonic Youth, Wilco, and original musical partners of Dylan's touring troupe, that is featured as back up to Tom Verlaine, Eddie Vedder, and Malkamus and whose members play in other songs as well. Another house band of sorts is Calexico, whose acoustic, folkie elements complement Dylan's sound. Another reason the soundtrack works is that they don't use tracks that you would find on a Greatest Hits collection, but a lot lesser known material and a lot of stuff I didn't even recognize. For example, there is no "Like a Rolling Stone" or "Rainy Day Woman" or "Forever Young." There is "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," but its covered in a way its meant to be covered by Antony of Antony and the Johnsons - SO creepy.

Specific highlights for me are: Cat Power's cover of "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" for the way Chan Marshall is able to mimic Dylan's intonation while maintaining the charm and sultriness of her own voice; Jim James and Calexico's cover of "Goin' to Acupulco" for his soaring voice (chills!) and the horn arrangements; Stephen Malkamus & the Million Dollar Bashers cover of "Maggie's Farm" for its sonic power and Malkamus's quirkiness, which is not unlike Dylan's; and, Jeff Tweedy's cover of "Simple Twist of Fate" for my biased love for Tweedy and Wilco.

17 November 2007

Coen Country

I just came back from seeing the Coen brothers' new film No Country for Old Men and I wanted to write about it while it's still fresh in my mind.

The film's plot involves a drug trade gone wrong and its aftermath. Josh Brolin's character, Llewelyn, stumbles upon 2 million and a truckload of heroin amidst half a dozen dead bodies, including a dead dog. He takes the money and plans to retire with his wife with it and move out of their shabby Texas trailer home. But of course other people want the money including Mexican gangs involved with the drug trade and a terrifying loneman psychopathic killer played by Javier Bordem. The plot's simple enough, but what the Coen brothers do with it is nothing short of brilliant.

Bordem's character, Chigurh, is one of the most frightening film creations I have ever seen. What makes him so frightening is not just the blank, cold expression on his face or the way he uses air-pressurized weapons, but his completely nihilistic approach to life. No rules of morality or ethics apply to him whatsoever. His way of rationalizing or accounting for his actions are completely unknowable and chaotic - Woody Harrelson's character makes a comment on it in the film - and thus there is never the option of taking pity, of mercy, or of reasoning. Why he is like that isn't clear, but after a while you start to wonder if he even really cares about the money or if he is simply killing for the sake of killing, according to his own psychopathic reasoning. In one scene he drives upon a bridge and slows down to shoot a bird that is perched on the rail. Why not. Eventually every character seen within the same frame as Chigurh can be assumed dead.

The only exception to this seems to be a flip of the coin, in which Chigurh makes his victim-to-be call a side, giving them that option from either a sense of guilt buried deep, deep within him or just as a way to watch them squirm. I believe the reasoning is a mixture of the two. It is clearly a form of sadism in which Chigurh gets to watch the other person sweat, but psychologically it seems that Chigurh offers fate to be decided not by himself, but by some random chance. The tension between self-determinism and fate seems to play a role in the film's theme; Chigurh is the nihilist for whom nothing matters, the extreme contrast to that being the existentialist premise of self-determined meaning. Chigurh wants to believe in the flip of a coin because he believes life works in the same chaotic, meaningless, random way. This way of thinking allows him to be so cruel in his killing. When Llewelyn's wife refuses to call a side and tells Chigurh that "the coin doesn't decide" but that he does, his eyes widen and we can see the extreme tension in his face: he doesn't want to even allow the possibility that he determines anything, for that would make him accountable for everything.

That may be going a bit too deep, but in any case this film is the darkest, most mature of all the Coen brothers' films. When the credits rolled and I walked out of the theatre, I turned to my friend and said, "That was the most nihilistic film I've ever experienced" to which my friend only looked blankly and shook his head slowly. Hidden in the darkness of the film is some subtle humor displayed through sharp dialogue (a Coen brothers trademark). The usual proportions of a Coen brothers film seem to be a majority of comedy with a dark twist, but this film is the opposite. I believe this is central to the philosophy of the Coen brothers; to them violence and death are almost inseparable from comedy. The absurd nature of violent tendencies within human beings is sometimes so shocking and baffling (think of Steve Buscemi going through a wood chipper in Fargo or Dan Hedaya being buried alive after assumed dead in Blood Simple) that the viewers knee-jerk reaction is a type of confused, half-restrained laughter. There is a very telling piece of dialogue Tommy Lee Jones has in which he describes gruesome deaths from a newspaper article to his young protoge who responds with stifled laughter and an apology to which Jones says something along the lines of, "Sometimes you can't help but laugh at stuff like this."

14 November 2007

New Feeling: I'm Back!

It's been a very long time, but I'm back. I've changed the look a bit. I created a new banner - the images were borrowed from the Criterion website and pasted together with the aid of some very primitive Photoshop work. I've also added a link of other bloggers who are friends of mine. Discovering/rediscovering these other blogs is what inspired me to keep this one up.

The images in the banner reflect some of my favorite things in film:

1.) The first is a still of Tatsuya Nakadai in Sword of Doom by Kihachi Okamoto. I have this almost inherent love of samurai films and samurai culture, possibly from a fascination I've had with anything Japanese since I was a child. Being half-Japanese probably has something to do with it.

2.) Akira Kurosawa. He is possibly my favorite director. This is certainly connected to my fascination with Japanese film in general, but more specifically Kurosawa films acted as my gateway into a deeper appreciation of film - specifically, Seven Samurai and Ran. When I saw these two films, especially Ran, I experienced movie-watching in a way I never had before. This opened my appetite for a higher level of art and filmmaking than those movies which I had previously been content with.

3.) The third image is a still of Vittorio DeSica's Bicycle Thieves. The epic scale of Ran was incredibly contrasted to this neo-realist film and I loved it. It was another encounter with something that broke my concept of what movies could be. Handheld cameras, non-actor actors, location shooting, realistic, everyday situations. I loved the ordinariness of it. I think its ordinariness in situation and setting is what made it so heartbreaking and thus profound for me, not only in technical terms or aesthetics but in theme.

4.) Jef Costello has already appeared in my blog as one of my favorite characters. He is the protagonist in Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai. I know, I know, Japaneseness seems to appear again, but not really. Le Samourai represents my love for noir and neo-noir films, of which Le Samourai is an excellent example of the latter. This is also an existentialist-themed film, which is a favorite theme of mine.

5.) Lastly, Jean-Luc Godard. Godard is a director whose films constantly baffle and excite me. They are filled with heady concepts and philosophies about the nature of life and film and when I'm able to get it it really stimulates something in me intellectualy (track commentary usually aids in being able to understand/appreciate his films). Band of Outsiders was the first film I saw of his and ever since I've been hooked. Godard is also a key figure in the French New Wave movement which as a whole I am fascinated with.

So that's that. There are other things that I would include up there, but there are only a few pictures that pop up on the Criterion site that I can borrow. If there was a picture of Woody Allen or a still from The Big Lebowski I think I would have put those up there, too. Oh well, at least it looks pretty.

22 June 2007

My Night With MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S

After having been said to remind a friend of what he calls the "Rohmer male," I watched his favorite, My Night at Maud's (1970).

Rohmer was one of the older directors of the French New Wave and also the original editor of the influential film magazine Chahiers du Cinema. I had already seen films by other French New Wave directors such as Godard and Truffaut, so I was interested to see what sets Rohmer apart.

The story follows Jean-Louis Trintignant's character through the Parisian streets of the '60s. He is young, intellectual, and content with being alone. He meets up with an old friend with whom he discusses Pascal and philosophy. Eventually he is invited to meet Maud through his friend. Jean-Louis is interested in a girl from church and is sure he will marry her from the moment he sees her, but Maud presents him with a new dilemma. She is sexy, smart, and wants him to stay over. He insists on the couch (which is the great shot on the cover of the Criterion box set release), but ends up with her. That is until he actually meets his church girl.

I thought the writing was excellent. Rohmer weaves in philosophical discourse and moral themes through dialogue. The camera allows us to be an invisible observer in the life of Jean-Louis, as if we were there. This feeling is greatened by the lack of action and slow pacing of the film. There is a lot of silence and contemplation and the movements are not hurried at all, as if it were an ordinary series of days for the characters.

After watching My Night at Maud's I watched The
Girl at the Monceau Bakery and Suzanne's Career, which were the first two moral tales of Rohmer's six (My Night at Maud's is moral tale number three). These first two were short, around 30 min. and 55 min. respectively, but they had the same style and feeling that I have come to identify as being Rohmer's. The male characters are actually dispicable characters in these first two films. In both cases there is a male who plays around with a girl, taking advantage of the fact that they like them by asking money, psychologically abusing them, and making themselves feel good. Suzanne's career ends happier than The Girl at the Monceau Bakery.

Still, there are male characters I can identify more with, such as Bertrand in Suzanne's Career who is more quiet and enjoye being alone or Jean-Louis towards the beginning of My Night at Maud's who tags along with more outgoing people but can not really mix well with them and would rather just browse a book store by himself. As for being like a Rohmer male, I'll let that be decided by my friend since that's his definition. All I know is that in some ways I see that I am and in some ways I hope I am not. In either case I enjoy the films for their well-crafted dialogue, quietness, and philosphical issues.

11 June 2007

Stray Dog

I had a terrible time trying to get to sleep last night. My entire back felt like it was hosting a party of fleas or fire ants. I suppose it itched since my sunburn is starting to heal. It's still painful to the touch, however, so whenever I went to scratch at my itch, the sunburn would give me a sharp pain. I took a shower at 2 :00 a.m. and decided to watch a movie until I got sleepy enough to fall asleep quickly.

I watched Stray Dog, which I just bought recently. It was really fantastic.

The story follows Toshiro Mifune's character Murakami, a homicide detective, through the slums and blackmarkets of Japan as he tries to recover his Colt pistol which was stolen from his pocket on a crowded bus. He is paired with long-time cop Sato, played excellently by Shimura. This pistol is linked to a couple of crimes, including a murder. Murakami is racked with guilt and takes responsibility for each crime commited with his lost gun, a very honorable Japanese attitude. Eventually, in a beautiful climax, Murakami wrestles with Yusa, the stray dog criminal, and makes his arrest.

This film was slightly neo-realist in its documentary-like feel. Kurosawa went to actual black markets in Japan and other street locations to expose the conditions of a post-World War II Japan.

As always with Kurosawa, there is a great many philosophical questions involved with the film's story. What is the nature of good and evil? When is crime justified? In the climax we see Yusa and Murakami both covered in mud and exhausted after running through some grassy area behind a town. They lay panting heavily and are almost indistinguishable. Really they are the same - they are both men of post-World War II who had fought in the war and felt their life disarrayed - only they chose different paths.

One of my favorite things about this film was watching Toshiro Mifune act in a role other than a samurai. This was my first time seeing him without a kimono or armor. I felt like he is really up there with Brando, Grant, Peck, Newman in those classic male movie stars with a face and presence that just vibrates with so much energy on the screen. I really saw that especially in this film in his white linen suit and clean cut face.