Guldasta

A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

Rashomon (movie review) January 9, 2010

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A woodcutter and a Priest sit stunned in what appears a dilapidated though majestic gate. Outside the wind and rain are lashing. They are joined by a character about whom we know nothing till the end. And a story is told. Of a man found dead in the forest and the four versions by four different people (a bandit, the dead man’s wife, the dead man, and the woodcutter) of how this man met his death.

Classic! Very allegorical. And very entertaining. Japanese director Akira Kurosawa‘s 1950 masterpiece Rashomon will keep your attention and leave you thinking. The use of shadows and light, the almost monotone background score, and some of the best face closeups I have seen add to the film’s credentials. There are parts which are rather crude, but they are so few and so far apart that it is easy to forgive.

Watch out for the scene where the bandit brings the wife into the wood clearing and she sees her husband in a certain state. The camera rolls slow and steady, no jerky angles or movement, no loud music, just a sense of tension. And also watch out for the look on the face of the husband when his wife cuts his ropes. I do not remember any other movie where a character displays an expression that is so indescribable.

Rashomon deals with human vices and our continuous fight to defeat, accept, or run from them. The four stories are unique and no attempt is made to solve the puzzle. Because the puzzle is not central to the plot. The stories are merely mediums to pose the greater questions about human nature. And even here, Rashomon does not give complete answers.

Storytelling has been important to human history. Our sense of good and evil, of love and hate, and everything else has been passed down the ages using stories. Rashomon is a respectable addition to the art of storytelling through moving images and sound. Recommended for viewing.

 

Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) (Movie Review) January 8, 2010

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Shichinin no samurai stands tall in the cinema landscape and is widely recognised to be Japanese director Akira Kurosawa‘s masterpiece. Made in 1954, the movie has been copied widely and the story retold so often that an unknowing viewer might find the original masterpiece stale! Shichinin no samurai is a kaleidoscope of many endearing stories from the ages, David vs Goliath, love in the middle of battle, the vagabond with a loyal heart, the silent master, the wise leader, the jovial warrior, to name a few. The story is simple, set in late 16th century, peasants from a village hire seven samurais to fight the bandits who threaten to rob them of their crop and daughters.

The story is told in no great hurry and so the movie runs a good 207 minutes (3 hours, 27 minutes) long. There is no heroism, no mind numbing sword fights, no over arching theme of valour and sacrifice. No, there is none of the melodrama which is often thrown in for good measure to hold your attention. In Shichinin no samurai, the characters vary from cowards to the cautiously brave. Very real, very human. Since the movie was made more than half a century ago, I was not expecting any technical wizadry. And thank God for that. The Black&White tones enhance the drama, keeping your focus dead center on the characters and the story, and not their clothes or whatever. A good part of the climax is relentless fighting between the peasants and samurai on one side and the bandits on the other.  Again, very ordinary and very believable scenes. No one person is the hero. There is sludge, there are bows, arrows, spears, and muskets. There are horses. There is valour. There is loss and grief. And there is love. All thrown together into a heady mix, and yet each delineated.

I love movies that do a good job at fleshing out characters. And Shichinin no samurai is a winner in this. From the first samurai recruited to the seventh, they are each introduced in a setting that captures the essence of their individual characters. What surprises me is that not much time is spent on all of them, and yet one finds it easy to connect to each. Surely Kurosawa was a master of his craft!

I recommend Shichinin no samurai to anyone who wants to see not just an all time classic, but also one that is so great that some other great movies are mere retelling of it.

 

Okuribito (Movie Review) October 10, 2009

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Okuribito

Okuribito

 Released as Departures in the English speaking world, Okuribito, the entry from Japan, won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The movie is about the story of cello player who in search of work goes back to his birthplace and lands an odd job. The job of Okuribito – a person who prepares the departed for their final journey.

Poignant in parts, funny in others, the movie had a sense of calm to it that I found endearing. It is also a nice peek into Japanese society. Daigo Kobayashi, the young out of work cellist, comes across as a shy, and yet strong willed person. His travails are honestly captured by Masahiro Motoki. Look out for his portrayal of disgust and sickness on his first assignment to prepare a rotting old woman’s body, the breakdown scene where he tears through his docile wife’s clothes, and the many scenes where he is preparing the departed. Other characters are well fleshed out, specially that of Daigo’s wife Mika Kobayashi (played by Ryoko Hirosue) and his boss Ikuei Sasaki (played by Tsutomu Yamazaki).

This is probably my first truly Japanese movie and I enjoyed the freshness of seeing great performances from unfamiliar artists and the slow and beautiful poetry which I believe represents the society. The background score holds up well and thankfully never disturbs the on screen calm. There is some allegory thrown in, for example the scene where the characters are feasting on meat in an almost animal like manner.

The subtitles in the theatre version I saw were well worded and timed, and so, I had no problem in keeping up with the mood or pace of the film. I would go so far as to say that I enjoyed the sounds of Japanese dialogue though I did not understand a single word.

Okuribito is worth a watch for many reasons, not the least of which is the message that the dead deserve respect and grace, that the departed soul must be given a loving goodbye. I recommend this movie for a quiet evening watch.

 

Juno (movie review) March 22, 2009

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If you think you are getting too old for Love, I’d recommend a American teenager silly, sweet movie. And if you are wondering which movie could that be, let me point you towards Juno.

Juno

Juno

The Los Angeles Times describes Juno as ” hilarious and sweet-tempered, perceptive and surprisingly grounded”, and I would say well said to that. This is not a movie that will leave you thinking for days or stun you with artistic excellence, but it has its sweet moments and these will stay with you for some time.

Juno (Ellen Page) is a high school teenager who gets pregnant and the movie is about how she handles her pregnancy, gets her boyfriend back, and in this process learns and educates about commitment. The soundtrack is hummable and has some very fresh and very young songs there. I will sign off with a poignant scene between Juno and her Dad (which reminds me, I so adore her Parents in this movie):

Juno: I need to know that it is possible that two people can stay happy together forever.

Dad: It is not easy. That’s for sure. Look, in my opinion, the best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly what you are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you. The right person is still gonna think the sunshine’s out your ass. That’s the kind of person worth sicking with.

Happy viewing!

 

Revolutionary Road (Movie Review) February 27, 2009

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Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road

 

Amazing. Stunning. Spectacular.

 

It has been some time since I saw a movie that so carried me. And it has been even longer since I saw a movie with dialogues that make you want to pause and replay.

 

Sample this: “If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t care if we are completely insane.”

 

There is no grand story line and yet the movie scales great heights. It is a peek into the life of a married couple (The Wheelers), who must go through internal turmoil to come to grips with their expectations from Life, their spouses and most of all, themselves. It is about truth and how beautifully expressed in this dialogue between Kate Winslet (April) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank):

“Tell me the truth Frank. Remember that? We used to live by it. And you know what is so good about the truth? Everyone knows what it is howsoever long they have lived without it. No one forgets the truth, Frank. They just get better at lying.”

 

All characters in the movie are baked to perfection. In just one or two scenes, the director takes you into the mind of the character, and you start feeling their thoughts. Kate and Leonardo and well supported by a fine ensemble of actors who play their parts down to perfection. And there are so many shades given to each person that they appear completely real. Like you and me. Like the neighbours who cannot come to terms with the courage of The Wheelers to live the life they want to. Like the estate agent who wants her neurotic son to meet nice people. Like Leonardo’s office mates using sarcasm to hide their disappointment with their own lives. And finally, both Leonardo and Kate. Both deeply in love with each other. Both struggling to walk the tightrope of love for another and love for their own self.

 

With a movie such as this, you have scenes that explore a vast range of human emotions. If I have to chose one kind that this movie excels in, it has to be the scenes where Kate and Leonardo are fighting it out. And there are quite a few of these. What makes the scenes special is that you are always reminded that they love each other. The arguments presented are so cogent that you sway back and forth between the two, depending on who is talking. One moment you feel for Kate, the next you connect with Leonardo. Amazing, absolutely stunning.

 

Tight close-ups, warm living room settings, and personal angles all add up with the surge of emotions from the protagonists to deliver what I found to be a wave after wave of high quality story telling. Like gems strewn over the floor of a dense forest, the movie is full of nuances, small things the actors do, the way they look up, the way they turn their head, or the way they hold hands, or move their body.

 

If you have been itching to see a movie that will take your breath away, I recommend you go down this road at the first opportunity.

 

ps: YC, thank you for making the movie available to me.