The Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA, by its Spanish acronym) is offering a unique program of eight films by Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The films, all in 35mm prints, will be playing every Thursday of January at the Museum’s film theater, programmed by Fernando Martín Peña.
The series kicked off last week with the 1950 classic Rashomon, the film that brought Japanese cinema into the Western market and challenged the traditionally classic storytelling by presenting the same story through different points of view.
The series continues on Thursday 11 with Seven Samurai (1954), a medieval tale of a helpless town that hires a group of samurais to defend them from pillagers. An instant classic starring Kurosawa’s favorite lead, legendary actor Toshiro Mifune, and written by Rashomon writer Shinobu Hashimoto, Seven Samurai had a Hollywood remade, The Magnificent Seven, in 1960, transformed into a Western starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson.
The program for Thursday 18 starts at 7 p.m. with Ikiru (1952), based on Leon Tolstoi’s The Death of Iván Ilich. Kurosawa tells the story of Kanji Watanabe, an old city employee with a monotonous life who is diagnosed with cancer, which triggers in him a profound search for meaning.
“Sometimes I think about my death […] and how will I be able to resist taking my last breath. With such a life, how can I abandon it?” said Kurosawa in an interview published by film critic Andrew Sarris. ”I feel I have so much left to do […] and that I have lived so little. I remain thoughtful, but not sad. That’s the feeling that resulted in Ikiru.”
The following screening at 10 pm is High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku, 1963), a kidnapping thriller adapted from a crime novel by US author Ed McBain, a pseudonym for Evan Hunter, a film and TV scriptwriter and Alfred Hitchcock’s collaborator
On the last day, Thursday 25, MALBA the first screening will be at 6 p.m.: The Hidden Fortress (1958), Kurosawa’s adventure comedy set in 17th century Japan in which two tattered soldiers will be responsible of freeing a princess (if the story rings a bell, it’s probably because the film was an inspiration for George Lucas’ Star Wars in 1977).
The 8.30 p.m. show will feature Yojimbo (1961), the story of a ronin (a masterless samurai) who offers his services to two clashing gangs. A free adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel Red Harvest, the film was also adapted in 1996 by Walter Hill in the Bruce Willis-starrer Last Man Standing.
“In Yojimbo there is an idea that has tormented me for years: the world is a huge battlefield, where the bad guys constantly go to war, leaving the good guys no room to live or work. Yojimbo is a bit of a portrait of this situation,” said Kurosawa in an interview with Gian Luigi Rondi.
“Two rival gangs, both made up of demons. And the village in the middle, taken between two sides without any possibility of choosing or putting an end to that hell […] Look around you, isn’t it like that today too?”
The MALBA’s Kurosawa season will close that day at 10.30 p.m. with Sanjuro (1962), the story of a group of young people who decide to file an accusation of corruption before the city authority. The accusation will bring them a death sentence until a samurai helps them not only to keep their lives but to put an end to corruption.
“After the success of Yojimbo, our production company Toho decided to make a sequel, and then this weak samurai became the protagonist, Sanjuro. I redid the script again, and Sanjuro became more athletic, more skilled with the sword,” said Kurosawa to Sight and Sound magazine.
“Personally, I find Sanjuro very different from Yojimbo, and the Japanese public thinks the same. Young people preferred Yojimbo, but adults liked Sanjuro more. I think they liked it because he was the funniest and really the most attractive of the two films.”