Maybe early Kurosawa and me aren’t just meant to be, with the exception of “The Seven Samurai.” There’s something about “The Idiot” that I can’t fully immerse myself into. The film is about one idealistic man who finds himself involved in the lives of a few families in a Japanese city. Is it because the film doesn’t allow any of its characters a chance of full happiness? Does it try to cover and juggle too many plots and characters? Or maybe it’s because we’re seeing the work of a man who’s just starting out?
I’m part of the immature ilk whose reductive assessment of the film would be “zOMG, Japanese people in Western clothing! Loves it!” The film is a balance of post-war Japan and Dostoyevsky as the story’s source material. New, Western customs add to old customs, the caste system still exists, some people get ostracized, everyone is miserable. The audience can even over-read the three-footer snow as metaphorical of the heavy burden that society places on its characters.
If anything, this is the also the hardest Kurosawa’s actors have worked so far – I’ll find out if I’m wrong by the time I see “Ran” in three weeks. Toshiro Mifune, before his stardom, actually relaxes his face in some of the scenes. The female characters are still bitchy, but they freely flow from acidic to damaged to vulnerable. And we like bitchy, right guys?
I also borrowed my first Dostoyevsky from the library, a daunting task with all 643 pages of small print. Maybe this big, heavy key will unlock a few things and offer me more insight towards the film.
In this samurai period piece, director Akira Kurosawa features some shots of the forest. Seeing Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki’s horses gallop at such a height behind trees and branches reminded me of Japanese scrolls because of their boldness. It also reminds me of a bit of the Chinese (yes, I said Chinese) artist Fan Kuan in the distance in which the two generals place themselves within the mise-en-scene. It’s not all forests, however. He treats interior spaces with such geometry and depicts expansive arid landscapes in full screen. Yes, full screen. It’s like he rightfully proves that Hollywood didn’t need to invent the Panavision camera.
I really thought I was gonna be bitchy about this movie as an adaptation of “Macbeth.” Why aren’t they saying the right words? And they cut the MacDuffs and Edward the Confessor, characters I really like from the play. I guess if this movie was in English they wouldn’t be able to get away with that, but Kurosawa movie gets a pass. I re-read parts of “Macbeth” just to show the comparison again, and there’s a lot of sexual language in my reading of it. What Kurosawa’s film does to the story is take away the seduction and instead put rhetoric as the reason for killing, the latter being a major topic in Shakespeare’s other works. Washizu will go far as misreading the omens around him to convince himself that he’s in the right. I still have some problems with that inversion but I can appreciate it.
I’m not the biggest expert on Noh and Kabuki, but I’ve seen it done better. Here in “Throne,” Isuzu Yamada as Washizu’s wife, Asaji, does a lot of great work as the ghostly Noh character. The Old Ghost Woman was terrifying in her stoicism and portrayed her character asexually. It’s Mifune’s character and acting that killed me, being evil only because he looked the part. Yes, he’s inundated with violence, anarchy and deposed shoguns. But the arc from him dreading the predictions towards delusional leader wasn’t portrayed well enough for me. And I’m not sure if this is part of the style of acting, but I can’t stand yelling in movies.