Archive for April, 2011


Day for Night (Truffaut)


Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night is a cinematic love-letter to the pains of filmmaking.  It is a widely known fact that story cannot exist without conflict.  I think this is true for both the storytellers, and the characters within the story.  Day for Night glorifies this struggle to overcome the type of problems that are born out of societal inconvenience.  The movie the crew is trying to make, Pamela, deals with unexpected love and tragic vengeance.  And while there is no sense of vengeance on the set of Pamela there is truly a romantic desperation that nearly derails the film on multiple occasions.

This is far from the only film about a production that mirrors its own story.  But where I find Day for Night to be unique is in its complete lack of pretentiousness concerning the correlation.  Where other films might have touted this deconstructionist narrative within a narrative as being a matter of profundity, Day for Night practically ignores the parallels, opting instead for a humorous take on how life imitates art imitates life imitates art.

Truffaut’s film gives the impression of being highly autobiographical.  The types of problems that the filmmakers deal with (ranging from a cat that won’t drink milk to an accidental death that nearly halts production) make up the primary conflict in the film.  As in real life, there is no specific antagonist.  Crap happens.  We just have to deal with it.  The ability of the filmmakers to overcome these problems gives us our sense of narrative resolution.  Which brings me to the method of story.

In most films there is something called a “set-up/pay-off” system.  A given fact of the movie’s universe is described at the beginning of the film, and then brought up again at the end of the film.  It is a useful form of narrative audience involvement because it forces the audience to think back to what they learned at the beginning of the film.  This then makes the audience feel smart that they remember it, and they feel better because of it.  In the case of Day for Night, the sorts of things that are set up are things that seem to be utterly forgettable, but end up getting played back at the end with very interesting impact.  In particular, I’m referring to special candle prop that features a little light bulb inside of it.  One of the prop makers shows the candle to the director (played by Truffaut) and as far as the audience is concerned, this scene only exists to help de-mythologize the movies.  But toward the end of the movie, we see an actress holding a candle up to her face, and it is not until the prop is specifically pointed out that we remember there was a trick to it.  This type of discreet and under-exposited storytelling really makes this film a rewarding experience.

While some critics have noted that this film ignores its characters in favor of anecdotes, I find it to be more an example of characters becoming anecdotes, and vice versa.  There is a certain charm to seeing a director calmly reassure an outrageously distressed actor, or seeing the same director have to make important decisions in the moment about whether or not a crew member’s car can be wrecked for a scene.

For a person like Truffaut, making a movie is synonymous with living out life.  There is no distinction between relationships and anecdotes, or between memories and stories.   To live is to experience, and the cinema describes a cumulative type of experience that condenses the amount of emotions a person might feel over the course of their entire life into a single two-hour experience.  You could almost say that film is storytelling but life is story-living.  For Truffaut, and certainly the characters within the world of Day for Night, there is no difference between the two.


Farewell, My Concubine


The film Farewell My Concubine is one of the few intimate epics to come out of Chinese cinema.  Its primary narrative focus is on the character of Dieyi, a feminine boy who plays the role of the concubine in a famous Chinese play.  In traditional filmmaking, it is typical to tell the story in as close to real time as possible, without getting boring or overlong.  That way, the audience gets to experience close to the same thing that the character does.  But in the case of Farewell My Concubine, there are long passages of time that go on in between scenes in the film.  The character experiences these, but the audience does not, making the film feel almost more like a series of sequential short films, rather than a long, singular narrative.  As the years fly by off-screen, the audience is left with the task of mentally producing the connective tissue that binds all the scenes together.  This, combined with the very weighty subject matter, produces what can be described as an exhausting effect on many audience members.

What the film gains through this type of macro-storytelling is a grand sense of scale.  The characters are of tremendous significance to each other and their local environment, but the larger world has no need of them.  Governments rise and fall, but the Peking Opera remains.  Is this because the opera is more significant than government?  Or is it because it is less significant?  I think it is because Opera (and the arts in general) symbolizes the collective emotional identity of the culture that produced it.  It is so closely tied to personal cultural identity, that all else can be cast aside before the arts are given over to decadence.

The movie is technically non-linear, since it opens with two older performers trying to remember lines that they once epitomized.  It then flashes back to nearly seventy years prior, when they were both young boys given out of poor families into a local acting troupe.  When it cuts back, we see a noticeable absence of color in the frame.  It is slowly re-saturated throughout the course of the film, giving us a sense of how the past has merged into the present.  There is no attempt to make the scenes in the past feel “up-to-date” or contemporary.  Instead they are treated as being something distant, memorable and important maybe, but it’s the type of importance that can be understood as “narrative fossilization.”  Something preserved for study, but no longer directly applicable to the world of today.

Our chief scale through which to measure this shift in relevance comes unsurprisingly from the people’s reaction to our main characters’ play.  In the earliest scenes, their play is held in incredibly high regard, and their portrayals are considered to be among the greatest.  But as time marches on, there appears to be a growing doubt on the part of the people as to whether the opera has any true relevance to the modern life.  The opera of course outlasts these doubts and continues on, but the whole scenario begs the question, is art so closely tied to culture that it is incapable of transcending time and place?  The film certainly addresses the question, but makes no attempt to answer it.

I do think that my experience watching the film gives something close to an answer, however.  Not since my viewing of Tai Guk Gi have I felt so distant from the story I’m being told.  Much of this film is dependent upon the audience’s connection with the historical events portrayed.  But I do not know anyone who has been directly affected by the events portrayed onscreen.  To me, these are distant events that happened to others, whose experiences I cannot know.  There are certain issues that the film skirts around, assuming that the audience does not need any reminder of the events being portrayed.  Thus, the ending feels like the sum of not only the events shown onscreen, but also those implied to have happened off-screen.  When I said the character experiences things that the audience does not, I did not note that those experiences have real-world equivalents that the original Chinese audience would identify with.  But with out this sense of shared history, the film loses much of its intended punch.  And by the very fact that I am not Chinese, I felt that the dramatic closing of the film was unearned and uninteresting.  I simply did not care.

This is not the fault of the film, or even the filmmakers.  But it is merely a statement of situational viewing experience.  I cannot fully grasp what it means to view a film that is so closely tied to Chinese identity, because I cannot know what it means to be Chinese.  So how does a film like this stand against the criticism of non-experience?  Reasonably well, actually.

There is so much going on in the frame, and the opposition to the characters is always naturally positioned – rather than forced by Plot Power – so much that it can be worth it for the audience to go the extra mile and invest themselves a story that may feel very foreign.  Of this opposition to character goals, is a key relational subtlety concerning the power of romantic love, and its absence.  The character of Dieyi is in love with his friend Xiaolou, but Xiaolou is in love with a woman named Juxian.  Thus, Xiaolou’s romance is in opposition to the romantic goals of Dieyi, and vice-versa.  This creates a context in which conflict arises out of love, and from love jealousy.

The theme of the film is difficult to articulate succinctly.  If it has a single theme throughout, I’d say it is one of longing for something out of reach.  The only goal that the characters truly accomplish is that of becoming great actors. All their others goals, romantic ones included, seem hindered by various obstacles.  They seem to be never given any rest.  Their lives are lived in high stress, but their art is an alleviant to the stresses of the nation.  The world rages around them, and they seek refuge in each other’s friendship.  But ultimately, it is in their play itself that Dieyi finds the closest answer to the longings of his heart.  He ends his own life as he lived it – theatrically.


The Hurt Locker


[This review was written before the movie made it huge at the Oscars.  Since that time, I have come to find the film to be much over-hyped, in contrast to my positive sentiments expressed here.]

If you are the type of person who regularly sits down in your living room with a couple of bucks in your back right pocket and an extremely bored-looking countenance, only to question what it might be like to disarm car-bombs in Iraq, then The Hurt Locker is just the movie for you.  The film is inspired by first-hand accounts of the writer, Mark Boal, who spent time with an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team in Iraq.  It focuses on both the stresses as well as the excitements of soldiers who risk their bodies to potential disintegration as they disarm Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) in hostile areas.

The three principle characters are amalgamations of various soldiers that Boal encountered during his time in Iraq.  For instance, the character of Sergeant William James represents the attitude of adrenal addiction.  He feels the need to put himself in danger, and is in many ways a ‘wild card’ of unpredictability.  His team members each represent other attitudes toward war, and the three of them together typify major personalities common in today’s soldiers.

The film opens with a quote from Chris Hedges: “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”  In this way it reminds us that, while for most soldiers war is hell, for some, it is an excitement without comparison.   There are a few men who enjoy the rush of near-death experiences, and this movie sets out to tell their story.  There are no scenes of commanding officers discussing strategy, no ‘evil Iraqi mastermind’ to personify the enemy, and no political commentary on the meaning of war.  This is simply a movie about clashing personalities under high-stress situations.

On a psychological and philosophical level, this movie says nothing new.  But on a cinematic level, it is in a league of its own.  No other film I have seen presents the audience with a sense of intensity that largely contradicts the calm attitude of the main character.  This goes to the filmmakers’ credit, as it is much more common a ploy for a film to ratchet up the intensity merely by the performances of the actors.  But in The Hurt Locker, the main character is the only calm person in the theater.  Even the camera shakes with anticipation, zooming in on little details, looking for solutions to potentially explosive problems.

In general, the writing here is not particularly original or even terribly interesting, except when carried by the actors and cinematography.  In one scene, the character of Sergeant William James follows a cord in the sand, expecting it to lead to another bomb.  But as he tugs on it, the camera angle cuts to an overhead view of seven bombs being slowly pulled up out of the dirt.  From this angle, the character’s face cannot be seen.  This has the unique consequence of bringing the audience into the threat, whereas in a normal film this would create a distancing effect.  By not seeing the actor’s face, and only being presented with seven individual bombs connected by a single cord, we project ourselves into the center of peril.  In any other film, the human connection is what brings the audience closer, but in this movie, there are shots where the most powerful images are presented to us by way of character anonymity.  This obscurity presents a somewhat ‘everyman’ psychology in the audience’s interpretation of the soldiers.  If the face is what makes a person unique, then that is precisely what the filmmakers’ have attempted to avoid.  It’s the uniform that matters.  What a soldier is wearing determines who he is.  A man in a bombsuit is in danger by default.  Without any identifying characteristics, the audience becomes immersed in the image, feeling as if it is we who are in the bombsuit, a flinch away from having our ashes swept to the wind.

As mentioned previously, a downside to this film is its writing.  It feels as if many of the scenes have hardly any relation to each other, and little effect on the primary character arcs.  While the majority of these scenes are interesting and engaging in themselves, they struggle to find relevance in the overall story.  In one such scene, a soldier subtly threatens to kill the sergeant as tensions begin to surface around the recklessness of the main character.  The goal here is to show the stresses of the battlefield, but the problem with a scene like this is simply that no other time in the movie is the soldier’s comment or even the threatening concept presented again.  They mention it once, and take it seriously for a moment, never to bring it up again.  This in many ways is deceptive to the audience, as we have a set up with no payoff.

As a whole, The Hurt Locker succeeds brilliantly at what it sets out to do: putting the audience in the thick of the threat.  No matter how much the main character thrills in the danger, there is still a very present intensity throughout the film.  There is something about Kathryn Bigelow’s superb direction that demands a sense of audience interaction, and it is primarily this effect that provides the cathartic feeling at the end.  Because in all honesty, the characters grow very little over the course of the movie, but the audience is changed forever.  That is the effect of good filmmaking.  And a good film is exactly what this is.


Scene Analysis: Rooftop Scene of Superman Returns


[Editor’s Note: This is a fairly lengthy paper I wrote my Sophomore year that details everything worthy of note in a single scene from Superman Returns.  It covers all the Mis-en-scene here, and clearly shows my love for the movie.  I have chosen not to edit it down for the blog, but have kept it in its entirety.  Feel free to skim.  If you were looking for my analysis of Comic Based movies as a cinematic trend, then click here]

The scene I have chosen to discuss for this paper is a dialogue between Superman and Lois Lane in the movie Superman Returns.  This is an interesting situation, where the plot is almost synonymous with the primary character arc.  That is, Superman’s effort to re-integrate himself into society after a prolonged absence, during which the rest of the world has learned to live without him.  In this scene, Superman tries rebuild his relationship with Lois, who has received critical acclaim for her article, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.”  I will establish in this paper not only why the entire movie hinges upon this one scene, but also why this scene defines the character of Superman as a whole.

The scene starts as an aerial wide-shot, focusing on Lois Lane as she walks onto the roof of the Daily Planet.  The roof is wet, as if it has been recently raining.  Above her is the giant spinning globe that is the symbol of the Daily Planet newspaper.  As the shot pulls in, she begins fiddling inside her purse for a cigarette.  A close-up shows us that as she tries to light it, the flame blows out.  The next angle reveals Superman to her left flying gently in.

The lighting here (and throughout the rest of the scene) is very expressionistic.  Superman is strongly top-lit, giving the effect that his entrance into the scene is one of towering confidence.  This also accentuates Superman’s muscles, as they cast shadows over one another, they exaggerate the tone of his body.  While the light on Superman is a scorching bright white, Lois’ face is lit primarily in yellows, giving her a warm appearance.  As they start to move closer together, their lighting styles begin to blend.

Throughout the first half of the scene, we get the implication, by way of color tones, that the only warmth in Metropolis during the night is at the top of the Daily Planet.  Everything in the background is primarily in dark colors, implying a chilly atmosphere (especially after the aforementioned rain), whereas the top of the Daily Planet is lit with lots of yellows and browns, giving us a feeling of warmth between these characters, and increasing the sense of distance from the rest of the world.

The beginning of the scene is fairly quick-cut, increasing the shortness of patience that Lois has for Superman.  The cinematography subtly gives us clues as to where the characters are and aren’t connecting with each other.  For instance, in Superman’s introduction into the scene, it is Lois’ face that is in the foreground, and Superman stands stoically in the distance to the left of her.  This gives us the subtle impression that it is specifically Lois’ face that Superman is looking at.  Then the angle cuts back to the close-up of her lighter going out.  Superman alerts her to his presence with the statement, “You know you really shouldn’t smoke, Miss Lane.”  For a brief moment they look at each other, and the cinematography shows us that they are connecting on some level, as they appear in the same frame together.  But that quickly passes, and the framing goes back to one-character-at-a-time cinematography.

Superman walks closer, Lois stands still.  The blocking here gives us the impression that Superman is making the effort to reconnect with Lois, but she is not making the same effort quite yet.  But the cinematography tells a different story.  The characters have come to a point where they are lit almost identically, and the framing is much closer on the two of them, implying a connection.

Lois asks Superman where he went for the past five years.  He says that when astronomers thought they had found his home planet of Krypton, he had to see for himself.  This moment of introspection is demonstrated to us through all aspects of mis-en-scene.  In his acting, Brandon Routh (Superman) is careful to show no outward emotion, because if he had, then the concept of internal emotions would be demoted strictly to external activity.  But he does blink and change his eye-line once, which demonstrates that he is not as statuesque as first appearance would make it seem.  The blocking demonstrates the internalized nature of his response simply by the fact that he turns away from Lois when he says it.  The lighting shows us elements of disconnect between Superman and Lois, because the only side of his face that is lit is the side toward Lois.  The other half of his face is in shadow.  Then he turns back into the light to face Lois.

This time it’s his turn to confront her about something– the article she wrote.  She is immediately defensive and reminds him that she will be receiving the Pulitzer the next day.  He interrupts her and asks, “Why did you write it?” to which she returns, “How could you leave us like that?”  The significance here is that each character is accusing the other of something terrible, and they’re both guilty.

The cinematography shows them in the same frame, even from different angles, so we as the audience still interpret them as being emotionally connected on some level.  But the actors demonstrate an increasing level of emotional stress as they continue their conversation.  This is especially true for Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane) who begins to bob her head and blink excessively.  She isn’t crying, but her body language implies a loss of internal security.  She tells Superman that, “The world doesn’t need a savior, and neither do I.”  He steps away from the light and turns away.  They do not appear in the same frame again for several shots.

The music in this scene is very slow and melodic.  It recalls the love theme that John Williams wrote for the original Superman: The Movie, while not bringing too much attention to itself for the first two minutes.  It largely follows the rhythm of the actors, rather than the editing, stopping when they stop, and starting again with them.

When Superman turns back to look at Lois, he has regained his sense of composure, and can ask her to come with him, up into the sky.  This is noteworthy because, up until this point, it has been Superman walking toward Lois.   But now, he requests that she come to him.  Reluctantly, she walks toward him and takes her shoes off before placing her feet onto his.  The fact that she is barefoot increases the impression of vulnerability.  The framing is very tight on their faces as they begin to come off the ground.  After a brief dialogue, Lois looks down and notices how high up they are.  She embraces him tightly and says, “I forgot how warm you are.”  Right as she says this, they pass the glowing “Daily Planet” globe, which casts a warm halo-like appearance over the two of them.  It is also an important line for the audience to hear, because it recalls the fact that Superman gains his power from the earth’s yellow sun, thus making him “warm.”

The second half of this conversation takes place in the air.  Because Lois is holding onto Superman tightly, they share frame space throughout the rest of the scene.  The lighting is completely surreal at this point.  The source of the light appears to be coming from between the two of them, helping to imply their connectedness.  The music is much fuller now too.  It really leads the montage of Superman and Lois flying above Metropolis.

While staying in a constant position relative to the city, Superman tells Lois that even though she “wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior. Everyday I hear people crying for one.”  At this moment, Lois can put aside her selfish pain and understand the true need for Superman.  But more than that, he apologizes.  The camera circles behind Lois’ head to show us the other side of Superman’s face, which gives us the impression of seeing another part of his personality.  The very next line is, “I’m sorry I left you, Lois.”  That’s it.  He doesn’t attempt to justify himself, and he doesn’t use his responsibility to the city as an excuse for being distant.  He apologizes, not for leaving the earth, but for leaving her specifically.  Then he takes her home.

This scene is the hinge-point for the entire movie because it sums up quite literally where all the characters’ frustrations are coming from.  Before this scene, Lois and Superman had only seen each other briefly during a plane-crash.  From this point on, Superman and Lois are reconnected.  There still exists some frustration, as she has moved on with her own family.  But the connection is there.  And at the end of the movie, when Lois is in real danger, Superman is there to save her, and then to save the world.

In the romantic scenes between Lois and Clark (Superman’s disguise personality), it is really Lois who is the stronger leading figure in the relationship.  Clark follows her lead.  But when Lois has a romantic scene with Superman, it is he who is the leader in the relationship.    The only man who can make Lois vulnerable is Superman.  Lois is Superman’s connection to the earth.  He is not really human, but he has human emotions.  Despite the fact that he will never totally fit in on earth, his relationship with Lois gives him a face to ascribe to all humanity.  That every person he saves, is someone else’s ‘Lois.’ In the sky, when Superman listens to all the cries for help.  He must choose the one person to save.  Every time someone dies on his watch, he blames himself.  The key to Superman’s psychology is that he blames himself for the pain that he could not prevent.  It would seem that even a Man of Steel, suffers still.


Life: Reset, Themes of Escape in Run, Lola, Run


Tom Tykwer’s film Run, Lola Run marks an important contradiction to traditional cinema, and especially traditional crime cinema.  In most films, an attempt is made on the filmmaker’s part to create a cinematic mythology that closely mirrors reality.  Typically, most films assume a naturalistic point of view of the world, only changing laws of nature that directly conflict with the filmmaker’s ability to tell the story they want to tell.  For instance, in reality, police can trace a phone call in a matter of seconds, but in every cop movie ever, the bad guy calls up the good guy only to hang up the phone right before a trace is made.  The directors of those films change the facts of the universe in order to create a stronger experience.  And in a film like Star Wars, separate sets of rules are created from the ground up for an entirely different universe.  But in Run, Lola Run, director Tom Tykwer presents us with a world that looks very much like reality, but feels and plays out like something else entirely.

For many, the closest approximation is a videogame, a story that is controlled in part by the person/character on whose focus the story is about.  This is not a world where the principle character is subject to the rules of the universe.  This is a world where the rules of the universe are subject to the desires of the principle character.  It is a prime example of film’s ability to embrace non-reality as a means of coming upon truth.  It proves beyond any doubt that the rules of a cinematic mythology are only the same as that of reality to the extent of the filmmaker’s desires.

While there are some filmmakers (Lars Von Trier, I’m thinking of you) who desire to create a cinematic experience that closely approximates the experience of reality, there is nothing non-cinematic about a film embracing fantasy, in place of reality.  There is nothing about Run, Lola Run that necessarily disconnects the viewer from feeling an emotional experience.  Therefore, there is nothing in a realistic approach to film that is entirely superior to a non-real approach.  And one quick look at storytelling history tells us that many people all over the world are more comfortable with an experience that is simultaneously escaping and escapable.

In the movie, Lola escapes her problems by taking control of her situation.  If we understand the main character of a film as being a stand-in for the audience, then Run, Lola Run builds its own story based on the above-mentioned principle of story’s being simultaneously an escape, and escapable.  I choose to escape from real world problems by entertaining myself with film, but if the film takes me through an experience I don’t desire to have, then I have the power to escape that experience as well.  When Lola is shot 20 minutes into the film, she thinks back to what she loves about her life, namely her relationship with her boyfriend.  And when she notices her dilemma of being near death, she chooses to escape and try again.  For her, reality is escapable.  But it is not without effort, and certainly not without process.

Any experience that humans can possibly have requires the process of time.  When I tell a joke, the punch line is only funny if it has been properly set-up.  Something as simple as humor is based on the need for process.  In the case of film, the director is in complete control of the process through which the story is told.  And in Run, Lola Run, Tykwer shows us a process through which the main character is ultimately dissatisfied with where her experience has taken her.  The character challenges the experience and takes control.  This gives us an inclination that perhaps the story is not dictated by the filmmaker but by the character.  Which is the god of film?  The character cannot perform any action that is not dictated by the filmmaker, but the character of Lola shows a very real drive to challenge the established “roller-coaster” experience.

In deconstructing this film, one must acknowledge that the process of film is more important than the finale.  Audiences have a love-hate relationship with the end credits of a film.  Because on the one hand it offers a form of closure, distinguishing on their behalf between reality and cinema-fantasy; but on the other hand it brings them back into the very reality they chose to escape by walking into a movie theater.  Thus, while Tom Tykwer and Lola share the ability to control the world of the film Run, Lola Run, that power cannot be passed on to the audience.  It is only in the realm of fantasy that character transcends nature.  But that does not mean that real-world audiences cannot be inspired by fantastical experience.  It is in our acknowledgments of fantasy’s inherent truth, that we embrace non-reality, for the sake of the process of experience that it offers us.



Ran: Analyzing Violence in Kurasawa’s Films.


A soldier holds something in his hand, wrapped up in cloths.  He begins unwrapping it, and gasps in horror.  We cut to the headless body of one of our female leads and think, “Awww maaaan,” because unlike most other filmmakers, Kurasawa’s violence is something to be regretted.  In the average war movie, the audience will often look forward to battle scenes, thinking these to be the most exciting.  But in the cinema of Akira Kurasawa, violence is rarely condoned, and just as rarely shied away from.

There are several things that set this apart from the earlier Kurasawa films that I’ve seen.  The first I will discuss is the unique use of musical score, as being either totally absent from a scene, or overpowering.  I did not notice a single musical queue until midway point of the film where the Old King’s castle was being burned down.  And then, it was nearly a ten-minute battle sequence with no sound besides music.  This created a much more powerful emotional connection to the scene at hand, because up until this point we have been satisfied to observe the film as if a play, carried by actors, and not by editing, effects, or music.  There is much sadness in this battle scene.  No glory, little excitement.  This isn’t the type of action sequence where you’re rooting for the violence.  Instead, we regret its occurrence.  We want it to end.  This would have been a shockingly gory film for 1985.  I’m reminded of the “infamous blood explosion” at the end of Sanjuro where the effects team apparently packed far too much fake blood and squibs under an actor’s shirt.  (search for “Sanjuro Slaughter Scene” in YouTube, you won’t regret it)

But what is truly significant about this film is how it builds upon the stories told previously by this director.  He often addresses issues of greed that leads to violence and manipulation that leads to corruption.  This story encapsulates all that, and brings it to a larger scale and production value than anything Japan had seen before. In Seven Samurai, there is a clear distinction between good guys and bad guys.  The bad guys are the bandits who use violence to serve their greed.  The heroes are the Samurai who stand up for the peasants.  They use violence as a necessity to counter-act the violence of the bandits.  In Yojimbo, the lead character allows the more greedy characters to live violently with each other, while he stays relatively free from taint.  In Ran, we see violence as the necessary tool for achieving worldly desire.  Greed creates desire (and vice-versa) in such an extreme way that greatly contradicts the Buddhist ideals of humility.  The victims in Ran shout the same as those in Seven Samurai, “There are no gods, no buddhas!”  This is because of the expectation that “everything under Heaven is just.”  But worldly experience contradicts this Chinese ideal.

Blood is the essence of life in these films.  When we see blood splash against a wall, we see the character’s life force leaving them.  Its not simply there for the shock value – its there as exposition.  Characters don’t seem to bleed, unless they are dying.  When characters do bleed, it comes out in mass quantities, but also in relation the death scene’s importance to the story.   In a Kurasawa film, the main characters will bleed significantly more than the supporting characters.  This draws special attention to their demise.  We feel more that something has been lost in the story when we can witness the literal effect of the character’s death on the local surrounding.

Much can be learned from Kurasawa’s use of violence in contrast to traditional American portrayals.  And it is a shame that with exception of the original Star Wars film, few American directors seem to have been inspired by Kurasawa’s sense of cinema-violence.






Welcome to Cinema Confessions!  Over the past few years I have written several papers on various films and film-related themes.  Recognizing that there are probably many other students being graded on similar papers, I have decided to upload all that I have written as an aid and inspiration to anyone looking for what to talk about.  Feel free to add your own observations or insights in the comments sections.  And if you have any film you’d like me to review, send me an email at