Over the last 3 months, I have netflixd Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and Sanjuro. I've owned Seven Samurai for years, and it is still the gold standard action/epic. If you haven't seen these films, or it's been a while, do yourself a favor and add them to your queue...
Hidden Fortress -(The warrior escorts the princess through enemy territory, told from the POV of two lowly buffoons)
Yojimbo- (A fistfull of Ryo)
Seven Samurai-(A Bug's Life-Magnificent 7)
Sanjuro -(Return of the Samurai with no name. - "See ya later...")
By the way Star Trek watchers...Sanjuro has a few lens flares, if that's what you're into... ;-)
and Yojimbo has some of the best focus pulling anywhere.
I have been netflixing the Criterion Collection, and find the commentaries fascinating.
Looking at the commentaries, I appreciate Kurosawa's art all the more. But I feel sometimes as if I'm cheating. That is, I SHOULD "get it" on my own, and not have to rely on a film critic to tell me why it's so great.
But them's the facts, ma'am. I do find so much more to like after seeing the expert commentary.
Two Kurosawa stories that may or may not be apocryphal:
RAN is an excellent movie. Supposedly there is an interview out there somewhere, the movie is still in the final days of shooting, Akira is being interviewed about RAN and what it's about, he's waxing on about the long efforts to craft the original script. The reporter asks him: "But isn't this plot basically the same as Shakespeare's " "King Lear"? Kurosawa: " No, how could it possi--- (beat) .... oh, (EXPLETIVE)".
Second story: An interviewer is all atwitter about a certain shot Kurosawa used. He is asking all about the significance of the framing and all the thinking that must have gone into the composition of the framing of that shot. Kurosawa allegedly replies something along the lines of: "If I moved the camera a few inches to the left, you would have seen a telephone pole, a few inches to the right, an office building. The shot I framed was the only shot that fit the location."
Sometimes, I guess we read more significance into things than is merited. But it reminds me of a useful aphorism for us today: remember your audience doesn't know what is outside of the framed shot, and you don't have to pay for what's not seen. But you do need to imply what's not seen, so the audience fills in that gap from their imagination.
Its not cheating to listen to the commentary... Especially regarding the insights about Japanese feudal society, and the significance of something as simple as a samurai shaving his head to pretend to be a monk. I didn't know that the equivalent in our society would be a Wall Street CEO coming to work with a full-face spider tattoo and a split tongue. You need to know stuff like that to fully get into the story and characters of these kind of period films.