Of the later samurai movies, I think Kagemusha is far better than the more famous Ran.
Still, though, the Kurosawa films I admire most and feel most are not the samurai pictures, but a set of four movies made in modern Tokyo: Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, The Bad Sleep Well, and High and Low.
In his largely appreciative NY Times review today of the new Criterion DVD release of Drunken Angel, Dave Kehr may be more concerned to classify and dispose of the film according to its assigned type (“film noir,” “tenement drama”) than to cope with what he actually sees on the screen. He’s thus puzzled to find that the film’s pairing of the actors Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, “seems to represent the fundamental division in Kurosawa’s work between high-minded sentiment and down-and-dirty action.” This duality in the film is a unity. Perhaps Kehr is so sensitive to the scenes he finds “bluntly didactic” that he doesn’t recognize it’s not Kurosawa who’s occasionally preachy but Shimura’s character, Doctor Sanada. Kurosawa himself does not necessarily use the doctor as a mouthpiece; he portrays a duality, or multiplicity, united in Sanada’s personality. Kurosawa doubtless is in favor of better hygiene among slum dwellers, but he has other interests in this movie. Sanada may not speak for Kurosawa any more than his antagonist Matsunaga does. (It helps in visualizing to think of them as Sanada and Matsunaga and not in show-biz terms as “the Shimura character” and “the Mifune character.” They’re genuine, real, suspension-of-disbelief humans, not dressed-up actors.) The action scenes — and others — are Kurosawa’s way of representing the complexity of his people. I personally appreciate such craftsmanship and such poetry.
I find Kurosawa’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot strange, inexplicable, and fascinating:
This post, continuing a series of seven, is unabashed hero worship. A few years ago, making up an earlier version of this page, I decided that among all the filmmakers I’ve liked, there were seven who really especially blow me away.
I’ve had time to think since, and haven’t changed my mind. There are plenty of “honorable mentions” I love, but there are seven who are extra special and this is one of them.