Kurosawa retrospective comes to Toronto

Legendary filmmaking god Akira Kurosawa gets much-welcomed big-screen time in Toronto this summer, with an extensive TIFF Cinematheque curated retrospective, 29 films in all. From iconic samurai flicks to lesser-seen gems, the Akira Kurosawa: Centenary of a Sensei series celebrates the master of Japanese cinema's distinguished career starting this Friday, June 11th at Jackman Hall.

While I've never seen a Kurosawa film that I didn't like, a newly restored 35mm print of Rashomon (June 11) is my pick of the pack. It's about a "bandit" that crosses paths with an aristocratic couple in the forest. What happens next is anyone's guess; the story unfolds in flashbacks told by four witnesses to the crime, each with a different version of events.

Despite being pretty much a straight swordfighting movie, Yojimbo is entertaining from start to finish and brilliantly crafted to balance violence with humour. The action centers on a brash swordsman (played by Kurosawa's main leading man, Toshiro Mifune) who arrives in a town, realizes there is money to be made from the local gang wars, incites a showdown, and sells his battling skills to the feuding leaders.

And High and Low (July 13) is a must-see, if you haven't already. The story begins to take shape when we learn that a kidnapper has snatched the chauffeur's son instead of the wealthy entrepreneur's son, and still demands a generous ransom. As the cops close in on the bad guy, High and Low turns into a nailbiter of a detective flick.

Also on the roster, Seven Samurai (a ragtag bunch of samurais fight bandits to defend a farming village), Drunken Angel (an alcoholic doctor tries to save a gangster from tuberculosis and a questionable choice of career), Ikiru (a terminally ill bureaucrat chases a final dream), plus Throne of Blood, Stray Dog, Ran, and tons more.

Akira Kurosawa: Centenary of a Sensei screens as part of the TIFF Cinematheque's 20th anniversary season. While I was hoping that my next milestone celebration would be billed as "a summer of sex, swords and seduction," it looks like the Cinematheque has beat me to the punch. Festivities continue through to the end of August with director spotlights on Catherine Breillat, Pasolini and Eric Rohmer, and a closing night guest appearance by Julian Schnabel.

Akira Kurosawa: Centenary of a Sensei runs from June 11 to August 2 at Jackman Hall, 317 Dundas Street West.

*G20 closure update: the Yojimbo and Ikiru screenings have been canceled as the AGO will shut down on Friday, June 25th at 4pm through to Sunday, June 27th. The Cinematheque is trying reschedule as many of the films as possible - check tiff.net/cinematheque or call 416-968-FILM for updates.

Still from Yojimbo courtesy of TIFF Cinematheque.

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