I watched a bunch of movies this week. Hang ‘Em High, Tokyo Drifter, Ikiru, Incident at Blood Pass and half of Samurai Banners which I will finish this week. The first is a pretty standard Clint Eastwood western. He gets wronged at the beginning of the film and hunts down the men who done him wrong. Nothing memorable and it suffered from heavy-handed moralising and an unnecessary romantic sub-plot. Great line from Clint, though, when he finds the first of the men who unsuccessfully lynched him to start the movie. The man doesn’t recognise him and Clint leans in and shows the scar on his neck and says “When you hang a man you better look at his face!” (I may have a word or two off there.)

Tokyo Drifter was… odd. It wasn’t bad, and in fact I rather liked it despite it being so strange, but it was, truly, a strange movie. Some of that may be because it was Japanese, and there may be cultural cues I missed; that, and the fact that it’s about 40 years old. Interestingly, I think the director made use of colour in the same fashion that the director of Hero did, though it was more subtle and better done in Tokyo Drifter. The movie follows a yakuza soldier through his boss’ attempts to leave the crime world and go straight and deals mostly with questions about loyalty. I’d recommend it.

Incident at Blood Pass is, I think, the last movie with Toshiro Mifune playing the yojimbo character from the movie of that name. Like the other two movies I have seen with this character, Yojimbo and Sanjuro, the movie feels like a western set in Japan. This movie clearly wasn’t as strong as the other two, but that’s no surprise since Kurosawa wasn’t directing this one. Still, Mifune turns in a strong performance and so does Shintaro Katsu of Zatoichi fame. If you’ve only seen Katsu in Zatoichi films, you’ll hardly recognise him in this role. An entertaining film, if not an exceptional one.

Lastly, my wife and I watched Ikiru together and while I did like it more than she did, it wasn’t as great as I had hoped. I suppose that’s partly due to hearing it hyped up so much prior to seeing it, but it was less moving than I thought it would be and the movie ends on a rather dismal note. The story itself was told with a deft touch and the characters came to life very convincingly, which one expects of Kurosawa movies, and his choice to tell the second half of the movie in flashback worked very well. Overall, however, it seemed to lack that spark that would push it from being very good to being great.

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