Monday, January 31, 2011

DUELING MOVIES: "Henry V" vs. "Henry V"

       Recently I reviewed Laurence Olivier’s "Henry V" (#75) and I got to wondering if Military History magazine chose the best Henry V movie. So here is my review of Kenneth Branagh’s version and comparison of the two versions.

Branagh released his version in 1989. He wisely chose not to try to duplicate Olivier’s wonderful vision of the play within a movie. His movie opens with the Chorus (Derek Jacobi) on a deserted sound stage. He throws open doors to launch the story in movie form (not as a play). The Archbishop’ discussion of Salic Law in front of Henry and his council is treated seriously unlike in Olivier’s. The arrival of the French ambassador with his mocking tennis balls is answered with brewing, but restrained anger by Henry.

Branagh not only has the scenes following Bardolph, Pistol, and Nim, but throws in some flashbacks to the “wastrel” Harry’s nights with Falstaff. These scenes are taken from Shakespeare’s Henry IV. They make it easier to understand Henry’s transition from immature prince to mature king. Branagh also adds a scene from the play that does not appear in Olivier’s version. The scene depicts Henry uncovering treachery by three of his nobles. He sets them up by getting them to argue for strict punishment for a soldier who spoke against the king. We see the keen intelligence of Henry in this great scene.

The siege of Harfleur is filmed at night and has a ghastly tinge to it. Henry gives his “Once more into the breach…” speech which more clearly results in another failed assault than in Olivier’s. Also, Branagh includes Henry threatening rape and killing if the city does not give up. Branagh was obviously not restrained by the need to make Henry a saintly hero for the British people to rally around during the dark days of WWII, like Olivier was.

The scene with Princess Katherine and her maid are similarly done without subtitles and are equally playful and light. Emma Thompson is a better actress than Renee Asherson, but not decisively so in this role.

The march to Calais is more realistic with its rain and mud. Branagh decided to include the hanging of Bardolph for violating his no looting policy. The scene did not fit Olivier’s goal for the film, but it is apparent Branagh was determined to expose every aspect of Henry’s complex personality. He even goes so far as reenacting a hanging that is just mentioned in the play.

The night before the battle focuses on the arrogance and hubris of the French knights and the gloom of the British foot soldiers. Branagh’s Henry roams the campfires more realistically incognito. His reaction to criticism of the king by common soldiers is more appropriately seething.

Branagh’s “Band of Brothers” speech is similarly staged, but better orated with a beautiful pairing of words with music. The reaction of the soldiers is also more integral to the scene than in Olivier’s. Branagh actually spits as he declaims. No second take for him.

In the battle, we see the fear in the British soldiers’ eyes. There is no cavalry charge and we jump straight into the melee. It is realistically muddy. Branagh makes the questionable decision to have the archers firing volleys into the melee, thus subjecting the British knights (including Henry) to friendly fire. This is not only tactically unsound, but inaccurate historically as the archers had ceased fire when the knights closed. By this time in the battle, the archers were wading in with their daggers and mallets. Branagh gets to this, adding the nice touch of some archers looting the bodies. Branagh does a good job of depicting the chaotic nature of a medieval battle with its “fog of war”. Some of the action is in slow motion, naturally. York dies a graphically violent death here where in Olivier’s version we only see the corpse. The French Constable is rescued and soon after dies. There is no duel with Henry. Some French knights break through to attack the baggage train and kill the boys (including Christian Bale). This is similarly inaccurate to Olivier’s, but Branagh does not imply the villains were from the French leadership group. At this point the Herald arrives to tell Henry the day is his. Henry does not return to the battle to get vengeance for the dead boys because the battle is over. Instead Henry carries the Boy’s dead body as a hymn swells in the background. The movie should have ended here! There are 17 minutes of denouement left, unfortunately.

The wooing of Kate is not remarkably different than in Olivier’s version, but Branagh and Thompson give the dialogue a more genuine feel. This is a weak part of the play and the movie does its best to reduce the embarrassing aspects of the whirlwind courtship.

It may seem at this point that I find Branagh’s version to be superior, but not so fast. Let me specifically comment on various elements.

1. the opening – Olivier wins with his brilliant decision to start the play in the Globe Theater

2. humor – Olivier wins with his Archbishop explaining Salic Law and several characters (especially Pistol) hamming it up; there is little humor in Branagh’s more serious version

3. the French king – Olivier’s king is more accurately addled

4. Harfleur – Branagh’s siege is more accurate and has better action

5. Kate’s English lesson – Thompson over Asherton; Geraldine McEwan over Ivy St. Helier

6. the night among the campfires – Branagh

7. Band of Brothers Speech – Branagh is more rousing

8. the battle – Branagh, although both include some inexcusable inaccuracies; Branagh’s volleys into the melee are trumped by Olivier’s ridiculous duel between Henry and the Constable; Olivier’s cavalry charge is wonderful, but the ambush by tree-jumping archers cancels some of it; Branagh by a nose because you have to have a lot of mud if you are doing Agincourt

9. the wooing – Branagh is less cringe-inducing

10. sets – Olivier wins with his imaginative transitions from the Globe to sets based on “The Book of Hours” to the great outdoors and back again

I also have to mention that one of my favorite characters in Shakespeare is Fluellen and Ian Holm’s portrayal of him is outstanding. In fact, truth be told, the acting in Branagh’s version is uniformly better than in Olivier’s version. I know Olivier was partially trying to replicate the acting style of Elizabethan theater, but the hamminess of some of the performers is too over the top. And at the risk of blasphemy, I feel Branagh makes a better Henry than Sir Laurence Olivier.

In conclusion, both versions are masterpieces and stand on their own as tours de force for their actor / directors. Each put his own stamp on the play. It is remarkable that two movies with virtually the same dialogue could be so different and yet faithful to the play. Olivier deserves tremendous credit for his unorthodox approach to the Bard, but Branagh’s decision to not try to top Olivier is commendable. Branagh’s approach is much more orthodox, but the execution could not be better. Each movie is reflective of its times. Olivier emphasizes the aspects that would inspire Englishmen to defeat the Nazis. Branagh is aiming at a modern audience and his nuanced portrayal of the king is appropriate for 1989 and actually closer to Shakespeare’s Harry. His inclusion of scenes that Olivier purposely left out makes his film more complete.

My recommendation is to watch both. It would be foolish to pick one over the other. However, if you insist on one – Branagh’s is slightly superior.

Branagh's BOB

Olivier's BOB

Branagh at the breach

Sunday, January 30, 2011

# 74 - The Man Who Would Be King

BACK-STORY: “The Man Who Would Be King” is a war movie that was released in 1975. It was directed by John Huston and is based on a short story by Rudyard Kipling. Huston co-wrote the screenplay. Originally intended as a project for Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable, then Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, then Robert Redford and Paul Newman, it was finally made starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Writing, Costume Design, and Editing. The movie was critically acclaimed and did well at the box office.

OPENING: We open in an outdoor bazaar which could be “live” considering how little this part of the world has changed since the late 19th Century. British journalist Kipling (Christopher Plummer) is writing in his office when a mysterious man appears. He claims to be an old friend and has obviously fallen on some very hard times. Cue flashback.

SUMMARY: Peachy Carnehan (Caine) meets Kipling when he sits next to him on a train. Peachy has stolen Kipling’s watch. An Indian sits with them and is proceeding to eat a watermelon. Peachy throws the man off the moving train. So much for political correctness. Peachy is a typically racist ex-NCO in the British army.

Later, Peachy and his BFF Danny Dravot (Connery) meet with Kipling in his office and outline an outrageous plan to cross the Khyber Pass into present-day Afghanistan to become kings in a region called Kafiristan. They sign a contract in front of Kipling that pledges each to abstain from women and drink for the duration of their quest. The audience is told that the last person to conquer Kafiristan was Alexander the Great and his first wife Roxanne was from there.

The mates are off as part of a caravan. They are transporting a mule-load of rifles. The scenery is awesome as the cross the Kyhber Pass (actually shot in Morocco). They cross a raging river in goat skins. When they reach an impassable crevice, their bitter laughter starts an avalanche that covers the gap.

When they reach their destination they have an immediate impact by shooting some horsemen who are attacking some women and kids. They bring a captive to the nearby fortified town where they meet a Gurkha soldier named Billy Fish (Saeed Jaffrey) who is the sole survivor of a map-making expedition. He eagerly agrees to be their interpreter and advisor on local customs. Peachy and Danny offer to train an army for the local chieftain. The village lives in fear of more belligerent villages, so they decide to take up the offer. We get lots of local color like women singing songs and a polo match using a human head.

Next is the obligatory training montage. Danny tells the recruits that “when we’re done with you, you’ll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men.” (A line used later by the CIA with the mujahideen when they delivered Stinger missiles to be used against the Russians in the 1980s, I would guess.) He also tells them: “You are going to become soldiers. A soldier does not think. He only obeys. Do you really think that if a soldier thought twice he’d give up his life for queen and country? Not bloody likely”. Thus does he sum up the British army’s philosophy on discipline.

Let's get the hell out of here before they realize you are only James Bond
In the first battle, the enemy comes swarming out of their village to fall in heaps before the disciplined volley fire of Peachy and Danny’s army. An enemy arrow sticks in Danny’s bandolier under his shirt causing the immediate conclusion that he is a god. Specifically, he is assumed to be the son of Alexander (“Sikander” as they call him). With the morale that comes with having a god as your leader, the army takes several other villages and the army expands.

Danny is smitten with a beautiful woman named Roxanne (just like Alexander was). The boys are summoned to the holy city of Sikandergul to be vetted by the chief priest (played by 103 year old local Karroom Ben Bouih in his only movie). “God’s holy trousers!” say the mates. The priest is very skeptical and wants Danny to stop another arrow as proof of his divinity. Danny refuses and when they rip open his shirt he happens to be wearing a Masonic amulet given to him by Kipling. It just so happens to match the symbol for Sikander. He is proclaimed a god on the spot. Talk about a lucky amulet!

Danny, Billy, and Peachy
Now that he is crowned king, it is revealed that there is a storeroom full of treasure left by Alexander. Peachy and Danny are rich beyond their wildest dreams, as they say. Before returning to civilization, Danny decides to play the role of king to the hilt. He sits in judgment over local crimes and issues proclamations. It naturally goes to his head and cracks in the friendship appear when he insists that Peachy bow before him like everyone else “for appearances sake”. Peachy determines to leave and preoccupies himself with building a bridge over a gorge while he waits for spring. Danny, suffering from delusions of grandeur, decides to stay and develop Kafiristan into a modern country rivaling Britain. Of course a king must have a queen, so Danny decides to marry Roxanne (Michael Caine’s real life wife Shakira). So much for the vow of abstinancy.

When Danny announces his marriage plans, the priests are aghast because a god can not marry. Danny insists, even though everyone in the theater is yelling at him to read the omens. At the wedding, Roxanne is so afraid of marrying a god that she is in a trance-like state until she bites Danny on the cheek. All hell breaks loose as gods cannot bleed. The crowd wants a new polo ball and Peachy uses his riflemen to try to hold them off. Billy makes a suicide charge waving his kukri and yelling “Ayo Gurkhali” to buy time, but the mates are overwhelmed and captured.

CLOSING: Danny apologizes for being such a egotistical fool and Peachy accepts the apology. Danny’s punishment is to have to walk out onto the bridge over the gorge and then have the supports cut causing him to plunge to his death. (Connery performed the stunt landing on a pile of cardboard boxes.) At least he dies instantly, unlike the punishment for Peachy who is crucified between two trees. He miraculously survives the night so they set him free. Flashback over, Peachy reveals what’s in his bag to Kipling.


Acting – 10

Action - 6

Accuracy – 8

Realism – 7

Plot – 9

Overall - 8

WOULD CHICKS DIG IT? Definitely. The story is a classic. The leads are among the greatest leading men of their time. The violence is not graphic. They can elbow their significant other in the ribs at the parts where Danny proves to be an insufferable jerk, like all men would be in his position. Oh, and did I mention that when Danny is getting robed for the wedding, you get to see Sean Connery’s bare ass? No fair fast-forwarding to that scene, ladies.  Or rewinding continuously.  Or pausing and sighing.

ACCURACY: The movie is based on a fictional story so accuracy is not really an issue. However, I can comment that the depiction of life in Afghanistan at that time is authentic. They really did play polo with human heads, for instance. After all, Kipling knew of which he was writing. Peachy and Danny did reflect the attitudes of your typical British soldiers. The Gurkhas were armed with knives called kukri like what Billy wielded. His last war cry, which translates to “the Gurkhas are here!” is the traditional war cry of them.

Kipling got the inspiration for the story from the real-life adventures of an American named Josiah Harlan. Harlan travelled to Afghanistan to become a king. He became involved in politics and military conflicts in the region. He trained local armies and did such a good job that a prince awarded him with the title “Prince of Ghor”. However, when Harlan made a trip back to Kabul, the British came in and conquered his “kingdom” and he was not allowed to return. He bounced around other parts of the world for the rest of his life and did not die falling in a gorge.

The movie follows the story very closely.  Kipling's story is pretty short so Huston had to fill in the details.  He does an outstanding job.  The movie is an excellent companion for the book and what few changes Huston makes with the book are wise ones.  For instance, the book is vague as to why Danny is considered a god.  The movie adds the arrow scene.  Also, the significance of the Masonic symbol is more adeptly handled in the movie. Huston decided wisely to make the unnamed journalist Kipling himself. The ending is different with Danny not leaving the item from the bag on the desk. Two days later, the narrator has Peachy committed to an insane asylum where he dies from the effects of sunstroke.

CRITIQUE: “The Man Who Would Be King” is rollicking fun. As the British would say, “It’s a golly good show”. Caine and Connery were obviously having a great time and it is contagious for the audience. (Of the four pairings considered by Huston, I would imagine them as number two behind Lancaster and Douglas). They have a roguish swagger appropriate for playing two rogues. Something to ponder: if remade today, who should the leads be? Saeed Jaffrey is a great third banana and adds some humor. I was very impressed with him.

John Huston does his usual great job as director. It was a labor of love which took twenty years to bring to fruition. He chose his actors well. They fit their characters perfectly. Even Shakira Caine (who was chosen when Huston was having trouble filling the role) fits well. Perhaps wisely, she is given no lines. She bites well, however. The scenery is beautiful. The score is wonderful. The one battle is artfully staged and accurately reflects modern fire discipline versus swarm tactics. The story is by Kipling so you know it is going to be grand. The script, because it does not sanitize Kipling’s British attitudes, is refreshingly politically incorrect.

My only quibble with it is I do not think it fits comfortably in the war movie genre. . It does not appear in some war movie review books. It is much more of an adventure story than a war story.  It also fits well in the buddy picture genre.  For example, Peachy commends his buddy for being able to "break wind at both ends simultaneously - which is more than any god can do".  That was meant as a compliment, by the way.  Being a war movie / buddy picture makes TMWWBK pretty unique.

CONCLUSION: “The Man Who Would Be King” is one of the great adventure movies. In fact, it should be required viewing for all boys. Or men who still have a bit of the boy still in them. Parents, force your boys to watch it, they’ll thank you after.

Next up:  #73 - The Bridges at Toko-Ri

the trailer

Danny = son of Sikander

Thursday, January 27, 2011

SHOULD I READ IT? "Fires on the Plain"

If you want to watch a horror/war movie, “Fires on the Plain” may be for you. There are other horror movies set in war, but few are based on actual events. This movie is set in the Philippines in 1945 after the American invasion. The Japanese army is on the run and in terrible shape. Director Kon Ichikawa used the novel of the same name by Shohai Ooka as his source. The book and film are meant to be surrealistically anti-war. Mission accomplished.

The movie opens with the protagonist Tamura being scolded by his commander for returning from the hospital, thus giving him another mouth to feed. Tamura is suffering from TB, but not bad enough for the doctors at the hospital. The officer orders Tamura to go back and if they won’t take him, to use a grenade to commit suicide. Tamura says “Yes, sir” and starts on his odyssey as the most pitiful Odysseus in film history.

When he reaches the hospital, the doctor throws him out again and he joins similar “not-sick-enoughs” existing nearby. The only food they have is a little rice and some yams. The actors look appropriately emaciated after preparing for the movie by eating very little and not brushing their teeth or cutting their nails for weeks. The hospital is bombed in a powerful and unforgiving scene. Tamura escapes the destruction and does not go back to see about the wounded. This is the first example of the ambiguity of his war-tested humanity.

In a surprise to American audiences, most of the Japanese soldiers we meet are not gung-ho about dying for the emperor. They are not robotic followers of orders. Most of them simply want to survive. One of them dreams of being taken captive so he can eat American corned beef. At one point, Tamura reaches a village where in a wild confrontation he bayonets a dog that jumps at him. He encounters a young couple who have come back for their hidden cache of salt. When the girl screams, Tamura (seemingly out of character) kills her in cold-blood. Some more humanity slips away. The boy escapes and Tamura gets the salt.

Tamura hooks up with three survivors from his unit. They are part of a thread-bare procession evacuating from Luzon. He shares his bag of salt. They eat the salt straight! In an iconic scene, a soldier exchanges his boots for a pair found on the trail. A series of soldiers do the same with each abandoned pair worse than the last. They have to cross a road with tragic results when tanks attack. The deaths and explosions are unrealistic, but cool.

The film’s central ickiness of cannibalism rears itself when Tamura meets an insane guy who offers for Tamura to eat him when he dies. Tamura declines, but when he links back up with buddies Yasuda and Nagamatsu they are surviving on “monkey meat”. Tamura catches Nagamatsu hunting “monkeys”. When Yasuda gets Tamura’s prized hand grenade, Nagamatsu and Tamura reason it’s them or him. They lay an ambush and kill him, but then Nagamatsu proceeds to carve up the body (thankfully off camera). Tamura shoots the bloody faced, zombie-like Nagamatsu. Alone, Tamura stumbles off toward a fire on the plains which turns out to be…

This is a fascinating movie. There are striking images throughout. The black and white is crisp. The camera angles are interesting with Achikawa using up close facial shots and also long range shots of small figures in nightmarish landscapes. The acting is good. There is some very black humor.  The most important reason to see this film is it explodes the myth that all Japanese soldiers were suicidal and refused to surrender. It was naturally controversial in Japan. Watching it will make you hungry and sad. Eat something salty, but not human.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

#76 - Ran

BACK-STORY: Some of the war movies in the 100 Greatest list are Japanese.  “Ran” was the last epic movie by the great Akira Kurosawa. It took ten years to make, partly because of trouble finding financing. It was released in 1985. Kurosawa, who was an accomplished artist, painted brilliantly colorful storyboards of all the scenes while he waited for funding. He was well into his seventies and going blind before the filming began. The movie is famously based on “King Lear”. The title word is translated into “chaos”. At $12 million it was the most expensive Japanese film at the time. It was critically acclaimed and won an Oscar for Costume Design ( the 1,400 handmade costumes took more than two years to make) and was nominated for Cinematography, Art Direction, and Director. It was not a box office success, however.

story board of one of the castles

OPENING: At a boar hunt, an aging warlord named Hidetora stuns his three sons by proclaiming that he is going into retirement and wants his oldest son to succeed him and get the “first castle”. He wants the three to remain loyal to each other and the family. He uses three arrows to show how individually the arrows can be easily broken, but together are strong. The youngest son, Saburo, is critical of the arrangement and breaks the arrows over his knee. He thinks his father is being na├»ve about the family dynamics. Hidetora is enraged and banishes Saburo and his right hand man Tango.

SUMMARY: Although Saburo comes off as a jerk, it turns out he is right and proves to be the most loyal son. Taro, the eldest, is under the sway of his Lady MacBeth-like wife named Kaede. Her family had been wiped out by Hidetora and she was forced to marry Taro. She is a ruthless schemer and very Machiavellian. She convinces her reluctant husband to demand that Hidetora sign a pledge that Taro now has all the power. Meanwhile, Jiro (the second brother) is plotting the overthrow of Taro. This is a very dysfunctional family.

Hidetora visits Jiro and his wife Sue ( he killed her family, too ) and begs her to hate him. Hidetora is having flashbacks of all the evils he has done. She refuses to hate him – she is a Buddhist and believes her fate was destined. Hidetora has a falling out with his son and is banished to the wilderness. He is going mad. He ends up at the abandoned castle of the banished Saburo. It is here that he is assaulted by the combined forces of Taro and Jiro.

What follows is one of the most remarkable scenes in war movie history. The first half has no sound other than the haunting score. The action is literally a swirl of colors and violence as the two armies storm the castle (which was built full scale for the movie) killing all of Hidetora’s body guard and concubines (not counting the ones that commit suicide). Blood literally runs through the floor boards. Hidetora sits as if in a trance as arrows swish by him. When he comes to and decides to commit seppuku, he finds his sword is broken. The sound suddenly shifts from just the score to just the noises of battle when Taro is assassinated by one of Jiro’s men. There are numerous volleys of musket fire and fire arrows. With the castle afire, Hidetora proceeds to walk down the stairs and out the castle. The two armies part for this obviously insane person who once was the major power in their lives. The castle burns in the background. It is an awesome visual.

Tango and the court jester Kyoami (noted transgender star mono-named Ikehata) find him picking flowers in a field. They take refuge in a castle he had earlier destroyed when he used to be the baddest ass in the area. The castle is occupied by a gentle soul named Tsurumaru (Sue’s brother) who had his eyes gouged out by guess who.

With her husband dead, Kaede is Cleopatra without Antony, but she is not the suicidal type. Not when there is Jiro to be manipulated. She visits him and in a tour de force of acting, first slashes him with a knife and then licks the blood so seductively that Jiro decides this is the woman for him. Later, she fakes tears to get him to kick Sue out. Did I mention she is evil?

While Hidetora goes madder, the plotting thickens. Kaede convinces Jiro’s number two man Kurogane to kill Sue and bring back her head in a box. Kurogane returns with a fox’s head (get the symbolism) which naturally enrages Kaede. Saburo arrives on the plain beside Jiro’s castle to demand his father’s safe return. Saburo does not come alone. He has made an alliance with another warlord who smells blood in the Ichimonji family problems. Jiro agrees to a truce while Saburo goes off to find their father, but Kaede has suggested he send assassins to follow Saburo.

While Saburo is gone the second great set piece battle takes place between Jiro and Saburo’s benefactor plus another vulture-like warlord who arrives on the scene. Jiro’s cavalry charge is decimated by the enemy arquebusiers like the French knights by longbowmen at Agincourt. The scene is Kurosawa’s way of showing the decline of the samurai style of war in the face of modern technology. The sound of the horses charging fills the screen. We see lots of men falling off horses. You wonder if Japan has strict regulations for protecting animals in filming (or thousands of extras, for that matter).

CLOSING: Saburo finds his regret-ridden father and is taking him back to civilization when one of Jiro’s stalking assassins shoots and kills him. Hidetora then dies from everything that he set off at the beginning of the movie. It is one of the hammiest death scenes in cinema history. Jiro retreats to his castle where the head of Sue is brought to him. Kurogane confronts Kaede who admits that all her plotting was to avenge her family. Kurogane wields his sword and we see a bucket of blood thrown onto the wall. Cool! The film ends with the blind Tsurumaru teetering on the edge of the castle wall where he lives.


Action - 8

Acting - 8

Accuracy - 6

Realism - 6

Plot - 8

Overall - 8

WOULD CHICKS DIG IT? It depends on if they like Shakespeare. This is basically a Japanese Shakesperean drama. It is also something of a bloody soap opera. There are some strong female characters, especially Lady Kaede. She is one of the most remarkable females in cinema. Be careful that your significant other does not get any ideas from her! But then again, if she ever approaches you with a knife it could mean you are going to have the best sex of your life. If you have a dysfunctional family, this movie will make you feel better about your situation because it cannot possibly be as bad the Ichimonji family.

ACCURACY: The movie is set in the period of the “Warring States” in the 16th Century in Japan. This was the period when rival warlords called daimyos battled for control of regions of Japan. Kurosawa based Hidetora on the legendary daimyo Mori Motonari who had three sons and used the arrow analogy to explain to them how they needed to remain loyal to each other. That particular story had a happy ending. Kurosawa decided to imagine what would have happened if the sons were bad.

The warfare in “Ran” is fairly accurately depicted. The feudal Japanese armies did consist of foot soldiers and cavalry. The armor was accurate for that era. We do see the transition from the samurai with their bows and swords to the peasant levies with their new European style arquebuses. Kurosawa accurately foreshadows the death of the bushido code and its traditional ways of fighting. Modern is not always better.

Tactics in the final battle are off a bit. A competent general (perhaps Jiro was incompetent) would not have led off with a cavalry charge, especially if he could clearly see fire-armed men stationed in the woods to ambush them. Jiro would have led with his infantry, but then we might not have had the thundering hooves scene with the numerous dehorsings.

One other thing, I was not aware that an arquebus could be fired continuously without reloading. Not once in the battle scenes did I see anyone reloading.

CRITIQUE: This is a grand movie in every sense of the word. It is the closing argument for Kurosawa being one of the greatest movie directors. Everything is over the top – the acting, the dysfunctionality, the battle scenes, the visuals. Hell, they built a castle and then burned it to the ground! They spray painted an entire field gold and then did not use the shot in the film!

The themes are powerful. They include the ripple effect of a decision. At the opening, Hidetora decides to pass on his authority to his oldest son and look what happens. Second, the gods have abandoned us. There are several references to this by characters. Third, what you did in your past can literally and figuratively come back to haunt you. Fourth, a family can become a battleground that leads to actual battles.

The imagery is striking. The actor who portrays Hidetora wears traditional Noh makeup that sets his character apart and gives him a demonic look. Kurosawa uses clouds to symbolize the moods of the scenes. Storm clouds – watch out. Much of the film is shot from a distance, even the intimate scenes.

The acting is best described as Japanese. There is a lot of shouting and emoting. I did not particularly like Hidetora’s portrayer, Tatsuya Nakadai. He chewed the scenery even more than what you expect in a Japanese flick. His death scene was giggle-inducing. However, Meiko Hrada as Lady Kaede makes up for his faults. She is chillingly amazing. There is also the fool Kyoami who can be aggravating but serves the purpose of being the opposite of the typically macho male characters.

The battles are justifiably famous. They are messy as I would imagine a real battle would be. You see the fog of war depicted from the comfort of your home. If it were not for the colorful banners, you would not be able to tell which side is which. These scenes are also pretty graphic for a 1980s movie. One soldier takes an arrow in the eye and another holds his severed arm (note to Spielberg – that would work well in a D-Day movie). There are enough killings to sate even the most bloodthirsty war movie buff.

CONCLUSION: Even though you will have to read the subtitles, it’s well worth the watching. The battles within the family and on the battlefields are intense. It is not a standard war movie, but you cannot argue against combining Shakespeare with battles. As the British would appropriately say, it’s a bloody good show!

Next up:  #75 - Henry V

Below on the left is the trailer and on the right is one of the battle scenes.