Two late-1940s movies Kurosawa wrote and others directed

I thought that Shimura Takashi, who appeared in more Kurosawa Akira movies than anyone else, was great in “Snow Trail” (or “To the End of the Silver Mountains,” Ginrei no hate, 1947), which was written by Kurosawa Akira, directed by Taniguchi Senkichi on location in Hokkaido on Mount Hakuba. He and Mifune and Kosugi Yoshio are three bank robbers who flee with their loot into avalanche-prone mountains with no road out. They lack both mountaineering experience and the physical stamina for a high-altitude trek.

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Mifune, in his screen debut, with a mustache, is fierce and overflowing with resentments. Shimura (in one of his best roles/performances) goes from being a tough criminal to saving the life of the mountaineer forced to lead them over the mountain, Honda (Kôno Akitake). (Kosugi is swept away in an avalanche fairly early.) The screenplay seems pretty rudimentary to me, mostly relying on the terrain covered with lots and lots of snow. (The opening and the underlit bath scene are noirish, though most of the movie takes place in a decidedly unurban location. Mifune helped with the camera work, not planning to become an actor before the movie and “Druken Angel,” directed by Kurosawa with Shimura in the title role, made him a star.)

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Kinoshita Keisukes 1948 “The Portrait” (Shozo) from a script by Kurosawa seems more Kinoshita sentimental than Kurosawan, not that Kurosawa had any distinctive reputation then. “The Portrait” is not unlike Kurosawa’s small-scale, Capraesque 1947 “One Wonderful Sunday”  with its alternation of optimism and difficulty following WWII. Midori (Igawa Kunijo), the mistress of a real-estate speculator moves into the upper story of a house he has just bought with an associate to drive out the tenants, a painter and his family, including a daughter-in-law and grandson. The daughter assumes Midori is the daughter of the older man and her father paints a portrait that exudes a virtue Midori thinks false, but which influences her, after a drunken confession to the daughter-in-law, who knew the score but believes the strength and beauty of the portrait are within Midori. The family is like the pair in “One Wonderful Sunday” in finding joys that don’t cost money.

I was unimpressed by the visuals from Kusuda Hiroshi, who was Kinoshita’s brother-in-law and shot most of the 51 Kinoshita-directed movies (many of which, including this one, are available streaming on Hulu.com).

 

©2016,  Stephen O. Murray

 

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