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AK 100: 25 Films of Akira Kurosawa

  • Film
  • 5 out of 5 stars
FACE/OFF Susumu Fujita, right, stares down his opponent in Sanshiro Sugata, Part II.
FACE/OFF Susumu Fujita, right, stares down his opponent in Sanshiro Sugata, Part II.

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

He wasn’t the most prolific Japanese director churning out gritty social melodramas and head-slapping genre masterpieces during the country’s midcentury golden age. But Akira Kurosawa’s impact can’t be overstated: He almost single-handedly introduced the Western world to J-cinema’s fertile output—as well as to his peers—when his whodunit-whichisit mystery Rashomon wowed the 1950 Venice Film Festival. By the time he’d passed away in 1998, his impressive, varied body of work was considered a touchstone of the seventh art. (Historians could argue that the man nicknamed “The Emperor” wasn’t the era’s most significant visionary, though that doesn’t mean they should.)

Collecting 25 of his 31 movies in one single, Zen-minimalist box, Criterion’s AK 100 essentially gives you Kurosawa’s entire career in one container: Westernized samurai epics (The Seven Samurai), Eastern case studies (Ikiru), literary adaptations of both high art (Throne of Blood, The Idiot) and low pulp (Stray Dog), early journeyman efforts (Drunken Angel) and autumnal fade-outs (Madadayo). It’s a stunning collection in both quality and quantity, even with a few conspicuously absent titles—both Dersu Uzala and Ran are AWOL due to rights issues—and the lack of supplements except for liner notes by scholars Stephen Prince and Donald Richie. Of the titles making their DVD debut, Kurosawa’s martial-arts potboiler Sanshiro Sugata (1943) and its sequel, Sanshiro Sugata, Part II (1945) are the highlights; the completists-only propaganda curio The Most Beautiful (1944) simply proves that his days toiling away at Toho Studios would eventually pay off. Still, this box set is a bounty. Any true appreciation of Japanese cinema begins here.—David Fear

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