THE DVD SHELF: From Kurosawa to Capra, Schlesinger to Pasolini, an End of the Year Grab Bag

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23 Dec 2012

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"Rashomon," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Brazil," a collection of Frank Capra films and Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Trilogy of Life" are screened in this month's column, offering some last-minute holiday gift ideas.


With 2013 fast approaching, we cast an eye upon the stack of unwatched (or partially watched) 2012 DVD and Blu-ray releases. We will save some for January, but otherwise now clear the decks in time for you to deck your halls with discs. Those which interest you, at least. So herewith are a clutch of films, some of which really do deserve more space than we have for them.

Like an assortment of items from the Criterion Collection, headed by Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. This 1950 film won two major awards at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, becoming the first Japanese movie to achieve international acclaim — including an Academy Honorary Award as the best foreign film of the year. (In 1956, this became a category in its own right.) "Rashomon" is stark and riveting; it is also notable for being one of the few films to find its way into the psychological casebook (as "the Rashomon effect"). The film recounts a violent murder, with four participants offering contradictory eyewitness accounts. Between Kurosawa's intriguing storytelling, the strong performances (led by the riveting Toshiro Mifune), and the startling cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa, "Rashomon" launched Japanese film into the western world and instantly established Kurosawa as a major force.

Criterion gives us an impeccable Blu-ray; they seem to take their time with their restorations, making sure they get everything right. Special features include an interview with director Richard Altman about the film; excerpts from "The World of Kazuo Miyagawa," about the cinematographer; and an hour-long documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew. This plus a booklet featuring an essay by historian Stephen Prince, an excerpt from Kurosawa's autobiography, and the two short stories (from 1915 and 1922) by Ryunosuke Akutagawa upon which the film is based. For repeated viewing, I myself prefer Kurosawa and Mifune's "Seven Samurai," which came along in 1954, and which is also available from Criterion on a spectacularly good Blu-ray. But "Rashomon" is not to be missed.

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