Thursday, July 08, 2010

AKIRA KUROSAWA @ 100—Cinema Scope

In his hundredth year it seems you can't turn around without bumping elbows with the films of Akira Kurosawa, which have been celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. Continuing at the Pacific Film Archive (PFA) through August 29 is the 30-film series organized by Susan Oxtoby, which is nearing its halfway point. Meanwhile, PFA's colleagues at the Cinematheque Ontario have launched their comparable series entitled Akira Kurosawa—Centenary of a Sensei, running through Monday, August 2, 2010. As is their generous custom, Cinematheque Ontario's website is rich with suggested links and Kurosawa fans are invited to glean further insights on their favorite films.

Add Andrew Tracy's provocative critique
"The Poetics of Departure: Kurosawa at 100" in the current issue of Cinema Scope (Issue 43, Vol. 12, No. 2, Summer 2010). Tracy suggests that—through decades-long cultural positioning—Kurosawa has achieved a "transhistorical unity" and a kind of sanctified "completeness" largely denied other lauded auteurs, even as he prompts the question of "why [Kurosawa's] presence among the most active and engaged sectors of present-day cinephilia feels so pallid."

Whether or not one actually concurs with the question, Tracy sets about to structure his own answer. He writes intriguingly about a "rather frictionless quality found in so many of Kurosawa's films—the inability to do anything with them beyond that which they themselves set out to do" as potential explanation for "the slightly dispiriting quality of Kurosawa's mastery", which "blocks that interpretive space wherein the viewer can become a participant in the work." Veering towards the iconoclastic even as he (healthily) skewers the hagiographic, Tracy argues that Kurosawa's narrative skills as a "postwar modernist" actually "disavows that ruminative space wherein critical performativity can function" and suggests that this may account for why contemporary critics can't do much with Kurosawa's ouevre.

Tracy observes: "It is Kurosawa's consistent inability to subordinate himself to the autonomy of the images which he was so gifted in conjuring, to let them unfold into multiple paths, that places him below Ozu or Mizoguchi, filmmakers who possessed this quality intrinsically—or rather, rigorously refined their skills all the better to allow those images to take leave of them." Here is where his essay's title comes into focus. "Rather than monolithic fixity," Tracy continues, "it's this poetics of departure that offers the timeliest means of navigation for a film world exploding outwards exponentially."

It's a provocative critique, a compelling read, and a welcome (yes, poetic) departure from the received wisdom on Akira Kurosawa.

Cross-published on

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