Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kurosawa's Scope

The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

Kurosawa understood the nature of cinema or a motion picture at its most plastic and molecular level - as an assembly of pieces of film. As a result, a Kurosawa film may often resemble the most basic device of film itself : the film strip. More than anyone else's, it is easy to envision his films as moving 'horizontally' (i.e., the assemblage of the pieces of film, and not the chronology) The horizontal nature of his films is compounded by the infamous usage of the 'horizontal wipe' transition - wherein one image would be pushed into oblivion  another, oncoming one, that would slide in from the right. More than that, however, he lent his film a strictly horizontal quality by composing in the TohoScope - the Japanese comeback to the Cinemascope. 

While the American understanding of the 'Scope was rather businessman-like, and focused  on 'scale' (like Americans often are), Kurosawa's reception of the aspect-ratio was that of the mountaineer faced with a greater height. If the American approach was that of accommodation, his was one of placement. The West took to the Scope as a bigger boat - one that can fit in more people (the method of quantity), directors in the east sought to fit in the same number of people as earlier, but arrange them on the frame area in a manner that created more 'points of action' in the frame - a quality of the Scope that Tati brought to consummation with Playtime.

Following are a few images from one of the earlier Kurosawa works shot on a TohoScope - The Bad Sleep Well.  The final image is that of Mifune standing in the background of the image (the Japanese graphic art is composed often in three planes) on a garbage heap as two characters converse in the fore. Mifune was a beast of a man - one of the few who could suggest more than just the presence of a  human body when placed in a cinematic long-shot - Kurosawa used this quality in all the films he made with Mifune.

 And the 'beast'. 

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