Kurosawa vs. Kobayashi:
The Futility of Exposition
After watching The Human Condition (1959-1961), one gets the feeling that Akira Kurosawa was like the quitter(s) in Masaki Kobayashi's trilogy. They called Kurosawa a coward (he tried to commit suicide). They accused him of not confronting the enemies of his times (he preferred ghosts of the national past to living devils). They said he didn't give his villains a face or put on too tough a battle. But then the Russians or the commies don't come across as the real villains in The Human Condition. The real enemies of the people of Japan are the Japanese themselves. Kurosawa makes exactly the same point over and again in most of his films, doesn't he? Take The Bad Sleep Well (1960) or Red Beard (1965) for instance, aren't they similar to The Human Condition in their themes minus the political exposition?
While I enjoyed the sword fight in Harakiri (1962) (it was otherwise a dull movie), I think Sadao Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937) is far superior in its representation of the reality of a Samurai family fallen on difficult times. If Kurosawa does seem Hollywoodish like Satyajit Ray (another filmmaker accused of being 'too Western'), Kobayashi's dependency on novelistic device to use space and time doesn't necessarily mean that he makes an impact as one would expect from such a great polemic. Perhaps that is what David Thomson means when he says Kobayashi isn't quite original like Yasujiro Ozu or Kenji Mizoguchi (and Kurosawa is not as great as both of them).
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