Saturday, August 8, 2009


I meant to post these a few months ago when they were written:

Sunshine through the Rain
The coming of age theme in Sunshine through the Rain is developed through the innocence of the child. The child is wearing white, which represents purity, the purity and innocence of a child. Kurosawa uses fog and natural framing to draw attention to the foxes; they appear from within the trees surrounded by mistiness. The mist and slow, yet sudden movement of the foxes create an eerie effect, mirroring the suspense and emotions of the young boy. Frames are created with tall trees and low-lying shrubbery that separate the boy from the foxes, in both a literal and figurative way. The overbearingly large shut door to his home shows how he has become isolated from his family as a punishment. The decision placed upon his shoulders upon meeting his mother of choosing to commit suicide and die an honorable death or beg for forgiveness opens the coming of age story, as he must learn to deal with consequences, developing maturity. The final scene reveals the complexity that the future holds, an open field of flowers leads to mountains surrounded by dark storm clouds with a rainbow running across from the field to the other side of the mountains. This ironic scene shows that the boy may endure some turbulence in the future (dark clouds), and perhaps even a roadblock (mountains), but there is still hope for a brighter day (rainbow). The stark differences between the two sides of the journey show that the boy may be going through a transitional phase to maturity, from the brightness and innocence of childhood (field of flowers) to becoming a responsible individual (overcoming challenge, getting to the other side).

The Peach Orchard
The themes of respect, innocence, and tradition are prevalent in this short. Kurosawa uses a small child as the main character, a small child that carries the burden of one family’s decision to chop down the peach blossom trees. The child’s innocence is made apparent as he shows remorse for the absence of the peach trees and is brought to tears by the performance of the dolls one last time and recognizes the importance of such a tradition. The dreamy look that is created as the sun shines through the trees as the young boy runs through the forest is used as a transition from reality to non-reality as the dolls become real. Upon first confrontation with the real-life dolls, music is used to create tension.

The Blizzard
The Blizzard consists of a relatively static scene showing four men attempting to return to their camp while enduring intense, snowy winds and fatigue. Slow motion is used in several scenes to convey this level of fatigue. The themes of courage and perseverance advance the plot as one leader attempts to encourage his three men to continue through the extreme weather. The clanking of their equipment, the rope that attaches them together, represents life. As long as there is sound, there is movement, thus there is life. The loud, winded breaths of the leader also signify life and that they could possibly be on the edge of life. A ghostlike woman appears, most likely Yuki-onna, a deceptively sweet, yet evil, snow goddess of Japanese folklore, just as the three other men have given up. She encourages the leader of the group to give in to the snowstorm and sleep, as the snow is hot and welcoming. She covers him in a shiny, sparkly blanket. The contrast between the blanket and the snow shows the deception of the situation. As she disappears, her face transitions to a demonic image, assuring the viewer of her malicious intent if it was not made obvious already. As she disappears another loud, but unidentified rumble is heard. With the quick cuts to the top of the mountain and falling snow, it is perceived that an avalanche may occur, but with a look back, it is revealed that the rumble was the sound of the flag at their camp.

The Tunnel
Authority plays a large role in anything related to war. In The Tunnel, an army officer is reminded of the results of his actions as an authority figure through nightmare-like hallucinations as he travels through a tunnel returning from war. Before entering the tunnel the officer is met by a barking anti-tank dog strapped with explosives. As he walks through the tunnel, the echo of his footsteps is exaggerated. Only his steps can be heard, symbolic of the solitude he faces returning home alone from war. The backdrop on this side of the tunnel is dark and cloudy, opposed to the brightness at the entrance of the tunnel. This is a reverse representation of the common metaphor that “there is light at the end of a tunnel”. As he is met by a fallen soldier in disbelief of his death and then the entire platoon, the officer is reminded of the consequences of his decisions, shedding light on the fact that with war, the “other side” may not always be bright; one’s perspective on life is permanently altered. The reappearance of the dog at the end is symbolic in two ways; a dog is man’s companion, it will always follow, the dog serves as a constant reminder of his memories, like a reoccurring dream, and also the bark represents the symbolic bite of war, his memories that will never heal.

This short begins in an art gallery of Vincent Van Gogh with an admiring young artist, who may resemble Kurosawa in his early days. Within the blink of an eye, one of the paintings transforms into a live scene. Vibrant colors are used to perfectly recreate the painting; the transition temporarily deceives the reader, as there is a brief pause between the cut from the painting in the museum to the live scene before movement can be seen. The young man meets Van Gogh, at work, where he delivers some advice about his work habits, comparing it to that of a locomotive. Imagery and sounds of a train are intertwined with the scenes depicting Van Gogh at work. He also explains how his paintings often paint themselves because he views them as dreams. This may be the focal point of the entire collection of shorts and Kurosawa’s work in general. Van Gogh soon disappears and the young artist attempts to find him, literally getting lost in one of his paintings instead. The transformation from real life to painting is expressed through a brief black and white transition. This transformation is also symbolic of the young artist’s transformation from an observer to an artist, one that has become immersed in the work.

Mount Fuji in Red
The apocalyptic Mount Fuji in Red has an environmentalist and political undertone while showcasing human desperation and fear as a consequence of man-made problems. An active volcano disturbs a nuclear power plant and leads to a nuclear meltdown. Pure chaos ensues as people stampede towards the ocean as the deep red sky hovers above. The sound of the explosions and volcano rumbling are louder than any of the sirens, showing that at this point, it has become greater than any possible human preparation or intervention. The explosions and highlighting of the volcano create such a beautiful, yet terrifying sight that it forces the people to pause and stare in disbelief. After the major explosion, the only thing that remains are material possessions and a few people, a symbolic sight, as man created nuclear power, and the only things that remain are man-made objects, no humans. For the few that are left before the final red blow of death, the ocean creates a suicide temptation with the dominant sound of the crashing waves, to escape the luring and fatal winds.

The Weeping Demon
Reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno, cannibalistic demons roam aimlessly on this post-apocalyptic land. The message in this short is that lack of respect for the planet leads to destruction and mutation of the earth, evident by the barren land and enormous growths. This had lead to a reversal and human behavior, from civilized to prehistoric and demon-like.

Village of the Watermill
The final short in Dreams, Village of the Watermill, holds a vital message about purity and simplicity. The subplot about the stranger that was buried under the rock is used to share the morals of the people of the village. The watermills represent how the people of the village rely on the means of the land to live and manipulate or cultivate the land to live the most natural lifestyle. The old man shares his beliefs on how technology isn't always necessary or best and alters the normal way of life and how man was destined to live. He also sheds that death is celebrated at an old age, as it is only natural and a relief from one's harsh duties on earth. The celebration leading up to the burial of the old woman, a celebration of life rather than death perhaps, is a reflection of this. The colorful and lively parade with upbeat music and cheerful dance moves also complement this outlook on life.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Yojimbo is Akira Kurosawa's take on Western-style film. Though set in 1860, both the plot and cinematography resemble that of a traditional Western while still retaining a strong Japanese influence.

The opening scene empowers the main character, Sanjuro. Only his backside is displayed as he trots through the wildness. Sanjuro's odd stance with his arms tucked inside his kimono, combined with his posture and gait, reveal a sense of confidence. The music used in this scene also enhances this complex as the samurai marches to the beat of the percussion. This confidence is also seen in his first major confrontation with the villagers. Little conversations leads to swift action and a minor fight scene causing the death of three troublemakers and also setting the tone for the rest of the film; Sanjuro is a powerful force not to be reckoned with.

The setting almost identically resembles the set of a Western; a small, desolate town with a main road down the center surrounded by open wilderness and mountains in the background. The Japanese influence is maintained with costumes, props, such as weaponry, and interior decoration.

Kurosawa's trademark sweeping transition is implemented in Yojimbo, as most of his other films.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tucker: The Man and His Dream

Tucker: The Man and His Dream is a film directed by Francis Ford Copolla about Preston Tucker and his vision of producing his own cars. The film retells the story of the Tucker Corporation from it's humble beginnings, to a hopeful future, to it's immediate and sudden downfall, somewhat serving as a documentary about Preston Tucker, the Tucker '48, and the state of the auto industry in the 1940's.

The plot naturally advances with the suspenseful decisions made often throughout the story and with the help of Tucker's witty, yet cheerful character. Tucker has relatively lighthearted and often childish or unrealistic reactions to serious business matters. The plot also incorporates a history lesson as well. In order to start up his company, receive funding and property, and ensure that he had fair access to materials, Tucker had to interact with the government on several levels, though mostly economic. The influence of the powerful Big Three, GM, Ford, and Chrysler, in the automobile industry directly controlled government in that area.

Copolla creatively implemented transitions by simply having the character slide into the next scene, where the new set, perhaps hundreds of miles away in the film, would conveniently be located behind the door or a few steps away. Most notably the scene where Tucker is speaking to his wife in a phone booth, assuring her that he'll be home shortly, and instead of opening the phone booth door to the hallway, it is the front door of their home. This technique is used sparingly in the film, which adds an element of surprise when a character suddenly appears somewhere else not expected, but ever so smoothly.

The spotlight effect is infused with the natural lighting of many indoor scenes, such as inside the Tucker home, a board meeting, or a conversation under a lamp post late at night. This likens the setting to what one would expect to see on a stage, as performed in a play. It particularly draws attention to the actions taking place in such a setting.

Most recognizable is the big band score that is heard during most of the film. This adds an element of cheeriness throughout the entire film and highlights the hopefulness of Tucker's dream in spite of opposition.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Movie-Going Experience

With the improvements and significant price drops of home theater systems in the past few years, the movie-going experience almost appears to be a trivial pastime. It seems like every few months ticket and concession prices are rising. Why do we even bother going to the theaters anymore?

Going to see a movie is more than just going to see a movie. Most often it is a social experience as well. It's a chance to see what's coming next with the previews, it's a chance to get that one snack you can't find anywhere else, it's a chance to enjoy oneself.  At the theater, you can immerse yourself in the film, temporarily away from the distractions of the real world.

Watching a movie at the theater definitely has it's perks: huge screens, great sound, company, and sometimes even luxury. Legally, the movie theatre is the only place to see the hottest new flicks, but illegal methods or patience can change that, which brings us to the flipside, the home movie experience.

As mentioned previously, quality is no longer much of an issue with improved home theater systems. Seemingly everyone has a beautiful, widescreen HDTV now, and a halfway decent surround sound system isn't hard to come by either. So now you have a setup in your living room that rivals that of some big expensive theatre. You can view movies at your discretion, from the comfort of your own home, in your pajamas, while an enjoying a delicious meal or reasonably priced snacks at the same time. 

Though not as taboo as before, one can even enjoy the same first-run movies at home with bootlegs. No, they're not only sold by sketchy characters in front of the corner store in the hood any more. Besides downloading movies online, there is also a very well organized system if you have the "hook-up". Lists are released weekly of what the movie man has acquired or his full collection, with details on whether it is a studio copy, regular quality, a DVD rip, or an in-movie recording, and even sometimes specials such as 5-for-$20 or buy 3, get one free. The decision to purchase bootlegs pretty much boils down to ethics.

The most apparent difference between the movie-going experience and the home theater experience is the cost. At first, the home theater experience may appear cheaper, but the initial costs are far more expensive and it must be a long-term investment in order to be worthwhile. Ignoring the initial costs for the home-theater system, let's compare the annual costs. For a family of four, an average trip to the movies would cost about $60 ($8/ticket, ~$30 in snacks). This would equate to $720 in movie-going expenses for an entire year. For the price of one movie trip, the family could by three new-release DVDs or 15 bootlegs -- either way, everyone in the family gets something they like. On a monthly basis, the family could buy one new-release movie and order pizza for about $40 and spend $480 annually. Of course DVDs go on sale all the time but never movie tickets. (Sidenote: There are so many factors that contribute to both movie-viewing experiences that it's pretty much impossible to fully evaluate both. Well I could, but I won't.)

So is the movie-going experience still worth it? Yes and no. For some popular, action-packed, must-see movies like Transformers 2 coming out this summer, absolutely. But for other casual films that don't necessarily demand the perks of seeing it in a theater, probably not. Another factor not to be ignored is the reason for watching a movie; is it for the plot, the cinematography, the hype, the actors, the social experience, the message? These also all influence how one physically views a movie.

It is not to by implied that one should abandon one system for the other; actually, the best situation would probably be to have a healthy combination of both. Even though it may be a huge splurge nowadays, who doesn't love staring at 20ft screen while munching on $10 popcorn, $4 candy, and $6 soda? 

Ten Myths About Digital

Videography created a list of myths surrounding digital technologies. This article stemmed from all the buzz and confusion surrounding the DTV transition and involves misconceptions spewed by those pretending to be in-the-know or those simply uninformed. Much of the confusion is a result of the lack of an official, appropriate, and widely accepted definition of the word 'digital'. The undefined expression has many meanings, applications, and interpretations, many of which the author details, in length, in the article.

The list:
1. On Feb. 18 of next year, broadcasters will have to start transmitting HDTV.
2. Digital is another word for binary.
3. Digital is always perfectly reproducible.
4. Digital is better than analog.
5. Digital is noise free.
6. Digital is new.
7. Digital is more flexible.
8. Bits are bits.
9. Old media are analog.
10. Digital will change everything.

The Article

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Throne of Blood

Mirroring Shakespeare's Macbeth, Throne of Blood illustrates


Thank You For Smoking

Jason Reitman does an excellent job of masking a vital message in Thank You For Smoking.

Tobacco spokesman, Nick Naylor, is contracted to save the tobacco industry. The quick thinking and slick-tongued spokesman can practically talk his way out of anything and convince almost anyone to do anything. While he does not smoke himself and must remain a role model for his son, who is now the stepson of a physician, he also must do his job. Just as Nick evaluates his morals as his son questions them, the film frames the platform for the viewer to do the same. Common transitions are also nicely integrated to show change of location.

The thought-provoking story exposes the corruption in the tobacco industry, but reminds us that those working in it are human too.