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Samurai Cinema!

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This weeklong festival of Japanese action films, screening in new prints, runs Friday through Thursday, March 3 through 9, at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport. Tickets for each film are $9.25, $8.25 for the first screening on Monday through Thursday. For more information call 773-871-6604.

Harakiri

Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 film is the Japanese equivalent of an antiwestern: an antisamurai epic about the meaninglessness of the traditional code of honor, here embodied by a soldier who fights to avenge the forced suicide of his son-in-law. In Japanese with subtitles. 135 min. (DK) a Sun 3/5, 1:40 and 6:40 PM, and Mon 3/6, 7:15 PM

The Hidden Fortress

Samurai leader Toshiro Mifune conducts his princess, Misa Uehara, across a war-torn landscape to safety in a casual, often satiric action film directed by Akira Kurosawa. The princess turns out to be a tough, imperious wench, the samurai is perceived as a cunning manipulator, and the foreground is taken over by two quarrelsome, grubbing peasants. George Lucas says he lifted the plot of Star Wars from this 1958 production, which remains the only Kurosawa film unburdened by a need to make art. In Japanese with subtitles. 139 min. (DK) a Wed 3/8, 7:10 PM

R Kill!

One of the most striking examples of the vibrant cross-pollination that existed between samurai films and westerns of the 60s and 70s, this darkly comic 1968 offering directed by Kihachi Okamoto (Samurai Assassin, Sword of Doom) borrows liberally from Sergio Leone (whose Fistful of Dollars was in fact a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo). Masaru Sato's Ennio Morricone-inspired score sets the tone, and the estimable Tatsuya Nakadai stars as a derelict yakuza drifter who was once a great warrior. After arriving in a squalid ghost town he befriends an impoverished farmer (Etsushi Takahashi), and they quickly become enmeshed in a bloody battle between peasant villagers and a renegade faction of samurai. In Japanese with subtitles. 114 min. (JK) a Fri 3/3, 5 and 9:40 PM, and Sat 3/4, 4:40 and 9:20 PM

R Samurai Rebellion

Set in 1725, Masaki Kobayashi's elegiac samurai film (1967) is a scathing indictment of Japan's oppressive Tokugawa shogunate era. Toshiro Mifune, in a richly articulated performance, stars as Isaburo, the top swordsman of his clan whose son is ordered to marry his leader's unruly concubine after she's banished from the palace. Isaburo, who is stuck in a loveless marriage, fears a similar fate for his son, but his worries are allayed when the marriage proves successful. He retires and becomes a contented grandfather--until his daughter-in-law is ordered back to the palace. Kobayashi expertly ratchets up the tension until the final act when Isaburo and his son stage a bloody, futile rebellion. Tatsuya Nakadai costars as Mifune's conflicted ally. In Japanese with subtitles. 121 min. (JK) a Fri 3/3, 7:20 PM, and Sat 3/4, 2:20 and 7 PM

Samurai Saga

A 1959 samurai remake of Cyrano de Bergerac. Hiroshi Inagaki directed; with Toshiro Mifune. In Japanese with subtitles. 111 min. a Tue 3/7, 7:20 PM

R The Seven Samurai

Akira Kurosawa's best film is also his most Americanized, drawing on classical Hollywood conventions of genre (the western), characterization (ritual gestures used to distinguish the individuals within a group), and visual style (the horizon lines and exaggerated perspectives of John Ford). Of course, this 1954 film also returned something of what it borrowed, by laying the groundwork for the "professional" western (Rio Bravo, etc) that dominated the genre in the 50s and 60s. Kurosawa's film is a model of long-form construction, ably fitting its asides and anecdotes into a powerful suspense structure that endures for all of the film's 208 minutes. The climax--the battle in the rain and its ambiguous aftermath--is Kurosawa's greatest moment, the only passage in his work worthy of comparison with Mizoguchi. In Japanese with subtitles. (DK) a Thu 3/9, 7 PM

Sword of Doom

Tatsuya Nakadai as a princely swordsman whose obsession with his craft threatens to turn into madness. Kihachi Okamoto directed this 1966 feature; with Toshiro Mifune. In Japanese with subtitles. 119 min. a Sun 3/5, 4:20 and 9:20 PM, and Mon 3/6, 5 and 9:50 PM

Three Outlaw Samurai

A 1964 samurai epic by Hideo Gosha. In Japanese with subtitles. 95 min. a Tue 3/7, 5:20 and 9:30 PM

R Yojimbo

Akira Kurosawa has any number of dramatic and cinematic cliches (both American and Japanese) to overcome--and does so brilliantly--in this action-packed, highly comic 1961 translation of Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest to the samurai movie tradition. Toshiro Mifune is incomparable as the masterless samurai who wanders into a small war between two rival gangs and proceeds to set things right by further stirring them up. In Japanese with subtitles. 110 min. (DD) a Wed 3/8, 5 and 9:50 PM

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