Bit Analysis

Bit Composer Analysis: Joe Hisaishi

Joe Hisaishi, whose birth name is Mamoru Fujisawa, is a Japanese film composer who is acclaimed worldwide for his scores. He was a frequent collaborator with Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Kitano, in which he is most popularly known for. Hisaishi has a deep appreciation for music, and like many composers he is influenced by classical music and French romanticism. A key composer which seems to influence Hisaishi is French composer Claude Debussy. Hisaishi’s style and arrangement is similar to Debussy, as Debussy’s Clair De Lune features similar melodies to Miyazaki’s Spirited Away main theme regarding arrangement and tone. Hisaishi takes his position as a film composer as absolute. Hisaishi believes that music isn’t something to fill the silence in film, and in turn it is an element on its own which drives the story and can manipulate an audience’s response. In this essay, I will look at Hisaishi as a composer and see if he has any distinct trademarks in his style specifically by looking at his work for Kitano and Miyazaki.

 

One director whose primary genre is crime and the other who focuses on fantasy worlds, Kitano and Miyazaki couldn’t be more different in their genres and types of filmmaking. However, they have one big thing in common, their use of composer Hisaishi. Both were frequent collaborators with Hisaishi, until Miyazaki retired and Kitano parted ways with him. Despite the two different directors, Hisaishi has a sort of signature that he uses in his music. His arrangement of melody repetition is something that is replicated in a variety of his scores. Most often in the scores themselves, the melody is repeated in the song. An example would be his track “Summer” from Kitano’s Kikijuro, the track begins with a violin leading in the music with a four-note piece that has an adagio tempo. Then, the violin is followed by a seven-note melody played on the piano that is the melody for the track. The piano piece is played in minor to give a bittersweet and melancholy emotion which follows the emotive space onscreen. The song begins with the title credits, an animated sequence which at first follows the violins pace on an eye zooming in the see the vision in the eye. The piano plays as we see guardian angels over one child in bed, then cutting to an angel figure stood over a bed of flowers. The title of the film appears, followed by stereotypically oriental sounds and the melody played earlier on piano is now played on a synthesiser to change the sound of the melody. The oriental sounds are distinct as the bells and woodwind instruments convey an East-Asian sound, and this is something Hisaishi does quite often and it helps him stand out from other composers and is part of his signature. The seven-note melody from earlier on is now repeated but now it sounds almost different with the other assortments but instead of giving a sad emotion, it gives us context into the world we are about to be brought into.

 

As we see the young boy running onscreen in slow motion, the piano tune returns still in minor to convey a bittersweet emotion. He is alone and the angels on his back suggest he is the boy in the opening credit cartoon, but it’s the music that manipulates the audience to feel sympathetic for the boy as the notes are arranged so that they sound sorrowful. The violin continues steadily until the music picks up as we hear another seven-note melody on the piano followed by the violin which becomes allegro and matches the piano melody. The music begins to crescendo and suggests a prominent danger which is matched onscreen as the boys are running away from suspected bullies. An added cello to the sound makes the danger seem even more closer as the deep notes suggest something is lurking behind them. The piano melody turns into a five-note melody making it more faster in sound and highlighting the urgency even more as they run. As the music hits its heaviest moment, the music slows down and returns to the simple original seven-note melody and violin in the background with a harp as well. The notes sound isolated and far apart, they reflect the two main characters in the film and their emotions. This piece overall reflects the characters and their feeling of isolation and alienation due to their situations, Kikijuro (Beat Takeshi) acts with anger and Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) feels sad. The track “Summer” is one of Hisaishi’s most notable songs as it features many of his signatures, such as his melodies and style, and the way he manipulates the audience by using music to show the emotion of the characters in the films he scores. Many composers, such as Hans Zimmer, repeat melodies but it’s the distinct signature of Hisaishi using those seven-notes on the piano and violin that show us it’s his piece.

 

Hisaishi also uses the same melodies, or highly similar, in other tracks and not just in the same songs. The chord progressions are often almost the same, apart from one or two chords. The song entitled “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky” from Laputa: Castle in the Sky starts off with a few chords played in an adagio speed and are articulated very legato. Almost identical is the “One Summer’s Day” track from Spirited Away, which starts off with the similar chord progression except this track has two less chords at the end of the melody, as the song from Laputa has two extra chords at the end of the opening melody. The arrangement of the chords that open the track are almost similar and this repetition is something that Hisaishi uses often but with a great strategic skill that makes the track into something completely different. The chord progression often descends and then uses a melody to complete the track. The same formula is seen for many his tracks, such as “Ashitaka and San” from Princess Mononoke and “Summer” from Kikijuro. Despite the similar traits and formula, his compositions are each unique and are effective in what they try to convey. Hisaishi’s compositions can stand alone and are visual in song, as the notes themselves provide an image alone. The visual accompaniments of the films provide a literal meaning but the music itself conveys its own meaning, “Ashitaka and San” is a piece on its own which is beautiful and moving. The track conveys both romance, adventure and a sense of conflict without the visual imagery showing that Hisaishi’s work adds to the films rather than simply providing a backing track or to fill the silence.

 

Another prominent similarity between many of Hisaishi’s pieces is his use of instruments, primarily strings and piano. Many of his traditional scores often begin with a piano melody, then are accompanied by a violin. In such compositions, “A Miraculous Recovery” from As The Sun Also Rises (directed by Jiang Wen), “Princess Mononoke” from the film of the same title (Miyazaki) and “Meet Again” from Kids Return (directed by Kitano) to name a few. To look in close detail, Spirited Away is an excellent example. The track “One Summers Day” begins with slow keys on the piano which are echoed, then a synthesizer is heard in the background with a steady note filling the silence. In a nutshell, the track begins slow and simple but soon it is then followed by the melody played on the piano and stringed instruments to add more to the song. The violin plays as an underlying part of the track, a background noise for the melody to play on top. These instruments are often played in together, as Hisaishi often goes for the distinct sound of the two together to successfully manipulate the audience’s emotion.

 

Hisaishi often uses the synthesiser too, and manipulates the sound to fit the film. Two of many examples are A Scene at the Sea’s “Silent Love” theme and My Neighbour Totoro’s “The Huge Tree in the Tsukamori Forest” both use the synthesiser in different ways. In My Neighbour Totoro, he uses the synthesiser to convey a mystical edge to give a magical feeling to the score as it follows two girls who find supernatural creatures hidden in the forest. The track “Silent Love” uses higher chords mixed with low ones to create a romantic feeling, the beat sounds sensual and emphasises a romantic theme. The guitar and the vocals hidden in the background, mixed with a drum beat adds drama to the sound. The story itself follows a deaf man who learns to surf for the girl that he loves, and the theme perfectly captures that alone. The synthesiser is an excellent tool that Hisaishi frequently uses to convey emotion in the films he scores, and the use of it is one of his signatures that highlight it’s his work.

 

Hisaishi has been known for his signature, and sometimes this can hinder his work. Kitano commented that “Mister Hisaishi as a composer is not very flexible, so I decided to use someone else”, after the two parted ways after Dolls and Kitano found another composer for his next feature Zatōichi. However, I disagree with Kitano’s comments as Hisaishi seems to adapt to whatever film he is assigned too. The way that he can jump from a magical score for Studio Ghibli to a yakuza gangster film. For Kitano’s Brother, Hisaishi used a saxophone amongst many other jazz instruments to convey an American sound and the loneliness by using a saxophone with a violin and a clarinet. Of course, the piano chords mixed with the violin give it the Hisaishi signature. In the title track in Brother, Hisaishi uses drums and saxophones to emphasise the American sound and in Kiki’s Delivery Service many of the melodies are played by accordions to give a European feel. Hisaishi’s music has a distinct signature at times, such of the use of chords and instruments, but none of his pieces of work are ever the same. Hisaishi plays with techniques for certain sounds, an example would be like pizzicato and staccato strings in major key to create effects like tiptoeing in films like My Neighbour Totoro, he uses the same instruments most of the time but orchestrates them differently. Hisaishi plays concerts by himself and can fill stadiums with just his music that he orchestrates. He is one of Japan’s most distinguished and respected composers who has worked with many great film directors from Kitano, Miyazaki to Yoji Yamada, a vast difference in styles but are connected by Hisaishi and his creative scores.

 

Classic Bit Analysis: The Most Beautiful (1944)

During the Second World War, Kurosawa made indirect propaganda films which promoted ideals for the country to help the war effort. Sanshiro Sugata, Sanshiro Sugata part II (1945) and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945) are all propaganda but less literal and direct. The use of Sanshiro defeating the American boxer in the sequel acts as a subliminal propaganda tool highlighting that Japan can defeat the Americans, and that they are superior in both spirit and force. However, this wasn’t the only type of propaganda films made by Kurosawa. His second feature was a propaganda film called The Most Beautiful, and it follows a group of female volunteers who work in an optics factory developing and perfecting the scopes on weapons for soldiers. The emphasis on the female workers and the style of film-making resulted with a film that really made the audience and public sympathise with these characters and ultimately boosted moral.

The film opens with on-screen text ‘Attack and Destroy the Enemy’, see figure 8, and directly gives out a message for the audience, specifically Japan. The Most Beautiful is unashamed propaganda; it’s also a film that attempts to lift the spirits of the Japanese people on the Homefront. The simple statement that the film is a ‘movie of the people’ is inclusive, and gives the impression to the everyday person that the movie is for them. Kurosawa’s use of inclusive messages, combined with the documentary style of filmmaking gives the impression that the film is extremely personal. The documentary style features an almost non-existent musical score, and the camera is often close and feels intrusive. The film feels very cinéma vérité, and Kurosawa uses this effect for an audience response. Cinéma vérité is a documentary style which translates from French as truthful cinema, and The Most Beautiful is paraded as such. Kurosawa could’ve used a more polished and glamorous setting for the factory, and made the actresses more primped and preened. Instead, he used a style that closely resembles documentary therefore posing as a factual story of these girls in an optics factory. The truth remains, that these girls are actresses playing fictitious parts but Kurosawa has manipulated the direction to suggest to the audience that these are in fact real and relatable.

The film follows the girls of the optics factory, and their story begins with their director who releases a broadcast to the factory workers. All the workers of the factory are standing in the courtyard in a militaristic style, with their hands straight and their heads high. His message spreads that the quotas for the workers are increasing hundred percent for the men, but only fifty for the women. Naturally, the girls are upset that they are only given half of the men’s quota. Therefore, they demand a higher one and the film follows them trying to reach it. The girls go through emotional and physical exhaustion, but pull through with determination and comradery which is emphasised. The characteristics of the girls are inspirational models towards the intended audience of wartime Japan. The use of propaganda is to boost moral but also provides a source of inspiration and an ideal for the audience to aspire to be.

Instead of featuring a love interest for the female; the women are devoted to their country and Japan becomes their love interest. The female workers are highlighted as sexless, and their devotion to Japan is the key love interest and acts as a suggestion that this should be the norm for everyone during this period. Their devotion to the war effort and Japan means more than personal problems; injuries, illnesses and even the death of a close family member can’t stop any of the girls from wanting to work. Kurosawa’s use of characterising the girls as relatable to the public, and the documentary style of film-making both combine as a tool of propaganda. Instead of showing soldiers fighting against the Americans, and showing brutality and the soldiers on battlefront. Kurosawa decides against showing propaganda to encourage enlistees, as the workers on the Homefront are more likely to need a boost in moral and national pride. Therefore, the film revolves around the workers in Japan to emphasise what audience members should be striving to.

Propaganda most effectively “works on an emotional level by showing soldiers suffering and making sacrifices for the emperor and his national community” (Tezuka, 2011). By showing the workers constantly striving for excellence in making the lenses perfect, suggests the suffering the soldiers would experience if any of them slacked. The emotional response that is provoked from the audience is driven from the sacrifices that the girls make for the emperor and Japan. The women could easily be in education or be married with a family, but instead they sacrifice their lives to work for a higher cause for the country and emperor. Most of the people who had access to the movies in Japan were civilians, therefore any of these girls in the film could be their sisters, daughters or even the audience member themselves. The morals are shown as aspirational, therefore emphasises what every wartime Japanese girl should be like by the standards of the propaganda office. The relationship between the girls in the factory is something that is shown as desirable as the girls form their own family in their dorms, and their matron and the directors of the family are shown as caring parental figures in this pseudo family. The comradery is also shown as friendship as the girls plays volleyball, laugh and have fun together almost like a type of summer camp. The film doesn’t show the factory as an unpleasant place but more like a desirable place which young girls should go to and not because they are forced due to a war and their obligations.

The closest comparison to Kurosawa’s The Most Beautiful, would be the British propaganda film called Millions Like Us (1943) directed by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. Millions Like Us follows British female factory workers and shows the friendship and loyalty that develops amongst the workers, but the film also shows a love story and how the Nazi Germans destroyed their happiness whilst Kurosawa’s film shows their devotion to their country and to their friends rather than a romance. The Most Beautiful was an obvious success for the propaganda office as it portrayed what they believed workers should be like during the war. The Most Beautiful is an anomaly in Kurosawa’s work as it feels unlike his style or signature such as the use of frequent axial cuts or fast editing techniques such as the wipe. Kurosawa’s usual themes such as heroic champion and weather to show a change in the scene are not present in this film which make it seem not at all like his style. The film isn’t fun to watch in the sense that it criticises the West and specifically Britain and America, but the film-making techniques and the comradry from the girls makes it interesting to watch. If you’re a Kurosawa fan, maybe give it a watch, but if you’re a film fan in general then definitely watch it.

 

Bit Analysis: Somers Town (2008)

Shane Meadows is a highly respected British director and praised for showing the true grittiness and accurate realism of England. His style has been compared to other respected British directors and seen as a modern day Ken Loach which is why his film Somers Town which was entirely funded by the Eurostar has made his fans sceptical. Fans first reaction would be that Meadows did in fact ‘sell out’ and simply made a feature length glorified advert. With the British economy in a recession, of course Meadows had to find a source of income to make films which obviously helps him keep his ‘dream’ job.

Surprisingly the whole Eurostar investment plan isn’t as sleazy as it seems. When Mother, a beyond trendy advertising company, lost the account to do Eurostar’s traditional adored adverts, they suggested that Eurostar do a legacy project which ultimately meant an independent film set in the area of their new station which led to them approaching Meadows. Meadows luckily had Eurostar’s blessing as his esteemed status as a director had guaranteed him ‘Creative Control’ which directors even in Hollywood longed for. Obviously Eurostar wanted his name on the project as the contract said that if Meadows put in a smiling train driver or had any interference, then he would definitely pull his name off the project.

Of course, people would be sceptical of the source of investment but the film is far from people’s expectations. The story is heart-warming whilst emotionally gripping at the same time.  Meadow’s favourite young formerly unknown, Thomas Turgoose, stars as Tomo, a charismatic English homeless boy, who befriends Marek, a lonely Polish son of an immigrant wonderfully portrayed by Piotr Jagiello. Unlike Meadow’s previous film This is England, the characters are unconsciously unaware of the racism surrounding their friendship which shows that sometimes even younger generations are smarter than the ignorant elders who they must ‘respect’. Arguably, the film is perhaps one of Meadow’s best films as it has raised more money than any of his others with a respectable figure and generally positive reviews.

Even top tough critic Mark Kermode enjoyed the film stating, “If you were cynical, you could say it’s playing the money. But I didn’t see that on the screen at all”. Like many others, he is saying that not only did he enjoy the film but that the advertising of Eurostar is barely noticeable and that the presence of Eurostar is blended into the story and doesn’t affect the integrity of Meadow’s work. The film is in no way a commercial film, Meadows sticks to his roots as an artistic director with a clear vision for his work. Meadow’s has the gift of creating characters that are loved by the audience and the critics, if anything Eurostar ‘sold out’ to Meadows to create one of his best films.

The ending pleases everyone in a sense depending on how you interpret it. The investors see the colour part as an accomplishment of how the ‘losers’ have become ‘winners’ by purchasing their Eurostar ticket ending the film with a feel good experience. Meadow’s fans can interpret the ending as a sad little dream that didn’t come true and the characters are actually still stuck in Somers Town and never see their beloved Maria. Clearly showing how he manipulated Eurostar to his own advantage and keeping everyone happy, which is why Meadows didn’t sell out but instead opened a door to a whole new world of UK film but must be handled with care.

 

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Diana Dors: Britain’s Answer to Marilyn Monroe?

Diana Dors is not a name that you hear quite often, unless you divulge into Britain’s film industry from the 50s to the 60s. Marilyn Monroe, however is a name that almost everyone on the planet would know and even more so recognise. So, why do people know of Monroe and not Dors? Dors had a passion for acting, and even enrolled in Ranks “Charm School” in which he perfected her image and talent into an alternative to challenge Hollywood. 

Despite being a natural brunette, Dors dyed her hair blonde and started acting after the Second World War. Whilst she wanted to be known by her talent, her husband’s choice of roles and overall image projected of Dors led her roles to consist of mainly sex comedies, or simply comedies in which she plays the sexualised woman. During her time at LAMDA, she excelled herself and tried to challenge her acting style. Even auditioning for Powell/Pressburger’s Black Narcissus, she didn’t get the part as it went to Jean Simmons but this showed that she had mind-set and ambition to become a great actress. In regards to her comparison to Monroe which would hurt her career as many would only see her as a comparison to Monroe instead of an individual. The comparison itself hurt her career vastly, but there is an argued other factor into why Dors has been slightly forgotten by present day audiences.

One of the main reasons into why Dors is more compared to Monroe and not a distinguished actress by her own talent, is her taste in men. In her movies, she was often the victim of men in either a physical or psychological way and that resonated in her personal life as well. It’s renowned by the British media and people who knew Dors, that her husband and that he heavily influenced her choices and often hindered her career. After her tremendous part in Yield to the Night, in which she plays the role incredibly and is without a doubt highlighting her talent; she did go to the US and had the potential to make it big. Diana was offered a Hollywood contract but turned down the executives advances, showing that she either had internal integrity or the iron thumb of her husband Hamilton had a major stronghold on her. Despite the fact that She pre-dated Monroe as an actress in The Shop At Sly Corner, by 1955 Monroe was a star. From this point onwards Britain looked towards Dors as their own Monroe. Dors wowed audiences in Yield To The Night but never managed to get passed her roles as a blonde bombshell or femme fatale. She had a starring role in the US film The Unholy Wife but again finds herself in a similar role as the previous film as she again is a femme fatale type character who kills in a crime of passion and ultimately gets justice thrust upon her.

In David Miller’s Hammerhead in 1968, whilst Dors was still an actress and in a serious film; her role was minor and the part of a mistress. Her role in 1952 in Terrance Fisher’s The Last Page was a more serious and important role despite her being not the leading lady; it was a distinctive improvement from her later role in Hammerhead. Despite the fact her role was more significant in The Last Page, in both films she ultimately is a character that is easily killed off. In the US, The Last Page is called Man Bait instead and leads the audience to believe that she is cause of mayhem and that she is more of a sex object rather than an incidental accomplice. The tag line on the post states that “the cards are stacked against any man who falls for her kind” implying that she is a woman who just devours men for her own gain, when in actual fact she is more or less being used by men herself. Her manager makes advances to her, and her lover makes her blackmail her manager. It’s easier to observe that she herself is more a victim in this film, yet this film is more progress for her than Hammerhead.

Dors had a billing role by 1950 in Charles Crichton’s Dance Hole whilst Monroe still had small uncredited role in Right Cross. Yet, today people are more interested in the iconography on Monroe instead of Dors. Monroe is seen as an icon in society and is a figure many know. It can be concluded that there are many reasons into why Dors hasn’t reached that status, especially overseas. From her choice in men to her integrity, or even that Britain themselves didn’t have the system that Hollywood had. The rank system tried, but was not as effective. One thing is definitely for certain, that her lack of talent was definitely not a problem. Hopefully, there shall be a resurgence in today’s culture watching more British films and Dors, and many other great British talents shall be admired to the status they deserve.

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Bit Analysis: Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo is controversially argued as, not only one of Hitchcock’s best films, but one of the greatest films ever. Vertigo is more than a movie; it’s a form of art exploring various themes through symbolism, camera work and sound. The story of Vertigo on the surface would seemingly be the story of a detective following a woman for his job but it is more than that. Vertigo is actually a deep film about mortality and the fear of death, blurring of illusion and reality.

The film starts very intensely with powerful non diegetic music and a close up on a ladder, it then proceeds to zoom out to a long shot of the ladder and the criminal and the two officers climb and follow. It then jumps to an establishing shot of the roof that tracks the chase; no dialogue only non-diegetic music and the sound of gun fire. It then jumps to a long shot of a leap to another part of the roof, to which both the cop and the criminal make it but James Stewart’s character ‘Scottie’ doesn’t and is left hanging. As he falls the camera cuts to a closer shot of him, as he hangs on Hitchcock cuts to a mid-shot of Scottie hanging, then jump cuts to a mid-shot of the police officer and Hitchcock cuts down to a close up of Scottie hanging looking down at the ground frightfully. Hitchcock then uses the famous ‘Vertigo’ shot by simultaneously zooming in and tracking backward which results that the foreground remains stable while the background expands backwards. This type of filmmaking is extremely experimenting and challenging as it disorientates the audience.

The scene ends with Scottie hanging and the next scene is Scottie sat with Midge. Hitchcock juxtaposes intense opening followed by domestic tranquillity. Hitchcock offers no explanation leaving the audience with enigma and mystery, raising the theme of illusion and reality. Was the opening scene Scottie’s illusion? Is Scottie psychologically unstable? Some believe the film is an entire hallucination of Scottie, as Vertigo ends as it began; Scottie staring down helplessly from a great height but his Vertigo cured at the end. Hitchcock uses a number of different lenses, green hues, fogs, filters and various densities to achieve Vertigo’s dreamlike look suggesting that this is perhaps all part of Scottie’s illusion. The opening sequence starts with a close up shot of a woman’s mouth then panning to her eye; the screen turns red as the music hits an eerie climax. The woman is wide eyed yet we don’t know what she is scared off, if you look at the mouth close up; you can see that she is trying to move her lips but cannot. This gives it a dreamlike feel as it’s like one of those dreams where you want to yell but cannot. The film sets a tone that it outside the realm of reality.
Hitchcock uses a theme of death and regularly questions the afterlife in Vertigo. There is often a feeling of ‘someone’ else watching Scottie and Kim Novak’s character Judy/Madeleine. The first time the two visit the Spanish mission the stable is introduced, rather than a standard continuity shot; the camera starts off across the stress then pans screen right and turns into a wide shot of the stable. Inside the chapel Scottie faces his fears but it’s too late and a woman falls to her death. This emphasises the theme of death as there is a continuous battle between life and the curiosity of afterlife that goes on in our minds, the closer we get to death; the closer to an answer we are.  We are afraid to go over the edge to find the truth because of the unknown consequences, Scottie however disagrees as he states that ‘there’s an answer for everything’.

Bill Orme from IMDB states that there are ‘cardboard characters, weak script and poor acting’ to which I entirely disagree. Scottie is morally ambiguous as he’s a retired cop which suggests usually good meanings but he falls in love with his friend’s wife which breaks the professional and friendship codes. He’s not a good detective as he doesn’t remain objective and instead becomes part of the story. He is tricked twice and responsible for three deaths. Scottie is an anti-hero with a twist as he has qualities of a lost soul at times. Scottie manipulates Madeleine to be more like Judy ironically as Judy previously manipulated Scottie. Much like the roman myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, Pygmalion (Scottie) creates a sculpture of the perfect woman (Madeleine) and tragically falls in love with her. Scottie is a scopophilic as he moulds Judy into Madeleine in a manner that denotes lust and obsession not love. Scottie breaks the rules as he is a highly subversive detective and is vastly unconventional. Kim Novak’s character allows herself to be moulded by both Scottie and Gavin; she is a masochist. She is represented negatively in a sense as she is the mistress of a married man; she deceives Scottie and has a crisis of identity. The audience sympathise with her as she is a lost soul taken advantage by men who play with her emotions. Scottie uses her affection and love for him to his advantage to mould his ideal woman, Gavin uses her emotions to get rid of his wife. Gavin tempts both Scottie and Judy; therefore he is the devil archetype. Hitchcock’s characters are the furthest thing from cardboard; they have depth and are wonderfully played by the cast.

Throughout the theme there is a recurring theme of the colour green which is constant in each scene. The scene with the forest features a great deal of establishing shots in the forest showing Scottie and Madeleine as tiny insignificant people compared to the trees. Madeleine comments that she’s thinking ‘all the people who were born and have died while the trees went on living’ suggesting she wishes that she could experience this as trees never truly die as they live for hundreds of years and are reborn raising the question of death and immortality again. The film is about constant battle between fear of death and curiosity. Are we in the real world or are we only really there when we die. Plants are almost in every scene. They are similar to us as they grow up and eventually die but their death provides nutrition for the birth of more plant life, a kind of resurrection. Madeleine doesn’t like the tree because she is jealous, she doesn’t like the fact that she has to die and never be resurrected.
Hitchcock successfully explores all these themes and more through the medium of film, sound, symbolism and editing. He shows that love is a form of madness as ‘love’ or ‘lust’ as some sceptics may see drove him to madness and led him to be overly obsessive.

 

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Bit Analysis: Rashomon (1950)

Rashōmon, directed by Akira Kurosawa, is a Japanese film made in 1950 and it was also “Based on a 1921 story by Ryunosuke Aakutagawa entitled ‘In a Grove'” (Pramaggiore and Wallis, 2005). The film follows an enquiry into the murder of a Samurai and the rape of his wife. The story is told by a Priest and a Woodcutter as they recount the testimonies given by the Bandit (who raped and killed the Samurai), the Wife, the Samurai (through the use of a medium as he is deceased) and the Woodcutter. Despite being praised in the West, it was not received entirely well by its native home of Japan as Kurosawa wrote in his autobiography in 1982 “I did not even know that Rashomon had been submitted to the Venice Film Festival … It was like pouring water into the sleeping ears of the Japanese film industry…Why is it that Japanese people have no confidence in the worth of Japan?”, in which Kurosawa questions Japanese people and their own view of home grown talent.

 

The film opens with a sign in Japanese highlighting the title of the film, cutting to different images of the bridge with opening credits over them. As the film begins we are given the story of the film which is that three men are stuck in an abandoned bridge during a rain storm as they recount a murder trial and the crime that led up to that. The plot of the film is the outline of the story but in more extensive detail and development; therefore the plot is that these men are recollecting a trial from earlier in the day about the murder of a Samurai and the rape of his wife. Furthermore, there are three key witnesses in the trial and the Woodcutter’s own testimony which has been extended after the trial itself.

 

The Screen Duration of Rashōmon is relatively short to the standard of movies today as it is 88 minutes long, however it also is short in relation to films during this time as Kurosawa’s The Idiot (which is his next film after Rashōmon) is 166 minutes long which is over 2 hours. Despite that the duration of Rashōmon is just over an hour; both story and plot duration are between 3 days. The film therefore successfully manages to manipulate film techniques in relation to storytelling as 88 minutes is turned into 3 days with the use of editing techniques to represent flashbacks. The plot and story duration take place over 3 days as the film begins on the evening of the trial; the characters recount the story to 3 days ago to how the Woodcutter and the Priest both saw the victims beforehand. After these two tell how they found the body of the Samurai; they move time back to the morning of the present day as the trial was this day. During the trial the Bandit, the Wife and the Samurai (through a medium) recount back to 3 days ago to how event of the crime itself. Once all these accounts have been told by the Woodcutter to the Commoner; he has a further recount himself which ago goes back to 3 days ago. The film ends back in the present day of the film as each story has been told and nothing more has to be recounted. The use of manipulation to enhance the story and plot duration is extremely effective as it leaves the audience in the dark and having to follow the film to see how the plot unravels. The audience know as much as the Commoner, therefore the discovery of each story in accordance to flashbacks during recounting is valuable as it is an innovative way of revealing information.

 

Despite the use of flashbacks which are clearly non-chronological; the order of flashbacks follow some chronological order as each recount is given in order of who gave it at the trial. Of course, the events are shuffled as they are not shown in chronological order as if it was formatted this way then the film would start with the Priest seeing the characters before-hand. Then, the film would show the actual events that happened at the crime scene followed by the trial and the men discussing it. The effect of this would not be as effective as the way Kurosawa presented Rashōmon, the film would not only be shorter and less intriguing but also not present such factors as morality and the effect of self-preservation. The style in which Kurosawa used highlights the film to be more captivating and fascinating as this style leads audiences to be piece together the result of the end of the trial and more specifically suggests that audiences are more intelligent than perceived. Kurosawa treats his audience as equal intelligence by his smart use of storytelling via flashbacks.

 

The film recount is from the Bandit and his recounted enactment explains that he captured the Samurai, seduced his wife and she persuaded him to kill the Samurai after an honourable and brave battle between the two. Then we are given another perspective in the form of the wife and victim of the rape. She expresses herself as weak and that the Bandit raped her, she then tried to kill herself but helplessly fainted only to find her husband dead. The third account is given through a medium expressing the deceased Samurai’s account. He explains that his wife was seduced by the Bandit, afterwards neither the Bandit nor Samurai wanted her therefore he was set free and killed himself due to shame. This is where the audience believe the trial ends and there are no more enacted recounts; this is not true as the Woodcutter was secretly there and he begins to tell his perspective. The final recollection of the same event explains that the Bandit raped the woman yet begged her to run away with him and to try and honour her. The wife in the Woodcutter’s story is more manipulative as she manages to make the Bandit and the Samurai fight despite their initial protests and detestation of her. When the fight is recounted by the Woodcutter, he explains that the fight was not noble or brave as both men seemed afraid of each other and the Samurai even begged for his life. Another thing seen through the Woodcutter’s recollection is that the wife was initially manipulative but turned into fear as the men began to fight and the Bandit was soft towards the woman after his act of horror and not as vicious as the legends thought he was. These highlight that multiple recounted enactments were crucial into not only getting to understand the crime more but also in suggesting more in-depth discussions about humans themselves.

 

Rashōmon is beyond a doubt an incredible film. The obvious reasoning behind this was not only the revolutionary editing techniques but the innovative use of focalization and manipulation of narrative time. Kurosawa was one of the pioneers to truly use this technique and the film was so monumental itself that it even developed the Rashōmon effect in which explains that there are more than one different accounts for one single event. Rashōmon was also remade by the USA with their own version again emphasising the use of focalization and manipulation of time. One thing that is clear from this film that it was clearly ahead of its time and is now regarded as one of the most creative and most influential films due to the genius of Kurosawa. Rashōmon is a must see for film fans, and if you haven’t had chance to begin your Kurosawa viewing, start with this.

 

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