Monday, 19 August 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1950: Masayuki Mori in Rashomon

Masayuki Mori did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Takehiro Kanazawa in Rashomon.

Akira Kurosawa's films are not always known for their ensembles. This is not a problem as I never believe this causes any actual problems for the film, but they are usually driven by one or two performances. Rashomon though is an exception. Yes, as usual, it contains a great performance by Toshiro Mifune but almost every actor in the film has a moment to shine. Out of the supporting characters the man who shines the most is Masayuki Mori as the samurai Takehiro Kanazawa whose fate is the constant of the four different stories of the same event. The samurai's fate being that he is killed one of the many things that are disputed though is who killed him not to mention how he was murdered and why exactly he was killed.

Mori like Toshiro Mifune gives four different sides of apparently the same man. The samurai though is a little different though from his wife and the bandit because we never see the samurai as himself in the court we only know him through the perspectives of the story tellers. Mori's work is very different form Mifune's almost the polar opposite particularly in terms of how little he says as well as the fact he very much downplays the emotions of his character whereas Mifune revels in them. As Mifune's fiery performance reflected the free spirited nature of his character Tajomaru the infamous bandit, Mori's icy turn reflects his role as the controlled samurai who at first is just very normally moving one place to another through a forest with his wife.

Tajomaru's version of the events is told like an adventure despite the results of it therefore the samurai is pictured as an adversary although importantly a worthy adversary. Mori in this version is just about silent in his portrayal of the samurai. Every action he takes seems to be deducing what the bandit wants to do and attempting to thwart him the best that he can. Even when he is tied to the tree in defeat Mori portrays the samurai with a strong willed defiance like even though he is defeat he will not lay down, the perfect enemy to say that the bandit eventually defeats. When they do finally fight Mori once again portrays the samurai as a worthy foe who is brave, tough, and someone that makes it so the bandit can be very proud of his victory within his story.

In the wife's story Mori brings a subtle variation on the first story's version. Where Mori portrayed the samurai as most certainly unhappy in the first story the focus of the second his his intense disgust not at the bandit but at his wife for succumbing to the bandits advances. Mori portrayal of this disgust is particularly effective because of just how cold he is yet still forceful in the emotional intensity of his hatred. Mori barely says anything again yet there is such power in his stare without any remorse as he condemns his wife in his eyes. This version of the samurai is killed by his wife leaving her an emotional wreck and Mori makes both the wife's actions as well as her emotional state in the court believable through his bitter scowl.

I will skip over his version as that is the strongest point of his entire performance and go to the woodcutter's version. The woodcutter's version seems the most pathetic and perhaps the most realistic as the whole event leaves a terrible taste in the mouth. Mori's work is particularly interesting here as the samurai once again denounces his wife yet Mori plays it in a completely different fashion yet somehow it seems like it still could have come from the same man. Mori's plays this denouncement in a far more open and to the point manner probably far more like how most men would turn from their wives. Mori is still very harsh but it is fascinating the way in this version how he portrays the same action in such a different fashion yet still seems as though he is portraying the same character.

Mori is particularly effective in showing not only how their fatal battle starts but also how it ends. In this version it is being emasculated by the wife that leads both men to fight. Instead of being the stoic worthy adversary of the first story Mori's portrays the samurai much more as a normal man who is forced by pride to try and fight like a man. As I said in Mifune's review he and Mori are terrific in the portrayal of the battle particularly when compared to the bandit's version. Where the first was made a rousing affair by the actors in this version it is a particularly unpleasant sight to watch as both are frightened as they attempt to kill one another. Mori is very powerful as in the end does not portray the finale of the fight as a worthy opponent accepting defeat but rather just a very scared man pleading for his life.

Mori's greatest moment though is when the samurai himself tells the story through a medium, a person who speaks for the dead. Mori says the most as we hear his voice but do not see him. Mori's voice is extremely haunting and it is as it should be the voice of a dead man suffering in darkness. Through his voice we hear the samurai's version of the events. Mori is incredible because where the other scenes his performance properly acts as a man closed off from us, in this one he opens up to us as we see samurai as he sees himself. Mori still stays reserved in his performance but although there is not warmth precisely there is not that same coldness instead we are allowed see the basic human feelings in this man.

In this version of the story the samurai does not hate his wife for letting the bandit have his way with her but rather because she insists that the bandit murder him. Mori is actually quite heartbreaking in this version as he so honestly portrays how this tears the samurai inside. There is not anger that Mori portrays in this version but only sadness in the samurai due to all that he has lost from the event. It is especially moving because of the difference in this quietly emotional depiction in contrast to the cold version as he is seen by the other observers. That is the achievement of this performance by Masayuki Mori as he is able to create four different sides of the samurai yet never making it an entirely different character. His performance just like Mifune's is compelling complex portrait of the four perceptions of a man which Mori makes a particularly effective counterpart through his far more restrained portrayal to Mifune's flamboyant work.


RatedRStar said...

Its only like 88 minutes as well, so I guess ill watch it lol there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with it, I mean I loved High and Low very much, infact ive not seen a bad film by Kurosawa.

Ohhh a tricky question to ask Louis, how would you rank each of Kurosawas films so far =D.

Michael Patison said...

That was truly glowing. Now I'm worried for my main man Sanders. I really hope he doesn't get dethroned.

Louis Morgan said...

RatedRStar: Well I can't recommend it enough. I'll try to rank em but this is very hard and may be subject to change.

Rashomon (My Picture and Director Win)
High And Low (My Picture and Director Win)
Seven Samurai (My Director Win)
Ikiru (My Director Win)
Throne of Blood
Stray Dog
The Bad Sleep Well
Red Beard
Drunken Angel
The Quiet Duel
The Idiot
Sanshiro Sugata

Michael Patison said...

I'm assuming your Best Picture wins over Seven Samurai and Ikiru are On the Waterfront and The Quiet Man, respectively?

Louis Morgan said...

Your assumption is correct.

RatedRStar said...

I think theres about 5 classic Kurosawa films left, Yojimbo, Ran, The Hidden Fortress, Sanjuro and I Live in Fear left to see I think, Ran might be the most pessimistic film Ive ever seen which is a surprise since Kurosawas films usually have pessimism but also hope, Ran is cold as ice.

Michael McCarthy said...

@RatedRStar As far as classic Kurosawa films there's also Dersu Uzala, which a lot of people tend to overlook because it's Russian, not Japanese. As far as acclaim goes though, it's right up there with works like High and Low and Kagemusha.

RatedRStar said...

@Michael McCarthy I just looked at Dersu Uzala just now (I hadn't noticed it) I find it quite sad that just before he started the movie Akira Kurosawa tried to commit suicide.

Michael McCarthy said...

Yeah he went through a really dark phase in his life. A lot of people think it was because of his falling out with Toshiro Mifune after Red Beard in 1965.

Michael Patison said...

Does that really make sense? It seems to be a questionable explanation since the two occurrences were 10 years apart. I honestly have no idea as I probably know far less about Kurosawa and you.

Michael McCarthy said...

I'm not saying that the falling out was a direct cause of the suicide attempt, but Kurosawa's period of depression seemed to begin around that time and gradually got worse over the years.

Michael Patison said...

Fair enough

Anonymous said...

By the way, I have a request for when it comes to Best Actor 2006. Christian Bale in The Prestige. An extremely complicated performance with layers of subtlety that take several viewings to appreciate.