The name Akira Kurosawa means one thing to most people: samurai films. So it's no surprise that the various local celebrations of the director's centenary this year have tended to trumpet (perhaps inevitably) his iconic efforts in that genre. Yet for all the entertainment value of those epic medieval battles between good and evil, we prefer the director's morally dicey sagas of postwar (low)life. The mini-retrospective, Mifune x Kurosawa: A Beautiful Man, pays tribute to the director's work with actor Toshiro Mifune; today it deals a pair of black aces with the late 1940s gems Stray Dog and Drunken Angel. In Stray Dog, a young detective (Mifune) has his gun swiped on a bus and scurries down the rungs of the social ladder in manic pursuit. Noir fans will relish the way Kurosawa gradually erases the thin blue line between cop and criminal, protector and perpetrator. In this world, honor is a luxury nobody can afford. Yet Angel, the first of the two men's 16 movies together, limns the unlikely bond between a live-for-the-moment gangster with tuberculosis (Mifune) and an alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) struggling against his cynicism and hopelessness. Their respective codes of honor represent the last gasps of dignity or perhaps the flickering of fresh hope in Tokyos desperate slums.
Dec. 18-Jan. 6, 2010