J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A.K.: Don’t Call It a “Making of”

It is a little ironic the notoriously camera-shy Chris Marker made several documentaries about other filmmakers, but at least he understood who was more interesting. Although Marker’s critical cult has won new adherents in recent years, there is no comparison between him and Akira Kurosawa, especially in 1985 when the Japanese auteur was helming his last great epic masterpiece, Ran. Marker tries to keep out of Kurosawa’s shots as he observes the master at work in A.K. (clip here), which opens at Film Forum this Friday, a week ahead of Ran.

Kurosawa’s iconic hat and sunglasses are instantly recognizable. Just seeing him rehearse the heck out of the nearly as legendary Tatsuya Nakadai is almost worth the price of admission—and watch we shall. While there is a fair amount of narration, it is mostly ruminative in nature, rather than descriptive or informative. It seems Marker was justly in awe of Kurosawa and finds every grand working method to be a revelation.

Those looking for “making of” details might be disappointed, but there are a few tantalizing glimpses of a scene that was agonizingly hand-crafted, only to be scrapped in the editing room. All that grass painted gold went for naught Marker’s narrator tells us.

Marker never even dares approach Kurosawa, Nakadai, or the longtime collaborators he dubs “the Seven Samurai,” instead just showing them plugging away on the set. Granted, talking head interviews are not so Markerian. Perhaps he was also worried he would start kowtowing and chanting “I’m not worthy,” like Wayne and Garth. However, the upshot is we do not get any final words of a summation from Toho Studios’ renowned sound technician Fumio Yanoguchi, who passed away shortly after A.K. wrapped filming.

If nothing else, A.K. teases Ran quite effectively. As a documentary in its right, it is awkwardly betwixt and between. Marker’s insights never run particularly deep, but his peaks behind-the-scenes are not detailed or geeky enough to satisfy armchair film school students. Frankly, it was probably not the right project for Marker, but it is infinitely more watchable than the leftist agitprop he might have otherwise produced. For the hardest of hardcore Kurosawa fans and Marker’s regular apologists, A.K. opens this Friday (2/19) at Film Forum, in advance of the 4K restoration of Ran.

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