FILM STUDIES: Kurosawa, Mizoguchi ... and Nintendo Game Boy

I've set myself a task this coming Wednesday. It seemed modest at first, but now the more I think about it, the more alarmed I become. For I have volunteered to go into my son's fourth-grade class and "introduce" the nine-to-10-year olds to Japanese cinema. You see, this year they've been looking at things Japanese - they went to an art exhibition; they saw Madame Butterfly at the Opera - and I thought they ought to know that Japan is, or has been, a great force in film-making. How will I do that? I would show them one of the battle scenes from Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.

"Excuse me," said my editor. "I think you need to explain that."

"Seven Samurai?" I said. "It's a classic."

"But it's what? Nearly 50 years old? Just give it a little setting, can't you?"

"Seven Samurai,1952. Black and white ... "

"Will those kids sit still for that?" my editor asked.

"Look," I said, "it's full of horses and sword-play, decapitations, some of the greatest action stuff ever done. They'll love it."

"Hmmm," she said. And her "hmmm" is like the morning in Murmansk.

"I could say it inspired the American western, The Magnificent Seven. Steve McQueen?"

She brightened a little, but I wasn't reassured. You see, here's the bizarre thing, the point that really urged me to visit the class. This same year, my son and most of his friends have become obsessed with a Game Boy called Pokemon ...

"What's a Game Boy?" asked my editor.

"What?" I cried. "What are shoes and shirts?"

"I don't have children," she said.

"Game Boy is a kind of pocket TV set, with cartridges for the different games. Pokemon is the rage game, and it's derived from a TV cartoon series the kids watch. And it's Japanese," I said, in triumph. "In our house, we call it Pearl 2."

"This isn't going to get anti-Japanese, is it?" she asked.

On the contrary. All I want to do is open these kids to the possibility that Japan once had a great film culture. Wonderful silent films. Great interest in the supernatural. The samurai. But fascinating modern stories, too. I'll come clean - what I'd really like to do is show them some Kurosawa, and then just write "Ozu" and "Mizoguchi" on the board, and say those two are even greater.

"I thought Mizoguchi made cars," said my editor.

She's been under a lot of pressure. There was that week when everyone died, and Yehudi Menuhin on a Friday. If you're a Sunday paper, dying on a Friday is downright aggressive.

"Kenji Mizoguchi," I said, slowly and very patiently, "is one of the greatest film-makers of all time. Ugetsu Monogatari, Sansho the Bailiff, Yang Kwei Fei - "

"Here," she said. "Read this." And she slapped down an old copy of the Times, folded to display an article by a smart young reporter who had gone out into the West End just a few nights after Stanley Kubrick died. All he'd done was ask people waiting to go in to see a picture who Kubrick was. Of course, there was still yards of stuff on him in most of the papers. And hardly a soul had heard of him. Or could name his films. At The Thin Red Line, no one knew who Terrence Malick was.

"And they'll know no more when they come out," I added.

"That's not the point," she said.

"What is the point?" I said. I'm a sucker for these routines.

"The point may be that there is no point."

"You don't mean that," I said.

"I don't want to," she sighed.

It was getting to be an old refrain, and its load leaves me more scared of those kids I have to talk to on Wednesday. Do I dare talk camera style? Ozu's withdrawn point of view? Mizoguchi and the tracking shot? Or will they be playing Pokemon all the time in their fierce little electronic minds?

But here's the point. Once upon a time, the movies were a sensation that people went to see because they couldn't believe their eyes. Because their relationship with reality was changing, and somehow the picture show was the model for it. They saw magic tricks, decapitations and naked ladies - or 1905's version of them. Things they'd only dreamed of before. They loved it.

Then, gradually, they saw that pictures had people - pretty girls, rugged guys. They liked those people, and the people became stars. Then, later still, that stardom began to be shared with directors. From the late 1950s to the late 1970s, say, there was a whole process of education in which directors defined the medium.

No more. We are back to images again, machine driven. It's all a version of Pokemon. And the show is made as anonymously as the great cathedrals.

"So, what are you going to do on Wednesday?" said my editor.

"Maybe I could take along a samurai sword," I wondered.

"Thomson-san," she said, and bowed and shuffled away.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices