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
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003