3. Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa)
Though less explicit than the film at number 2, Kagemusha is a ghost story, one concerning the unexpected (and for his battle experience, rather anti-climactic) death of the warlord Shingen, and how his spirit and influence pervades all he comes in contact with: his closest confidants who must grieve in silence and follow through with his battle plan, his son who is burdened with living up to the expectations of his father fully knowing he will never ascend to the same ranks, his disciples who worship him, and his enemies who fear him. Most integrally is the impact he has on the petty thief (Tatsuya Nakadai in a tremendous dual role) who bears a striking resemblance to Shingen and is offered the opportunity to impersonate the deceased warrior to maintain battle strategy. Through his influence, the thief is visited by the late warrior in his dreams, this “shadow warrior” keeps a dividing clan together and is offered redemption, while also providing a heretofore non existent touch of humanity to the warrior’s legacy.
Kurosawa’s late period masterpiece, released in America 20th Century Fox and co-funded by to executive producers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, is presented as an epic, and culminates in a twenty plus minute battle of large scope and futile possibilities, but its focus is much more intimate: the circumstances that unite these two separate men, and how the influence of one haunts initially, but eventually improves, the other.
2. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick)
It’s appropriate that a film in which the main character’s tenuous grasp on reality steadily corrodes over the running time would leave viewers to question their own sanity. Wait, what was Jack Torrance doing in that New Year’s Day picture? How the hell did Scatman Crothers get to the Overlook hotel so quickly in that storm? How did Jack get out of the meat locker? Oh my! Why the hell is the guy in the bear suit giving that old man fellatio? Like all good horror films, questions remain unanswered.
Stanley Kubrick’s master class in tension, heavy on long steadicam shots, is at its most base elements the story of a man discovering that his best days are long gone and succumbing to the spirits of a hotel that too is irrelevant (at least in the winter months), unable to revive his struggling writing career, he revolts against his life’s impending uselessness. Tellingly the father, impacted by the ghost of the hotel’s past, will be thwarted by his son who has the power to see into the future.
The Shining is different things to different people. It could be both the scariest movie of all time to one person and ludicrously hilarious to another. A straight-forward crackerjack thriller with the occasional trips into symbolic imagery or a metaphor for a bout of writer’s block that manifests itself into something soul corrosive or even a subtext leaden missive on the plight of Native Americans. Or, if you’re Stephen King, a dispiriting bore with no respect for fidelity to the source material.
Whatever it may mean to you OH MY GOD! THAT IS A DUDE IN A BEAR SUIT GIVING SOME OLD DUDE FELLATIO!!!