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This is NOT Toshiro Mifune


Today we're going to take a quick look at what is either a small and inconsequential mistake or a grave injustice, depending on how fond you are of Toshiro Mifune. Japan's greatest actor, and in the running for the best to ever work on screen, Mifune is a cultural icon, a titan of world-cinema and has rightfully achieved his status as a symbol for the broader trend of great Japanese films from the '50s and '60s, held in high esteem by critics, filmmakers and audiences. Specifically, many coffee table books collecting blurbs and recommendations from the history of film will choose Seven Samurai, with possibly Mifune's greatest performance, as the standard-bearer for a huge swath of celebrated works, inevitably cut to make room for more recognisable Hollywood classics. These reference books do have to sell, of course. So turn to movie number 272 of the 2020 edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and you'll see a nice two-page spread reserved for Seven Samurai. One side with the poster and a contribution discussing the film, and the other a big shot of Mifune in Seven Samurai, adorned in a kimono and gruff beard, brandishing his sword, ready for battle. The only problem is: that's not Toshiro Mifune.

This is NOT Toshiro Mifune - click to see original

The image is of another of Japan's top actors; Tatsuya Nakadai. Nakadai is in fact in Seven Samurai, in his very first on-screen appearance, though he only very briefly walks past the camera. You might be able to make the case that the two actors look somewhat similar, sometimes, but the real question is whether the image of Nakadai used in the book resembles Toshiro Mifune made up as his character Kikuchiyo, from the film. No, Kikuchiyo is a young buffoon, it would ruin his characterization for him to appear with such a stately beard. Instead he has thin, sharp and expressive facial hair. Their kimonos also appear onscreen as black and the other white, respectively, and for a great deal of Seven Samurai, Kikuchiyo doesn't wear a kimono at all, but battle armour, a key plot point since this was lifted from dead samurai, enraging some of the characters and revealing details about Kikuchiyo himself. You may be inclined to argue that this isn't a problem big enough to warrant a complaint; one book made an error, someone will point it out, it will be corrected and we'll be able to move on. Not quite.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is hardly the only publication to make this mistake. In fact, as far as can be gleamed by looking at only the most mainstream of selections from bookstore shelves, this is the most used image when referring to Toshiro Mifune in the film. From other reference books like Great Film Directors A to Z, to a myriad of slapdash web articles (which don't really need to be held to quite the same scrutiny), to huge publications like The Guardian, far too many people seem to be falling prey to a photo being sold under false pretences. British publications mostly credit Sportsphoto/Allstar, but the number one culprit looks to be Alamy stock photos.

The photo is sourced most often from the Alamy A.F. Archive, where they have titled it: TOSHIRO MIFUNE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954). They provide some more information: TOSHIRO MIFUNE AS Kikuchiyo FILM TITLE SEVEN SAMURAI DIRECTED BY AKIRA KUROSAWA FILM COMPANY COLUMBIA 26 April 1954. A more apt description would be TATSUYA NAKADAI AS Hanshiro Tsugumo FILM TITLE HARAKIRI/SEPPUKU DIRECTED BY MASAKI KOBAYASHI FILM COMPANY SCHOCHIKU 1962. Yes, the picture was actually taken at an unspecified date 8 years after the date currently accredited to it. Two further bits of information stand out.

Toshiro Mifune

The REAL Toshiro Mifune

First; a lengthy declaration of the circumstances under which the photo can be reproduced once you have purchased the image. It reads: “**WARNING** This photograph is the copyright of the FILM COMPANY and/or the photographer assigned by or authorised by/allowed on the set by the Film Company at that time of this production & can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above film. A Mandatory Credit To THE FILM COMPANY (AND PHOTOGRAPHER IF KNOWN) is required. ” Well. Most publications that have used the image have used it to promote Seven Samurai, not Harakiri, as well as crediting the studio Toho, not Schochiku. Or by “the above film” do they mean what is written above? You may only use this image from Harakiri if you use it to promote Seven Samurai? And second; “This image could have imperfections as it's either historical or reportage”. They weren't lying.

And that's the real issue here, reportage. The more publications fork over up to $69.99 for an image that isn't even of what they're looking for, the more the precedent is reaffirmed that this is the go-to image for Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai. And that's not fair. Not to Mifune, who's role is recognised as invaluable by the very publications misattributing the image. Not to Nakadai and the makers of Harakiri, for obvious reasons. And not to admirers of their work, who only ever get to announce their displeasure with the incorrect choice of stock photo in the odd comment section. There has been a new edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die every year since 2007, and every year without fail, the image remains. This is in all likelihood one of the bestselling reference books ever made about cinema. It's an easy mistake, but also, it would seem, easy to fix.

There are plenty of other images of Mifune as Kikuchiyo on Alamy, some of them even larger in format, available for the same price range as the Nakadai photo. Production stills, shots from the film, in the same aspect ratio to fit the page, which better capture the spirit of the epic. Beware, there are a few more mislabeled photos. Just be sure to have a fan help pick out the replacement. Please.

 
How the Movies Introduced Reggae to the World


If pressed to name their favourite Jamaican film, many people may mistakenly offer Cool Runnings as an answer, and while, yes, Cool Runnings is delightful, it is strictly speaking not Jamaican. With an American director and writers, at least one Canadian star and a German composer, the most convincing case for a nationality for that film is probably the House of Mouse: Disneyland. But, who could fault them for making that guess? Jamaica's number 1 cultural export is and has been its music for as long as they've held any kind of spotlight.

The Harder They Come was the first, and arguably remains the best, Jamaican film ever made. That metric meaning it was directed by, written by, starring, and produced by a crew comprised of Jamaicans.

The plot of the film was based partially on the escapades of real life cult figure Vincent “Ivanhoe” Rhyging Martin, who went on a minor killing spree. The film updates Ivan's rise-and-fall into contemporary Jamaica by introducing the underworld of drugs and record-making, which were capturing the minds of the Jamaican public.

Ivan comes to the big city, Kingston, believing he can dig himself out of poverty by becoming a star and cutting a record deal. He becomes entangled with a local preacher's adoptive daughter, and has a run-in with the law, but does manage to cobble together a potential hit. His producer buries the track to avoid Ivan becoming too unwieldly, leaving him to push drugs to escape ruin. When a cop tries to stop him on a run, things don't go well, and Ivan makes good on his promise of becoming famous.

The film came right out of the gate with a strong sense of working class national identity, how folk-heroes are idolised and come to define themselves by idolizing their own conceptions of legend (for Ivan, seeing Westerns like Django fuel his desire for a glorious struggle against his oppressors, seeing how the films capture the imaginations of the people). When he is left unable to make good on his musical decrees of resistance, he wills a seemingly unobtainable fame and cult following into existence by embodying the spirit of his only hit through crime.

The production operated on a shoe-string budget, opting to shoot many scenes in slums and streets, among the unfiltered hustle and bustle. This was a plus to distributors, because the movie captures Jamaica at the time with what would have been a very attractive exoticism to American audiences, not in the least because of the major presence of Jamaican patois, the native language. Patois is referred to as a ‘creole-language', comprised of mostly English, but it combines influences and vocabulary from West Africa, which confounded some international viewers and critics, never mind the often heretofore unheard accents. Upon its release in 1972 at the Venice film festival, the film played with subtitles, making it the first film ostensibly in English requiring English subtitles.

The plot thread where Ivan cuts a record deal identifies part of why there were no Reggae stars yet who had crossed over to become international stars. When making records, artists would typically not enter into negotiations to become a long-term fixture of a label's releases. This deterred labels from forking over cash to promote or properly market their artists, since the musicians may just have jumped ship once they hit it big. So essentially no reggae musicians received significant pushes from their labels, therefore even if their songs became slightly popular, few if any listeners bothered to learn who had made the music.

This problem was solved by creating The Harder They Come as a starring vehicle for ska, rocksteady and reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. The soundtrack to the film features a number of artists and singles spanning from 1967 to 1972, but Cliff dominates, performing half of the 12 tracks, with two of his best songs serving almost as leitmotifs reappearing continuously throughout the runtime. Specifically, although there isn't a weak moment on it, the title song by Cliff is a real highlight from the album and perfectly captures the attitude and identity of the film's main character. This served as a brilliant introduction to the genre, being comprised largely of hits by seminal reggae singers. The music amplifies the film as few soundtracks do, without it the movie would simply not work as well as it does, at all.

Whilst the story of the film divided critics, the soundtrack transcended criticism entirely. It became a massive hit on the international market as well as on home soil. Reggae escaped the label of curio and became a world-renowned and beloved genre. For its immeasurable impact on popular culture, and more than likely for the faultlessness of its tracks, the soundtrack for The Harder They Come is widely considered a classic, and was inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

The movie and album were followed by a number of Jamaican movies involving reggae, further cementing the nation's cultural identity as seen by American audiences, but the Jamaican film industry is still largely underground. What really took off was reggae, allowing artists featured in the film and many more not involved with The Harder They Come to flourish in a market that now welcomed their work. In this space of blooming success, reggae evolved and perfected itself, and we are all better off for it.

 
Product Placement: When Movies Sell Out


These days, with films costing hundreds of millions of dollars becoming more and more commonplace, studios need more and more revenue streams to beef up their budgets. Product placement makes up a not inconsiderable portion of this revenue, despite some filmmakers outright claiming the practice to be corrupt, and damaging to the movies as a whole. No one likes being advertised to, so studios have had to work out ways of plying potential customers slyly. They don't always succeed.

Other than a contested Arbuckle and Keaton short, the first example of true blue product placement was in the first ever Best Picture Winner Wings, from 1927. Hershey's chocolate bars were incorporated into the plot, with a number of shots lingering on the treat. Hershey's enjoyed a similar privilege after an appearance by Reese's Pieces in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial saw the company stock soar by 65%. It's only gotten more involved since then, culminating in The Lego Movie, one big commercial for Lego, all be it a great movie in the same breath. Heavy-handed product placement can, however, backfire, as in Demolition Man, where in the not too distant future all restaurants have been replaced by Taco Bell, Mac and Me, where we spend unreal amounts of time at the local McDonald's and Coca-Cola revives the heroes' dying alien family, and The Internship, where we learn all about how great it is to work at Google. In each of these films corporate interest dominated the audience's attention, as opposed to providing earnest entertainment.

Most product placements are less involved in the plot, and typically involve just featuring the product on screen somewhere, as an example; the ubiquity of Beats by Dre, or Sony computers, cameras, speakers and so on in all of their films. The shamefully materialistic Sex and the City movies stayed on brand with 67 placements. Sometimes it can be preferable for audiences to see recognisable brands on screen, as seeing an obviously fabricated product can take you out of a film just as easily as a blatant ad. When characters go on search engines like “Go-search!” or “Web-finder”, it halts suspension of disbelief far more than any supernatural plot elements could.

Some of the best product placement involves clothing brands making stylish introductions for upcoming items by placing them in blockbusters. Back to the Future 2 of course has the self-tying laces on future Nikes, but the whole series is crawling with products. Marty goes by a pseudonym mistakenly attributed to him when someone reads ‘Calvin Klein' written on his underwear. Probably the most tangible effect on the market was had by Tom Cruise when he sported Aviator glasses for Ray Ban in Top Gun.

On the more insidious side of things, kids' films can push desirable toys, especially around Christmas time. The Most effective example of this would be Toy Story, which not only hyped up classic toys like Slinky's and Mr. Potato-head in the minds of impressionable young viewers, but launched the sales of millions of toys in the likeness of the film's original characters like Woody and Buzz Lightyear, too. Every couple of years a sequel or spin-off or reboot is to be expected, to reinvigorate public interest in the brand and get a new horde of kids excited about having their own Buzz Lightyear.

A favorite among obvious, pandering product placement would be the classic Wayne's World scene, where Garth and Wayne sermonise: “I will not bow to any sponsor” whilst mugging at the camera with perfectly angled Pizza Hut boxes and Pepsi cans. Associating a product with endearing characters like this is A + marketing, for instance Harold and Kumar who's trip to their favourite restaurant White Castle managed to provide the title of one of their films, or the extended McDonald's centric conversation in Pulp Fiction (conveniently noting that Vincent didn't bother to go to Burger King while he was in Paris, just McDonald's). These films treat the existence of consumerism as an unavoidable fact of pop culture, and use meta-humour to shield from appearing to cow-tow to backers under the guise of connecting to their audience more realistically, sometimes foregoing payment for mentioning a product all together. This is one of the better routes to take.

But, when it comes to product placement, nobody does it better than James Bond. Outside of the fact that Bond is already accepted as a tool for wish-fulfilment, he's a great character to attach brands to because he has established brand-oriented tastes, and has had them for decades. You could look at a product and know instinctively whether Bond might have it tucked away among his gadgets. This segues nicely into cars, booze, watches, and smart phones. Certain associations become so iconic that the two end up benefitting each other in equal measure, like with the definitive Aston Martin. At least one Bond outing was funded entirely by product placement. Ever Ready and Pan Am, BMW and Microsoft, Smirnoff and Dom Pérignon, everyone wants to throw money at the producers of the Bond series.

But the character's sensibilities as an idiosyncratic tastemaker mean the marketing department find themselves on a tight leash, prone to fan backlash when they stray too far from what is expected of 007 (for instance when the secret agent traded in his drink of choice, the Vodka Martini, for a Heineken, causing much uproar following the release of Spectre). We can only hope that the recent commercial for Heineken's non-alcoholic beer isn't a sign of things to come for No Time To Die.

 
What We Know About the Avatar Sequels


Avatar 2 has been on a bumpy ride. It's suffered 8 delays so far, moving from 2014 to its current release date; December 16, 2022, and taken its cast and crew to Hawaii, California, and New Zealand. But there's more coming on December 20, 2024, December 18, 2026 and December 22, 2028. Avatar's four sequels are shooting concurrently (2 and 3 are in the can, and a third of 4 is complete), meaning that the studio is betting massive amounts that James Cameron is going to give them a string of hits. Much of the internet isn't so sure, claiming Avatar has faded from popular culture in the decade since its release (one running joke involves asking people to name any character from the film). But, Cameron has pulled off making the highest grossing film of all time twice now, beating the recent competition by massive margins. Leading up to both Titanic and Avatar, their monstrous productions were painted as disasters which would lead to certain bombs. If anyone can pull off reviving enough interest to warrant this production cycle, its James Cameron. In his own words, when you do get to see it, "you will shit yourself with your mouth wide open."

Avatar Sequels

Regardless of your opinion on Avatar, what is undeniable is the boundary pushing innovations it introduced to the film world (the ill-fated 3D fad notwithstanding, though Cameron seems to be exploring 3D sans the glasses, but don't get your hopes up). From what little of the production has been revealed publicly, we can see the sequels will be following in this tradition. Behind the scenes production stills indicate a lengthy section of the film will be set underwater, requiring actors to wear complicated motion capture suits and ride what looks to be submersible animatronic jet skis, which will no doubt be replaced in the edit by a new Pandoran creature of some kind.

Actors like Kate Winslet had to train for months to be able to hold their breath under water for up to 7 minutes. Considering how well the look of the first film has aged, its follow-ups are set to look downright amazing. Shooting all the films at once has also supposedly allowed Cameron and his screenwriters to focus on a cohesive overall arc to the series, avoiding the sort of stumbling course correction of the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy. The final product will be something of a saga, transposing the focus from the original Avatar mainstays to their kids, meaning Avatar 2 features several child actors. This shouldn't be a problem, Cameron has directed some of the finest child performances in blockbuster history (creating the iconic young characters of John Conner and Newt, from Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens respectively). Much of the core cast from the first Avatar will be returning, including some whose characters have already died on screen. Sigourney Weaver, for instance, has confirmed that she will be playing a different character this time round. Also expect Vin Diesel to appear, most likely in a voiceover role, and an exhaustive list of actors including but not limited to; Michelle Yeoh, Jemaine Clement, Oona Chaplin, CJ Jones, Cliff Curtis, and so on.

The higher ups seem to be keeping up engagement by adding a huge Pandora section to Disneyworld, and several additions from the exhibit will be included in the forthcoming films. A re-release has put Avatar back on top of the worldwide box office, thanks largely to China, which will probably prove to be the biggest market for the sequels as well. They have good reason to be pushing the Avatar universe on as many people as possible way ahead of the release of the second film, production has set them back a cool one billion dollars. There's a possibility it won't be too difficult to convince audiences to go see huge blockbusters that are actually full of saturated colours and don't look like concrete, but it can be tough to market movies whose titles aren't even set in stone yet. These are the picks so far: “Avatar 2: The Way of the Water, Avatar: The Seed Barer, Avatar: The Tulkin Rider, and lastly Avatar: The Quest for Eywa.”

This is the most extensive plot description yet released: "13 years after the events of the original film, Jake Sully and Neytiri have formed a family and are doing anything to stay together. They are, however, forced to leave their home and explore the different regions of Pandora when their old threat returns to finish what they started." If you need a refresher: Jake Sully was the main character of the first film, a human who led the alien Na'vi to victory against his own people who wanted to exploit Pandora's natural resources. He does this by integrating into the Na'vi using an Avatar, an alien body he transfers his consciousness into, falling in love with the warrior Neytiri in the process.

It's clear that the films are mostly being made to further explore the universe Cameron has created, we'll even be travelling to other moons Pandora shares an orbit with. As far as whether or not you'll find something to like about any of the four upcoming blockbusters, Cameron had this to say: "Basically, if you loved the first movie, you're gonna love these movies, and if you hated it, you're probably gonna hate these. If you loved it at the time, and you said later you hated it, you're probably gonna love these."

 
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