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Kurosawa's Geometry Comes Alive in This Short Cinematic Essay

Film essayist Tony Zhou breaks down the killer choreography of Akira Kurosawa's 'The Bad Sleep Well.'

by Emerson Rosenthal
30 January 2015, 5:00pm

A pan to an isolated one-shot reveals Shirai's entrapment. Screencap via

Shot composition should be of penultimate importance to any auteur (second only to story), and this cinema deconstruction explains exactly why framing matters. The Geometry of a Scene is a new short from Every Frame a Painting film essayist Tony Zhou, who in the past explored the subtleties of David Finch's direction, that pulls apart a scene from Akira Kurosawa's 1960 revenge drama, The Bad Sleep Well, in terms of the shapes that the characters make in relation to their settings and to each other. Seen here, the film's protagonist, Nishi, engages in a dangerous dance with his enemies, shown through carefully staged blocking. Zhou explains how, instead of using standard "shot-reverse shot" coverage, Kurosawa keeps the whole scene within one shot by geometrically arranging his characters.

Says Zhou in the video's description, "One of Akira Kurosawa’s many gifts was staging scenes in ways that were bold, simple and visual." While the short itself didn't make it into the larger Kurosawa essay Zhou's currently working on, it's a fascinating foray into the ways in which filmmakers can use geometry to heighten a scene's dramatic tension. 

Check out Tony Zhou on Vimeo for more film essays like this one.

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