I had a top pick in mind for ‘Y’. Some readers have already guessed it, and others might well suspect what it might be. You will be pleased to know that you are right, and it will be the one you thought.
On the way there, I had some real problems with this letter. I could only scrape up three more to feature, and they are mostly well-known. Well maybe not this first one…
‘Yol’ (1982) is a film made in Turkey by Yilmaz Guney. Amazingly, he was in prison when the film was made using his instructions, and unable to edit it for showing until he escaped to Paris. Because of his opposition to the government, Guney’s film was banned in his home country for many years. This powerful and often touching film follows the travels of a group of prisoners They are allowed out of prison on leave to visit their families, and we see the story of each one unfold on screen. Often tragic, examining family issues, cultural problems, and with some hard themes, this is film-making of the highest order.
A comedy by contrast, and one of Mel Brooks’ fine spoofs. ‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974) rips into the horror genre with gusto, and delivers in every scene. With Gene Wilder as the young doctor, Peter Boyle as the monster, and great support as always from Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Terri Garr, this is still as funny as when I first watched it. “Pardon me, boy. Is this the Transylvania Station?”
Mel Gibson doesn’t usually deliver thoughtful and restrained performances. Not these days, anyway. Back in 1982, he managed a convincing turn as the young journalist, in Peter Weir’s excellent drama, ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’. Set in turbulent times in Indonesia, in 1965, this thriller sees Gibson’s character embroiled in the coup attempt that happened at the time. Always exciting, with convincing performances, this is something of an overlooked classic that deserves more praise. If you don’t care for Gibson, don’t worry. You also get some stalwart Australian character actors, Sigourney Weaver, and the Oscar-winning performance from Linda Hunt. The diminutive Hunt actually plays an Asian man in this film. She completely steals it, and really deserved the Best-Supporting Oscar.
Before ‘The Magnificent Seven’, there was ‘The Seven Samurai’. Before ‘Star Wars’, there was ‘The Hidden Fortress’. The influence of Japanese cinema on later western productions is undeniable. Another example of this, and my top pick for ‘Y’, is ‘Yojimbo’ (1961). Kurosawa once again directs the flawless Toshiro Mifune, in an historical tale of a traveling samurai warrior who plays one side against the other in a dramatic yet often amusing film that is a sheer delight. Arriving at a town torn apart by two warring gangs, he sells his skills to one group, before changing allegiance to the other. Or does he? Mifune is perfect for the role, and the set pieces are a sight to behold too.
This may remind you of the story-line of a later film, and that’s because it is. Sergio Leone ripped off the idea for his film ‘A Fistful of Dollars'(1964). Transferring the action to the wild west, he set in motion one of the most successful film franchises ever seen, and made an international star of Clint Eastwood. Leone later had to pay for his plagiarism, but he had cash to spare…
Yojimbo is much better though. believe me.