SANTA MONICA — The Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave. at 14th Street in Santa Monica, will present “Weekend Warriors,” a series of classic samurai films, from March 16 to 18. All shows start at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 16
• “Yojimbo” (1961), directed by Akira Kurosawa. Toshiro Mifune plays Sanjuro, a shiftless ronin (samurai without a master) who wanders into a starving village beset by a yakuza gang war. Sanjuro plays the battling sects off against one another and nearly gets himself killed in the process.
• “Samurai Rebellion” (1967), directed by Masaki Kobayashi. Mifune stars as Isaburo Sasahara, an aging swordsman living a quiet life until his clan lord orders that his son marry the lord’s mistress, who has recently displeased the ruler. Reluctantly, father and son take the woman in, and, to the family’s surprise, the young couple fall in love. But the lord soon reverses his decision and demands the mistress’s return. Against all expectations, Isaburo and his son refuse, risking the destruction of their entire family.
Saturday, March 17
• “Seven Samurai” (1954). Director Kurosawa’s first attempt at a samurai film yielded this character-driven masterpiece about an aging swordsman (Takashi Shimura) who enlists six other warriors-for-hire (among them Mifune) to safeguard a remote village plagued by bandits. After viewing “Seven Samurai,” filmmaker Federico Fellini called Kurosawa “the greatest living example of all that an author of the cinema should be.”
Sunday, March 18
• “Sword of Doom” (1966). Director Kihachi Okamoto made a slew of great films, including “Desperado Outpost,” “Age of Assassins,” “Samurai Assassin,” snd “The Human Bullet,” but his ultimate masterwork is this uncompromising samurai film. It is a riveting, desolate picture, anchored by a mesmerizing portrayal from Tatsuya Nakadai as paranoid killer Ryunosuke Tsukue, an outcast from his family and a hunted man recruited by the notorious Shinsengumi band of assassins. There have been many movie renditions of Kaizan Nakazato’s popular novel “The Great Boddhisatva Pass” since it first appeared 70-plus years ago, but Okamoto’s version best captures the nihilistic netherworld of the sociopathic swordsman. Masaru Sato’s music is at the pinnacle of a multitude of great Japanese movie scores from the 1960s. The supporting cast includes Mifune, Michiyo Aratama and Yuzo Kayama.
• “Kill!” (1968), directed by Okamoto. In this pitch-black action comedy, a pair of down-on-their-luck swordsmen arrive in a dusty, windblown town, where they become involved in a local clan dispute. One, previously a farmer, longs to become a noble samurai. The other, a former samurai haunted by his past, prefers living anonymously with gangsters. But when both men discover the wrongdoings of the nefarious clan leader, they side with a band of rebels under siege at a remote mountain cabin. Based on the same source novel as Kurosawa’s “Sanjuro,” “Kill!” playfully tweaks samurai film convention, borrowing elements from established chanbara classics and seasoning them with a little Italian western.
Tickets: $12 general, $8 for American Cinematheque members, $10 for seniors (65+) and students with valid ID. For more information, call (310) 260-1528 or visit www.americancinemathequecalendar.com/aero.