Yoshio Tsuchiya

Seven Samurai (1954, Kurosawa Akira)

Seven Samurai is about a farming village, under imminent threat of bandits raiding and stealing their crop–and possibly doing much worse–who decides to hire samurai to defend them. They send four men–Fujiwara Kamatari, Kosugi Yoshio, Tsuchiya Yoshio, and Hidari Bokuzen–to town to hire the samurai. They can’t pay them, but they can feed them. The villagers will subsist on millet, the samurai will get rice. Not a great deal and the men don’t have much luck to start.

However, they soon find Shimura Takashi, an older ronin, who’s able to convince others to take up the cause. There’s young Kimura Isao, who looks up to Shimura and the other samurai, but hasn’t got any real experience yet. Katō Daisuke plays an old war buddy of Shimura’s who happily joins up. Inaba Yoshio is the second-in-command, Chiaki Minoru’s the funny one, Miyaguchi Seiji’s the serious one. Then there’s Mifuno Toshiro as the wild one.

After an hour or so–the film runs just under three and a half–the Seven Samurai head to the village. The first hour has the village setup, then the four farmers quest in the city, then Shimura recruiting the other samurai. There’s an intermission halfway, but the period after the samurai get to the village and before the bandits return, which takes up some of the time after the intermission too, is it’s own phase in the film. Then there’s the battle. A little while before the battle, the villagers–who aren’t just providing room and board for the samurai, but are also being trained to fight alongside them against the bandits–wonder if the bandits have forgotten about them.

And it certainly does seem possible. Seven Samurai’s first few minutes promise this bloody showdown between the villagers and the bandits, which then becomes the samurai and the bandits, but then it’s really just a lot of character study. Sure, they’re all training for the impending battle, but it’s character study. Kurosawa and co-writers Hashimoto Shinobu and Oguni Hideo subtlely explore the villagers and the samurai, with Mifune and Kimura getting the most emphasis on the latter, Tsuchiya and Fujiwara getting the most emphasis on the former. Turns out even though the village decided to hire samurai, they didn’t really think about what it meant for samurai to be living among them. Their only previous experience with samurai being samurai attacking and pillaging villages.

Mifune’s character development throughout the second portion–he shows up in the beginning, then disappears until the night before they leave for the village (the first hour takes place over about a week)–plays off the other samurai. Even though Shimura and company think they’ve got Mifune figured out, they really don’t. And he’s able to transcend the class divisions built into their interactions with the villagers.

Meanwhile Kimura begins romancing Fujiwara’s daughter, Tsushima Keiko, and it becomes clear he doesn’t really understand what it means to be a samurai either. Not from the perspective of a villager, who’s always a potential victim in one way or another.

There’s a whole lot to Seven Samurai. Kurosawa and his co-writers don’t introduce a lot more in the last hour… wait, never mind. Yes, yes they do. Amid the multi-day battle sequence, they do introduce a lot more. Mifune has a whole other subplot, as Kurosawa reveals he’s actually juxtaposed against Kimura, which never seemed to be a thing but was a thing the whole time. Going back to their first scene together (with Shimura). Only they were subplot to the villagers pursuing Shimura at that point.

But I was really trying to get to the violence thing. In the first hour, whenever Kurosawa shows violence, it doesn’t have any sound. There are the sounds behind it, but the violence itself–the steel of the swords cutting into flesh–has none. It’s uncanny and directs the viewer’s attention. When it comes time, in the third part, for the battle… Kurosawa handles violence differently. His original approach to it, what he emphasizes, is baked into what he does later, but it’s evolved. Kurosawa’s constantly perturbing Seven Samurai’s style. Like his editing. At the beginning, there are some sharp cuts to bring the viewer back in time to sixteenth century. He doesn’t keep them going once he’s got the time period established; he just takes time and gives attention to getting it established.

Especially since he later calls back to those cuts in a seemingly unrelated sequence, which then informs a bunch of other things as far as character development and revelation.

There’s not a wasted frame in Seven Samurai. Kurosawa’s precise. The film never drags, never dawdles. The three and a half hours sail by. Even the subplot introductions–after the film shifts over to Shimura and the samurai–are seamless. The pacing is just another of its master-strokes.

Technically, Samurai’s singular. Kurosawa’s direction–which changes stylistically as the plot progresses–is otherworldly. The way he and cinematographer Nakai Asakazu are able to frame the action horizontally make Samurai feel like an Academy ratio Panavision picture for the first two hours. Nakai’s photography is fantastic. Ditto Hayasaka Fumio’s music and Matsuyama Takashi’s production design. It’s all breathtakingly faultless.

Then there are the performances. Shimura and Mifune get the flashiest roles. Mifune in a loud way, Shimura in a quiet. They’re fantastic. Kimura’s good; he’s sort of the viewer’s point of entry for the samurai, but also the villagers. Though Mifune turns out to have similar avenues of insight. Both Miyaguchi and Katō have some excellent moments. But the villagers. Tsuchiya and Fujiwara are awesome; they get the big arcs running throughout, just under the surface; constant. They’re heartbreaking in different ways.

Hidari eventually becomes a sidekick to Mifune, which gives some of the very necessary comic relief once things get intense. And Tsushima’s good as Kimura’s love interest. She, Shimura, Tsuchiya, and Miyaguchi have the most pensive parts. They have these amazing internal experiences only relayed through expression; Kurosawa’s editing, not to mention his composition, showcases their silent thoughtfulness.

Seven Samurai is a masterpiece. It’s nigh impossible to imagine a way it could be even minutely improved.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Kurosawa, Hashimoto Shinobu and Oguni Hideo; director of photography, Nakai Asakazu; music by Hayasaka Fumio; production designer, Matsuyama Takashi; produced by Motoki Sôjirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Shimura Takashi (Shimada), Kimura Isao (Katsushirō), Mifune Toshirō (Kikuchiyo), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Rikichi), Tsushima Keiko (Shino), Inaba Yoshio (Gorōbei), Miyaguchi Seiji (Kyūzō), Katō Daisuke (Shichirōji), Fujiwara Kamatari (Manzō), Chiaki Minoru (Heihachi), Hidari Bokuzen (Yohei), Kosugi Yoshio (Mosuke), and Kōdō Kokuten (Gisaku).


The Great Monster Varan (1958, Honda Ishirô)

The only thing more tedious and lethargic than the first half of Varan is the second half of Varan. The first half has a motley crew of lepidopterologists awakening a giant monster. The second half has these lepidopterologists consulting with the military to destroy said monster.

Not sure why the military thinks a bunch of butterfly scientists will have good ideas about how to kill a giant monster. Eventually Hirata Akihiko shows up with the solution. Hirata killed the original Godzilla, which is only appropriate in Varan, since the monster has the exact same roar as Godzilla. Varan is done on the cheap. The real cheap.

The film has its share of behind-the-scenes drama. It was originally for television–a coproduction between Toho and an American company, but then the American company went bankrupt. So the two-part TV movie became a single eighty-six minute feature, in “TohoPanScope,” which had them cropping the television framing. I suppose that cropping is why a lot of director Honda’s shots are so bad. Even still, it doesn’t explain away the bad acting or godawful pace.

Or the lousy giant monster suit, which always seems in danger of coming apart onscreen.

There are numerous… well, they’re not exactly plot holes but narrative skips. Like when there’s a forest fire all of a sudden, or how–in the second half–the military attacks have nothing to do with what the Secretary of Defense orders. It makes sense as the Secretary of Defense (Yamada Minosuke) is utterly out of his depth. Yamada’s acting is bad, the script is bad, but even so, when he listens intently to the ideas of chief lepidopterologist Senda Koreya, there’s no plausible reason for Yamada to be listening to Senda. Senda’s writing is probably better, but his performance is so much worse. It’s a risible performance amid some decidedly unimpressive ones. Senda comes up with the solution at the last minute for saving the day, which is another of the film’s narrative skips. He all of a sudden remembers something–which the film doesn’t actually show, but should’ve–as the deus ex.

The first half makes Nomura Kôzô the hero for a while. He’s the intrepid lepidopterologist who dares to return to the giant monster’s territory after it kills two of his colleagues. He brings along Sonoda Ayumi; she’s a reporter and sister of one of the dead lepidopterologists. Varan has so little character establishing, her job is never important. There’s some stuff with newspapers reporting the monster, but it’s before she even shows up.

Bad editing from Taira Kazuji, piddly photography from Koizumi Hajime–though, really, who knows how Varan is really supposed to look (Toho apparently destroyed the original aspect ratio version of the film). But what remains isn’t adequately, much less impressively, photographed. The constant use of stock footage makes the experience even worse.

Ifukube Akira’s score is bad. Though he revised some of the music for later Toho kaiju movies to far better effect. Taira doesn’t really cut with the music in mind. Or sound. Maybe it’s because there are supposed to be commercial breaks. Seeing Varan cut into with commercials might help the overall viewing experience.

It’s an awful film. Especially when it refuses to end; the second half just goes on and on and on. There’s one single good miniature effects shot–and one good composite shot–but otherwise all the effects are bad. I suppose some of the matte backgrounds at the beginning are good. They aren’t godawful at least.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Sekizawa Shin’ichi, based on a story by Kuronuma Ken; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Shimizu Kiyoshi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nomura Kôzô (Kenji), Sonoda Ayumi (Yuriko), Senda Koreya (Dr. Sugimoto), Matsuo Fumindo (Horiguchi), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Fujimora), Murakami Fuyuki (Dr. Majima), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Katsumoto), Yamada Minosuke (Secretary of Defense), and Sera Akira (High Priest).


Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991, Ohmori Kazuki)

Not much goes right in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Director Ohmori has a strange way of being boastful about really lame ideas and even worse technical executions. He spends a lot of time–and the film’s not short, it runs an hour and forty-three–trying to show off the film’s big ideas. It’s a bunch of time travel nonsense involving a bunch of white dorks from the 23rd century who travel back in time to tell the Japanese how it’s going to be.

Seriously, it really is about white people being so jealous of Japan’s success they don’t just travel back in time, they create a giant monster to destroy Japan. It’s a film made under the assumption children are dumb, which is different than the assumption children like dumb things. What’s so strange about it is how vested Ohmori gets into the time travel nonsense since it’s terribly handled, both in the script and his direction. It’s not like there are any gem moments in Ghidorah; the monster fight scene is technically marvelous but dramatically inert–Ohmori blows through any goodwill on the nerd Terminator (Robert Scott Field) who terrorizes the good guys.

There’s a slight subplot about ostensible protagonist Toyohara Kosuke figuring out the true origin of Godzilla and investigating it. The time travel thing then directly effects everyone already involved in that subplot, which makes things real contrived. It’s one of the worst time travel movies. There’s nothing smart about it, it’s mostly all profoundly idiotic. And Ohmori does it to delay Godzilla’s appearance in a movie called Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.

Is it worth it?

No, not at all. Technical competency aside, that third act is a fail. It’s not like Ohmori asks much from his cast but he even short-changes them with the finale. Anna Nakagawa does okay as the sympathetic future person, but it’s all on goodwill Ohmori never delivers. Okada Megumi has nothing to do. She doesn’t even get to spout exposition. Still, just standing around, she’s better than Sasaki Katsuhiko. He’s the scientist advising the good guys. He’s comically bad. It’s a bad part and Ohmori doesn’t direct his cast well, but Sasaki’s still a weak link.

Occasionally, Nakagawa or Toyohara will have a good delivery and the movie won’t be in the middle of dumb exposition and Ghidorah will be all right. For a while, it seems like the film will coast through. It can’t make it through that disastrous third act though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ohmori Kazuki; director of photography, Sekiguchi Yoshinori; edited by Ikeda Michiko; music by Ifukube Akira; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Toyohara Kosuke (Terasawa), Nakagawa Anna (Emmy), Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Sasaki Katsuhiko (Professor Mazaki), Robert Scott Field (Android M-11), Kobayashi Akiji (Tsuchiashi Yuzo), Nishioka Tokuma (Fujio), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Shindo), Chuck Wilson (Chuck Wilson), Richard Berger (Grenchiko) and Ueda Kôichi (Ikehata).


Godzilla Raids Again (1955, Oda Motoyoshi)

Godzilla Raids Again has all the elements it needs to be a quirky success. It has a low budget and rushed schedule, resulting in a hodgepodge of awkwardly effective sequences amid otherwise inept ones. The script, from Murta Takeo and Hidaka Shigeaki, mixes inert melodrama with giant monsters. But then the script keeps getting distracted–there’s a “should be wacky” subplot with escaped prisoners–except never because it’s interested, certainly never because director Oda’s interested, but because there needs to be filler.

There’s some great filmmaking in the filler. Most of Taira Kazuji’s editing is terrible, but in the first half of the film when they’re desperately trying to pad, it’s amazing. There’s this sequence from the first film–in the story, not just a flashback–they actually paused Raids Again to play back the highlights from the previous film. The way the newsreel works in the narrative, the way it plays without any sound from newsreel or the audience, it’s creepy and it’s really good.

Other good moments include a cobbled together nightclub scene and the film’s opening discovery of the new Godzilla (and his nemesis monster).

Unfortunately, the cast gives fairly weak performances. There’s nothing anyone could do with the script, but they don’t even try. Except lead Koizumi Hiroshi, who always looks like he’s eagerly awaiting some acting direction; he never gets any from Oda.

Endô Seiichi’s photography is all over the place. Until the last third, it’s usually pretty good. In that last third, however, it goes to pot.

Also going to pot in the last third is the script. The editing gets worse–Taira gets a big responsibility with the final sequence and it doesn’t go well. Oda doesn’t have any actual drama, the script doesn’t have any drama; Taira’s editing needs to create the tension, the suspense. It does neither.

Everyone just seems bored with the film–except the effects team, there are some good effects shots and some great miniatures.

In the end, Raids Again disappoints. Again and again.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Oda Motoyoshi; screenplay by Murata Takeo and Hidaka Shigeaki, based on a story by Kayama Shigeru; director of photography, Endô Seiichi; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Satô Masaru; production designers, Abe Teruaki and Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Koizumi Hiroshi (Tsukioka Shoichi), Wakayama Setsuko (Yamaji Hidemi), Chiaki Minoru (Kobayashi Kôji), Shimizu Masao (Dr. Tadokoro), Onda Seijirô (Captain Terasawa), Sawamura Sônosuke (Shibeki), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Tajima), Mokushô Mayuri (Inouye), Kasama Yukio (Yamaji) and Shimura Takashi (Yamane).


Son of Godzilla (1967, Fukuda Jun)

Strangely enough, Son of Godzilla ends well. It’s a surprise because the film loses a lot of steam throughout. Whether it’s the human plot or the Godzilla plot, the scene inevitably fails because of director Fukuda. Unless it’s one of the multiple times writers Sekizawa Shin’ichi and Shiba Kazue completely fail. Son of Godzilla constantly starts and stops. There’s no unifying style.

Directing the actors, Fukuda often shows ambition. It’s just there’s no way for that ambition to be realized. While he can intuit how a scene should play, he can’t make the scene play. Fukuda is just a bad director–and, of course, Fujii Ryôhei’s tone-deaf editing doesn’t help anything.

The film has an appealing male lead, a too enthusiastic newspaper reporter (Kubo Akira) who ends up as short order cook for a group of scientists. They’re studying weather conditions on an island where Godzilla and other giant monsters coincidentally are hanging out. The film often plays the giant monsters for laughs. Not well, but still successfully. The interactions between Godzilla and his not quite as giant son, Minilla, are endearing and fun. If incompetently visualized.

Now for a few things deserving standout attention.

First, Beverly Maeda as an island “savage” who’s always saving Kubo. She’s this great character; then, all of a sudden, Kubo’s the boss. But nothing about the characters’ personalities change, just Maeda’s place in the film. Logically, she should still be the hero but she isn’t. It hurts the film a lot. Maeda’s performance isn’t quite good, but she’s definitely appealing. At least until she’s the damsel.

Second, the music. Satô Masaru does this crazy, campy, playful score for the film. For ten minute stretches, Satô’s score makes Son of Godzilla feel like an absurdist comedy. It seems like Fukuda gets that disconnect, but then he doesn’t properly utilize it, which again makes the filmmaking appear inept. It’s as though everything good about the film–except the acting–is accidentally okay.

Finally, the giant mantises who terrorize the humans (who are more interested in the weather than these giant monsters) and Minilla. While the special effects are problematic in the film, the mantises are great. As are the backdrop paintings. Fukuda can’t direct the jungle sets, however. They’re always stagy.

But then comes Son of Godzilla’s last sequence and it’s amazing. Fukuda doesn’t screw up the direction and Satô’s score changes tone and the humans finally say something interesting. The successful ending closes the film on its highest note.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi and Shiba Kazue; director of photography, Yamada Kazuo; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Satô Maseru; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Kubo Akira (Goro), Beverly Maeda (Saeko), Hirata Akihiko (Fujisaki), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Furukawa), Sahara Kenji (Morio), Maruyama Ken’ichirô (Ozawa), Kuno Seishirô (Tashiro), Saijô Yasuhiko (Suzuki) and Takashima Tadao (Dr. Kusumi).


Gigantis, The Fire Monster (1959, Oda Motoyoshi and Hugo Grimaldi)

There’s something rather amusing about Gigantis, The Fire Monster and not just its idiocy. It’s the American version of the second Godsilla picture and it has some amazingly bad pseudo-science–the monsters are “fire monsters,” which may or may not have been dinosaurs. They lived on Earth before the planet cooled and like it hot. They breathe fire and so on, though only Gigantis (the renamed Godzilla) does so here. The other monster doesn’t get the chance.

Unfortunately, there’s no credit for who wrote the American dialogue. It’s confusing, dumb, entertaining. There’s sadly no credit for Keye Luke either, who narrates the whole picture as one of the main characters.

The source film, Godzilla Raids Again, has a lot of problems of its own and some of them do carry over to Gigantis. First and foremost are the bad fight scenes. Japanese version director Oda Motoyoshi speeds up the action artificially; he speeds up the film. The fight scenes, with the lame inserted music–and screams from people in fires–are a real problem.

But somehow Luke isn’t a problem. Oh, the narration is stupid and all, but Luke does an excellent job delivering it. When his narration disappears for the film’s second half, he’s sorely missed. There are whole subplots in the narration and, better yet, the cast occasionally interacts with how the narration is playing out. Not often enough, but occasionally.

There’s still no reason to see this film, skip this one. Narration alone doesn’t carry it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Oda Motoyoshi and Hugo Grimaldi; screenplay by Murata Takeo and Hidaka Shigeaki, based on a novel by Kayama Shigeru; director of photography, Endo Seiichi; edited by Taira Kazuji and Grimaldi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki and Paul Schreibman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Koizumi Hiroshi (Tsukioka), Wakayama Setsuko (Hidemi), Chiaki Minoru (Kobayashi), Shimura Takashi (Dr. Yamane), Shimizu Masao (Dr. Tadokoro), Onda Seijirô (Commander), Sawamura Sonosuke (Shibeki), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Tajima), Mokushô Mayuri (Radio Operator), Kasama Yukio (Father) and Oikawa Takeo (Police Chief).


Destroy All Monsters (1968, Honda Ishirô)

Wow, it ends with Godzilla and Minya (Godzilla’s son for those unfamiliar–there’s no mama; I’m pretty sure Godzilla’s asexual) waving to the camera. How sweet.

Destroy All Monsters is barely a Godzilla movie, really. The monster only shows up at the beginning for the establishing of the ground situation–the narrator explains it is a near future and all the monsters live peacefully on one island–for a bit in the middle and then at the end for the big monster mash. The story itself doesn’t need an appearance.

It’s a sci-fi action thriller–Earth is under attack from space aliens and this crack UN team of guys races around doing stuff to save the world. It’s ripe for a remake–with the casual misogyny (all the evil aliens are female), maybe Neil LaBute could do it.

The effects are weak (it’s hard to believe it’s from the same year as 2001), but Honda’s occasionally ambitious with the effects work. It doesn’t look real, but it’s neat. Unfortunately, those moments are far and few. The film only runs eighty-some minutes but it drags often. There’s a lengthy sequence with the brainwashed humans in suits acting like it’s a shootout from a James Bond rip-off. And all the sets look like something out of “Star Trek” for the first twenty minutes or so.

The performances are generally fine, except ingenue Kobayashi Yukiko. She’s atrocious.

Ifukube Akira’s music is utterly fantastic.

Still, it’s a chore to get through.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Honda and Kimura Takeshi; director of photography, Kankura Taiichi; edited by Fujii Ryohei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Kubo Akira (SY-3 Captain Yamabe Katsuo), Tazaki Jun (Dr. Yoshido), Kobayashi Yukiko (Yamabe Kyoko), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Dr. Otani), Ai Kyôko (Kilaak Queen), Andrew Hughes (Dr. Stevenson), Tôgin Chôtarô (Ogata), Tajima Yoshifumi (General), Sahara Kenji (Commander Nishikawa) and Itô Hisaya (Major Tada).


Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965, Honda Ishirô)

So… Godzilla dances in Invasion of Astro-Monster. He also boxes a little. Unfortunately, the boxing part does little to liven up the last half, which is incredibly tiring. The dancing comes earlier—though not by much, but enough to “help.”

Godzilla doesn’t appear in the film until the middle mark. Instead, the film’s about astronauts Nick Adams and Takarada Akira discovering a civilization of aliens living on a previously undiscovered moon of Jupiter.

Adams and Takarada are both pretty bad, but Takarada is worse. Adams is visibly awful, but he’s trying. Takarada doesn’t try. Not even when he gets to be a scientist for a bit (being an astronauts means you’re qualified for anything).

There’s also the romance subplot. Takarada won’t let his sister marry her boyfriend. Sawai Keiko is fine as the sister, as is Kubo Akira as her boyfriend. He gets slightly better scenes than her; unfortunately, both of them finish the movie as Adams’s sidekicks.

The rest of the acting is lukewarm. Tazaki Jun is pretty good. Tsuchiya Yoshio is terrible as the villain, but it’s probably not his fault. I think his costume inspired Devo; it’s unbelievably silly looking.

But Honda’s direction (in Panavision) occasionally shows he’s fully capable of doing something amazing. His space shots in Astro-Monster, though brief, are phenomenally well composed. Even the later framing is also strong.

Ifukube Akira’s music is excellent; some of the miniature work is quite good.

But it’s an uphill battle—the script sinks the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shinichi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fujii Ryohei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nick Adams (Astronaut Glenn), Takarada Akira (Astronaut Fuji), Tazaki Jun (Dr. Sakurai), Kubo Akira (Teri Tetsuo), Mizuno Kumi (Miss Namikawa), Sawai Keiko (Fuji Haruno), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Controller of Planet X), Sasaki Takamaru (Chairman of Earth Committee), Shimizu Gen (Minister of Defense) and Tabu Kenzo (Commander from Planet X).


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