Akira Kurosawa (Japan) is one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, with a 57 year long career and 30 films to his name. Kurosawa was awarded a well earned Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1990.
He was voted ‘Asian of the Century’ in the Arts, Literature and Culture category by AsianWeek magazine and CNN, who called him ‘one of the [five] people who contributed most to the betterment of Asia in the past 100 years.’
Originally a painter, his films have a marked ‘painterly’ composition. He would often create strong moods using rain in his movies. Lead characters in his films often learn hard won life lessons through defeat and struggle.
He loved to recreate Shakespearean plays, Samurai stories, and Western Style hero led tales in feudal Japanese situations.
His idols were US Director John Ford, Japanese Director Kenji Mizoguchi, and Sergei M. Eisenstein – who, like Kurosawa, edited his own films.
His family, a few generations previously, were Samurais from the Akita Prefecture. He became famous for his Samurai films abroad, but these films were seen as contentious in Japan.
His Samurai films often featured Ronin – masterless Samurai – and were frequently set in chaotic feudal times of civil war rather than showing respectable Samurai in the peaceful eras at the peak of Japanese nationalism. This made his films atypical in Japan.
His first film showing his true expression as a Director was Drunken Angel which had rave reviews in Japan in 1948. It was an achievement that gave him a foothold to make strong films with independence for his directorial vision.
He had a lifelong relationship with actor Takashi Shimura who starred in many of his films, along with Toshiba Mifune, and Tatsuya Nakadai.
His first international breakthrough was with Rashomon in 1950 which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. Hot on it’s heels came Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Yojimbu and Sunjuro.
Breaking through to western audiences
Kurosawa crossed genres with ease and became well known to western audiences. Indeed he was sometimes more popular with US and European film buffs than with Japanese critics.
Kurosawa received support from George Lucas – who borrowed Kurosawa’s signature ‘wipe effect’ to move from one scene to another in his Star Wars trilogy and cited Kurosawa as an influence for these blockbusters.
He had a difficult and lean few years as the 1960’s drew to a close and the 1970’s began, culminating with a failed suicide attempt. His most cherished brother Heigo – who imparted his love of film to Akira – committed suicide in Akira’s youth. Some of the darkness of Akira’s filmmaking and his struggles with depression are sometimes linked to this traumatic event.
His fortunes turned when George Lucas and Ford Coppola co-produced Kagemusha with Akira, using their influence with 20th Century Fox to get the film made. It opened in Tokyo in 1980 and was a huge success in Japan and a box office hit abroad, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes that year.
Some of his films were remade by western directors; Rashomon was remade as The Outrage, Seven Samurai as A Fistful of Dollars, and The Hidden Fortress as Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope.
Voted 6th greatest Director of all time by US Entertainment Weekly he is one of only two Asian filmmakers in their list of 50. Satyajit Ray is the other, ranked at 25.
Kurosawa was a huge fan of Ray’s work of which he famously said ‘To have not seen the films of Ray is to have lived in the world without ever having seen the moon and the sun.’
He married Actress Yoko Yaguchi in 1945. They had a son Hisao, and a daughter Kazuko, who became an award winning film costume designer.
Kurosawa died in 1998 leaving an incredible legacy to Japan and the world.
Sanshiro Sugata (Judo Saga) 姿三四郎
The Most Beautiful 番美しく
Sanshiro Sugata Part II (Judo Saga 2) 續姿三四郎
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail 虎の尾を踏む男達
No Regrets for Our Youth わが青春に悔なし
Those Who Make Tomorrow 明日を作る人々
One Wonderful Sunday 素晴らしき日曜日
Drunken Angel 酔いどれ天使
The Quiet Duel 静かなる決闘
Stray Dog 野良犬
The Idiot 白痴
Ikiru (To Live) 生きる
Seven Samurai 七人の侍
I Live in Fear (Record of a Living Being) 生きものの記録
Throne of Blood (Spider Web Castle) 蜘蛛巣城
The Lower Depths どん底
The Hidden Fortress 隠し砦の三悪人
The Bad Sleep Well 悪い奴ほどよく眠る
Yojimbo (The Bodyguard) 用心棒
High and Low (Heaven and Hell) 天国と地獄
Red Beard 赤ひげ
Dersu Uzala デルス・ウザーラ
Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) 影武者
Dreams (Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams) 夢
Rhapsody in August 八月の狂詩曲
Madadayo (Not Yet) まあだだよ