The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 1: Growing up (1910–1935)
Akira Kurosawa was born on the 23rd of March 1910 in the Omori district of Tokyo. His father Isamu (1864-1948) worked as the director of the Army’s Physical Education Institute’s lower secondary school, while his mother Shima (1870-1952) came from a merchant family living in Osaka. Akira was the eighth and youngest child of the moderately wealthy family, with the oldest two already grown up and one having died, leaving Kurosawa to grow up with three sisters and one brother.
The Kurosawas were descendants of a former samurai family from the Akita prefecture, located in the northern parts of Japan’s largest island Honshu. They could reportedly trace their lineage all the way back to the 11th century warlord Abe no Sadato (1019-1062).
In his autobiography, which several commentators have suggested reads much like a screenplay, Kurosawa recollects his father’s early influence on him. In addition to promoting physical exercise – Akira was the captain of his school’s kendo club – Isamu Kurosawa was open to western traditions and saw theatre and motion pictures educationally valuable, encouraging his children to watch films. As a result, young Akira saw his first movies at the age of six. Another formative influence was his elementary school teacher Mr Tachikawa, whose progressive educational practices ignited in his young pupil first a love of drawing and then an interest in education in general.
In addition to the influence of the grown-ups, Kurosawa had two particularly close childhood friends whom he later saw as having had a major role in his early development. One was the elementary school classmate Keinosuke Uekusa, who just like Kurosawa was a sensitive child and something of an outsider. The friendship between the two lasted their lifetimes, with Uekusa becoming a successful playwright and novelist with whom Kurosawa would co-write two of his early films. In his autobiography, Kurosawa describes the young versions of Uekusa and himself as “crybabies”, and then goes on to jokingly remark that this never really changed when they grew up, only that Uekusa would grow up to be a “romantic crybaby”, and Kurosawa a “humanist crybaby”.
Another major childhood influence was Heigo Kurosawa, Akira’s older brother who was four years his senior. One specific incident which Kurosawa recollects in his memoirs took place in the aftermath of the Great Kant? earthquake that devastated Tokyo in 1923. Heigo took the 13-year-old Akira to view the destruction, and when the younger brother wanted to look away from the human corpses and animal carcasses which were scattered everywhere, Heigo forbade him to do so, instead encouraging Akira to face his fears by confronting them directly. Some commentators have suggested that this incident was an enormous influence on Kurosawa’s later artistic career, instilling in him the ability to confront unpleasant truths head on.
Unlike Akira, Heigo was academically gifted, but soon after failing to secure a place in Tokyo’s foremost high school, he began to detach himself from the rest of the family, preferring to concentrate on his interest in foreign literature. In the late 1920s, Heigo became a benshi, a silent film narrator, for Tokyo film theatres, and quickly made a name for himself. Akira, who at this point was entertaining the notion of becoming a painter even after failing entrance exams to art schools, moved in to live with his older brother, and the two became inseparable. Through Heigo, Akira gained an easy access to theatres and devoured not only films but also theatre and circus performances, while exhibiting his paintings and working for the left wing Proletarian Artists’ League.
In 1930, the 20-year-old Akira was called up for military conscription, but thanks to a sympathetic army doctor he was deemed physically unfit to serve. This would have a major impact on Kurosawa’s career ten years later, since due to having been labelled unfit to serve, he would not be drafted to fight in World War II.
As the production of talking films increased, film narrators like Heigo began to lose work in the early 1930s. Not wanting to impose on the reduced means of his brother, Akira moved back to live again with his parents. In July 1933, Heigo suddenly committed suicide. Only four months later, Kurosawa’s eldest brother also died, leaving Akira, at the age of 23, the only one of the Kurosawa brothers still alive, together with his sisters.
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 2: Director in training (1935–1941)
In 1935, the film studio Photo Chemical Laboratories (PCL), which would later become Japan’s leading studio Toho, advertised that they were looking for new assistant directors. This was part of the company’s ongoing strategy to lure in talent, which had already seen big name directors and actors like Kajir? Yamamoto, Mikio Naruse and Denjir? ?k?chi join the studio from other companies.
Although he had no burning interest in entering the film industry, Kurosawa answered the newspaper ad and submitted the required essay, which asked applicants to discuss the fundamental deficiencies of Japanese films and find ways to overcome them. His half-mocking take on the subject was that if the deficiencies were fundamental, there was no way to correct them. Kurosawa’s essay earned him a call to follow-up exams, and although his overall performance was not on par with the competition, director Kajir? Yamamoto took a liking to Kurosawa and insisted that the studio hire him. As a result, the 25-year-old Kurosawa joined PCL in February 1936.
The Japanese film studios at the time worked under an apprentice system, whereby young and aspiring directors would work their way up in the hierarchy, starting with smaller tasks and little by little gaining more experience and responsibility until, if everything went all right, they one day began to helm their own productions. For Kurosawa, this period of apprenticeship lasted for five years, during which he worked under numerous directors, including Mikio Naruse, Eisuke Takizawa, Shigeo Yagura and Osamu Fushimizu. Kurosawa got on well with both the established directors as well as the other young new talents at PCL, including Ishiro Honda and Senkichi Taniguchi, who would both become established directors on their own, and with whom Kurosawa would later work on his own films.
Yet, by far the most important figure in Kurosawa’s early development as a director was Kajir? Yamamoto, the man who had almost hand-picked Kurosawa for the studio. A total of 17 of Kurosawa’s 24 films as an assistant director were under Yamamoto, many of which were so-called Enoken comedies starring the popular actor Kenichi Enomoto. Yamamoto nurtured Kurosawa’s talent, promoting him directly from third assistant director to chief assistant director merely a year after the young apprentice had started working for him. With each promotion Kurosawa’s responsibilities increased, and he found himself working in a wide variety of tasks ranging from stage construction and film development to location scouting, script polishing, rehearsals, cameras, lighting, direction, dubbing and editing. For the last of Kurosawa’s films as an assistant director, Horse (Uma, 1941), Kurosawa all but took over the production, as Yamamoto was occupied with the shooting of another film.
Under Yamamoto’s guidance, Kurosawa picked up the skills required to become a film director. Among the advice and practical skills taught by Yamamoto was that a director should first and foremost need to know how to write his own screenplays. Following his mentor’s advice, the young director-in-training made a point of writing at least one page each day, reasoning that by keeping up with that pace, he would have at least two full screenplays finished each year. Soon, Kurosawa realised also another crucial thing: the potential earnings to be gained from screenwriting were much higher than what he was being paid as an assistant director. In his career, Kurosawa would not only write or co-write all of the thirty films which he directed, but he also provided over thirty additional screenplays for other directors.
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 3: Directorial debut, marriage and wartime works (1941–1945)
For Kurosawa, Kajir? Yamamoto’s Horse (1941) had served as something of a graduation work from his director’s apprenticeship, and for the next two years Kurosawa concentrated on screenwriting, searching for a story that could serve as his directorial debut. His efforts during this time produced no less than twelve screenplays, two of which were filmed by Toho: Currents of Youth (Seishun no kiryu) was released in February 1942 and The Triumphant Song of the Wings (Tsubasa no gaika) in October the same year, while two unfilmed screenplays – Snow (Yuki) and All is Quiet (Shizunakari) – won awards from the Ministry of Information, a wartime body that promoted nationalistic themes.
Japan had been at war since its invasion of China in 1937, had formally joined the Axis Powers in 1940, and had ignited a more global conflict in December 1941 by attacking British and American holdings, including Pearl Harbor. Many Japanese filmmakers were drafted to serve overseas, but thanks to his official status as physically unfit to serve which he had obtained a decade earlier from a friendly doctor, Kurosawa could continue working as a film director. But just like with anyone else, the war effort affected also his life. Film production was slowing down and it was also increasingly closely scrutinised by the government’s wartime censorship boards. Kurosawa’s first attempt at launching his career came to a halt in pre-production when censors rejected his script for A German at Daruma Temple (Daruma-dera no doitsujin), while his second attempt with Three Hundred Miles Through Enemy Lines (Tenkichu odan sanbyaku ri) was turned down by his film studio, who could not afford to produce it due to wartime cuts.
Towards the end of 1942, novelist Tsuneo Tomita published his judo novel Sanshiro Sugata. Having been intrigued by earlier advertisements, Kurosawa bought a copy of the book on its publication day, devoured it in one sitting and immediately asked Toho to secure the film rights. Kurosawa’s instincts to move fast in the matter proved correct, as within a few days three other major Japanese studios were also after the same rights. Toho prevailed, and Kurosawa was finally in pre-production on what was to become his directorial debut.
The filming if Sanshiro Sugata began on location in Yokohama on December 13, 1942. In his autobiography, Kurosawa recalls how strange his own voice sounded when he first called “action” – something that he had done countless times as an assistant director. The production proceeded without major hiccups but getting the completed film past the censors was a different matter. Despite its propagandist qualities, the censorship board saw the work as too “British-American”, and it was only through the intervention of director Yasujir? Ozu that Sanshiro Sugata was finally accepted for release and came out on 25 March 1943. Kurosawa had just turned 33.
Sanshiro Sugata was met with a very positive reception and turned into both a critical and commercial success. Yet, not quite everything went according to plan as despite originally allowing the film to be shown with Kurosawa’s own cut, the wartime censorship office soon decided to remove some 18 minutes of footage for all subsequent screenings. Although around eight minutes of the removed footage has later been recovered, we no longer have Kurosawa’s original cut for the film, and the remaining ten minutes are now considered lost.
Following the success of Sanshiro Sugata, the Japanese Navy commissioned Kurosawa to create a propaganda film about their iconic Zero fighter aircraft, but the project failed to take off as the military lacked the necessary resources for a production of the planned scale. Instead, Kurosawa began working on a story about female factory workers. The Most Beautiful (Ichiban utsukushiku) is a fairly straightforward propaganda film which Kurosawa and his crew filmed in a semi-documentary style between January and March 1944. In order to coax out realistic acting performances, Kurosawa’s approach was to have the actors and crew live in a real factory throughout the shooting period, eat the factory food and call each other by their character names. The director would later use similar methods on many occasions during in his career.
Kurosawa, whose director’s income was hardly sufficient to support himself, let alone a family, continued to write screenplays. Wrestling-Ring Festival (Dohyosai) had been directed by Santaro Marune for release in March 1944, while the Kiyoshi Saeki directed Bravo! Tenbare Ishin (Tenbare Ishin tasuke) opened in cinemas in January 1945.
Kurosawa had also been made to direct a film that he had little interest in making. Sanshiro Sugata Part II, a half-hearted sequel to his debut work, premiered on May 3, 1945. The film, at times blatantly propagandist, is generally considered his weakest. It largely traces through the same paths as the original, but without the same kind of enthusiasm as the director had for his debut work, with Donald Richie summing it up by writing that “in it we have what the original Sugata might have been had an ordinary director doneit.” (Richie 41) It is, however, not entirely without merit and continued Kurosawa’s development as an experimental director, featuring among other things his first axial cuts.
After Sanshiro Sugata Part II, Kurosawa planned to film his screenplay The Lifted Spear (Dokkoi kono yari), based on the same historical events that he would finally four decades later revisit in the 1980 film Kagemusha, but the project was cancelled in pre-production due to a lack of funds. To keep momentum on, Kurosawa then quickly moved on to write a film that would be both censor friendly and less expensive to produce. The resulting The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (Tora no o o Fumu Otokotachi) was based on the Kabuki play Kanjinch? and completed in September 1945.
But despite shooting the film with frantic speed, Kurosawa had been too slow. A month before the film was finished, Japan had surrendered to the Allies and the American Occupation of Japan had begun. The values promoted in The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail were now seen too feudal by the new occupation censors, and the work was banned before its release. It would ultimately be released almost a decade later in 1952. Ironically enough, while in production the film had already been earmarked by Japanese wartime censors as too western and democratic, and the film would most probably not have seen the light of day even had the war not ended before its completion.
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 4: Son and immediate post-war works (1945–1950)
After the failed release of The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail and Japan’s surrender to the Americans, Kurosawa had spent much of the rest of the year at home, working on a theatre play titled Talking (Shaberu) which reflected some of the changes taking place in post-war Japan. He also had another good reason to stay at home, as the end of Y?ko’s pregnancy was nearing. On December 20, 1945, she gave birth to a son whom the new parents named Hisao.
Kurosawa was briefly called back to the director’s chair in early 1946. Toho was suffering from labour strikes and the studio requested Kurosawa’s participation in the filming of the pro-unionist Those Who Make Tomorrow (Asu o tsukuru hitobito). Directorial duties on the film were shared between Kurosawa, Kajir? Yamamoto and Hideo Sekigawa, and Kurosawa himself had very little interest in making the film which reportedly took only a week to shoot. He would never consider it a part of his oeuvre.
For his first proper post-war film, Kurosawa turned to the subject of the war itself. No Regrets for Our Youth (Waga seishun ni kuinashi) was prepared for a summer production and was released on October 29, 1946. The film was based on the 1933 Takigawa incident, when the Japanese government accused and effectively fired professor Yukitoki Takigawa of Kyoto Imperial University’s Faculty of Law for spreading Marxist ideology, resulting in a string of faculty resignations and student protests. Kurosawa’s film was a fictionalised account of a similar incident, and very critical of Japan’s pre-war regime. It starred the 26-year-old upcoming star Setsuko Hara, who is best remembered for her work with Yasujiro Ozu.
In many ways No Regrets for Our Youth is Kurosawa’s first film with a distinct directorial voice. His aim with the film and those that immediately followed it was to argue that the only sensible direction for Japan after the war was to establish a new respect towards the individual and the self. The original script had to be rewritten due to censorship and because of its controversial nature the completed work divided critics. Yet, the film managed to win the approval of the audiences who turned the film’s title into something of a post-war catchphrase. No Regrets for Our Youth was also the first of his own films where Kurosawa shared the writing credit, beginning a habit of collaborative writing that he would stick to for the next forty years.
Following No Regrets For Our Youth, Kurosawa began work on two love stories. He first contributed to the script of the ensemble film Four Love Stories (Yotsu no koi no monogatari), directed by Shir? Toyoda, Mikio Naruse, Kenta Yamazaki and Teinosuke Kinugasa. Three months after the film’s release, Kurosawa’s own One Wonderful Sunday premiered on July 1, 1947 to somewhat mixed reviews.
One Wonderful Sunday reunited Kurosawa with his childhood friend and novelist Keinosuke Uekusa, with whom he shared the writer’s credit. On the surface, the film is a relatively uncomplicated and sentimental post-war love story which shows the influence of Frank Capra, D. W. Griffith and F. W. Murnau. When looked a little more closely, however, its true nature becomes apparent as a sharp commentary on the everyday challenges faced by people in post-war Japan. One Wonderful Sunday earned Kurosawa the first major award of his directorial career, with the second annual Mainichi Film Awards in 1947 awarding him with its Best Director award. The film also won for Best Screenplay.
A third film released in 1947 with Kurosawa’s involvement was the action adventure Snow Trail (Ginrei no hate). It was directed by Senkichi Taniguchi from Kurosawa’s screenplay and debuted a young actor by the name of Toshir? Mifune, whom Kurosawa had helped to pick for the studio from a group of prospective new talents. It was the beginning of a creative pairing that would become one of the most famous in the history of cinema.
Kurosawa’s next film, Drunken Angel (Yoidore tenshi), is often considered the director’s first major work. Although the script, like all of the director’s immediate post-war works, had to go through forced rewrites because of occupation censorship, Kurosawa felt that Drunken Angel was the first film on which he was able to express himself freely. It was also his first time he was directing Toshir? Mifune, who would proceed to play leading roles in all but one of the director’s next sixteen films. While Mifune was not strictly speaking cast as the main character in Drunken Angel, his explosive performance as a young gangster suffering from tuberculosis so dominates the screen that it shifts the focus from the titular alcoholic doctor treating him, played by another major Kurosawa regular, Takashi Shimura, who had already appeared in all of Kurosawa’s early films apart from Sanshiro Sugata Part II and One Wonderful Sunday, and who would appear in altogether 21 of the director’s works.
Preproduction on Drunken Angel started in November 1947, and the shooting wrapped four months later on March 10, 1948. The film premiered in Tokyo on April 27 1948 and received rave reviews, being the first Kurosawa film to be selected as the best film of the year by the prestigious Kinema Junpo magazine. The film did well also at the 1948 Mainichi Film Awards where it took home awards for Best Film, Best Cinematography and Best Score.
It was not all happiness and roses, however. During the final weeks of shooting Drunken Angel, the health of Kurosawa’s father had declined sharply while the son, pressured to wrap up the production, could not travel to be at his side. When the news reached Kurosawa about his father’s death at the age of 83, he went out to wander aimlessly in the streets of Tokyo. While there, his sorrowful mood was magnified by hearing the song “The Cuckoo Waltz”. Moved by this experience, the piece also made its way into Drunken Angel, where the cheerful song was used in a very similar manner to emphasise a character’s emotional suffering. This is the first example of a type of musical counterpoint that Kurosawa would go on to experiment on with his new composer Fumio Hayasaka, with whom Kurosawa would develop an extremely close working relationship and who would, until his untimely death in 1955, score all but one of the director’s next eight films.
For much of the rest of 1948, film production at Toho was halted due to a union strike and the only film in production with Kurosawa’s involvement was The Portrait (Shozo), released in August by the competing studio Shochiku and filmed from Kurosawa’s screenplay by Keisuke Kinoshita. Unable to work on a new film and faced with the need to support his wife and young son, Kurosawa decided to direct and tour with two stage plays: Anton Chekhov’s A Marriage Proposal and a play based on Drunken Angel which starred many of the film’s actors, including Mifune and Shimura. When the Toho strike finally ended, it resulted in a number of workers walking out and establishing the rival film studio Shintoho. Disappointed in Toho management and its handling of the strike, also Kurosawa decided to leave the studio that had nurtured his career and accepted an offer from Daiei studios.
Already before the latest Toho strike, Kurosawa together with producer S?jir? Motoki and fellow directors Kajiro Yamamoto, Mikio Naruse and Senkichi Taniguchi had formed a new independent production unit called Film Art Association (Eiga Geijutsu Ky?kai). For their first release and Kurosawa’s first film for Daiei, Kurosawa turned to a contemporary play by Kazuo Kikuta, and together with Taniguchi adapted it for the big screen. The Quiet Duel (Shizukanaru Kett?) starred Toshir? Mifune as a young doctor struggling with syphilis, a deliberate and arguably successful attempt by Kurosawa to break the actor away from being typecast in the sort of gangster roles that he had almost exclusively portrayed until then. Released on March 13, 1949, the film was a box office success but is generally considered one of the director’s lesser achievements.
Following the resolution of the Toho strike, Kurosawa’s backlog of screenplays could also be moved into production, and so 1949 saw the production of no less than four more films co-written by Kurosawa. Jakoman and Tetsu (Jakoman to Tetsu) and Escape at Dawn (Akatsuki no dasso) were co-written and directed by Senkichi Taniguchi, while The Lady from Hell (Jigoku no kifujin) was directed by Motoyoshi Oda. The fourth film, released on October 17, was directed by Kurosawa himself and it was called Stray Dog (Nora inu). Like its predecessor, Stray Dog was produced by Film Art Association, but this time in collaboration with Shintoho, while being released through Toho.
If No Regrets For Our Youth had been the first instance of Kurosawa’s directorial voice and Drunken Angel the director’s first major work, Stray Dog is often considered his first masterpiece. As such, it is the most celebrated of Kurosawa’s immediate post-war works and explores the mood and direction of a recovering Japan while following the story of a young detective played by Mifune obsessing over the theft of his service hand gun. Adapted from an unpublished novel written by Kurosawa in the vein of Georges Simenon, it was the director’s first collaboration with screenwriter Ry?z? Kikushima, who would later help to script eight other Kurosawa films, while director Ishir? Honda worked on the film as a second unit director. Stray Dog was a great commercial success and well received by critics, placing number three on Kinema Junpo’s list of the year’s best films and winning Best Actor (Takashi Shimura), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Score at the 1949 Mainichi Film Awards.
Immediately after Stray Dog, Kurosawa began working on his next film, Scandal (Sukyandaru). Inspired by the director’s personal experiences and anger towards tabloid journalism, the film is an ambitious mixture of courtroom drama and questions about free speech and personal responsibility in post-war Japan, but it is generally considered somewhat of a failed attempt despite being the first of Kurosawa’s films to not suffer from any type of censorship intervention. Produced and distributed by Shochiku, the film had its premiere on April 30, 1950 but failed to garner the type of critical or commercial success given to Stray Dog.
Three more Kurosawa penned films followed in 1950. He co-authored the screenplay to Isamu Kosugi’s Tetsu of Jilba (Jiruba no Tetsu) and Masahiro Makino’s Fencing Master (Tateshi danpei), but it would be Kurosawa’s own film Rashomon, that would go on to introduce him to a whole new audience.
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 5: Daughter and international breakthrough (1950–1955)
After finishing Scandal (1950), Kurosawa was approached by Daiei studios who inquired if the director would be interested in making another film for them following the success that their previous collaboration The Quiet Duel had enjoyed a year earlier. While considering possible stories to work on, Kurosawa picked up a screenplay by the young screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto. It was based on author Ry?nosuke Akutagawa’s (1892–1927) experimental short story “In a Grove” which recounts the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife, narrating the story from various different and conflicting points of view and in doing so questioning the human ability to perceive and recount objective truths. Kurosawa saw potential in the script, and with the help of Hashimoto polished and expanded the screenplay and then pitched it to Daiei, who happily picked the film as it came with a fairly low budget estimate.
Rashomon was the first of Kurosawa’s nine films co-written with Hashimoto, and it was also the first film in which the director worked with the script supervisor, continuity assistant and later overall principal assistant Teruyo Nogami. Kurosawa’s professional relationship with Nogami continued for the rest of the director’s career and she became something of a right hand woman for him.
Shooting Rashomon began on July 7 and wrapped a month later on August 17, 1950, with the film ending up going well over the originally estimated budget, primarily because of the construction of the enormous Rashomon gate which Kurosawa requested for the film. Just one week was spent in hurried post-production, and the finished film premiered at Tokyo’s Imperial Theatre on August 25, expanding nationwide the day after. The film was met with somewhat average reviews as many critics were puzzled by its content, but it was nevertheless a moderate financial success for the studio and the film ended up winning Best Screenplay at the then prestigious Blue Ribbon Awards in March 1951.
Soon after the release of Rashomon, Kurosawa was already working on his next film, and one on a far grander scale. The Idiot was an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel of the same name and the director approached the work with dedication even surpassing anything that he had given to his previous films. Produced by Shochiku and released on May 23, 1951, it relocates the story from Russia to Hokkaido but is otherwise fairly faithful to the original, which Kurosawa revered. The film’s close dependence on its source material has been seen by many as detrimental to the work, and combined with a studio-mandated cut which shortened it from its original 265 minutes down to 166 minutes, the resulting film is typically considered one of the director’s least successful works, although the film certainly does have its merits. It is unfortunate that Kurosawa’s original cut no longer exists, making it impossible to assess the film as it was intended by its director. Japanese reviews of The Idiot were negative at the time of its release, although the film nevertheless managed a moderate success at the box office, largely thanks to the popularity of actress Setsuko Hara, with whom Kurosawa had worked previously on No Regrets For Our Youth.
Kurosawa was next scheduled to make a film for Daiei, but following the poor reception of The Idiot, the company withdrew their commitment and after a string of five films that he had directed in the span of just three years, Kurosawa suddenly found himself without a project. Having shown promise with Drunken Angel and Stray Dog, it now looked like the poor performance of his latest works might even force the now 41-year-old filmmaker to take an extended break from directing. Fortunately for him and his family, even if his directorial eye was suddenly not requested, his skills as a screenwriter would still bring in the money. For films released in 1951 and early 1952, Kurosawa provided scripts to Senkichi Taniguchi’s Beyond Love and Hate, Tatsuyasu Osone’s The Den of Beasts, Kazuo Mori’s Vendetta for a Samurai and Hiroshi Inagaki’s Sword for Hire.
Unbeknownst to Kurosawa, Rashomon had meanwhile been entered to competition at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, largely thanks to the insistence of Giuliana Stramigioli, a representative of an Italian film company who had convinced Daiei to submit the work. To the great surprise of everyone except perhaps Stramigioli, Rashomon ended up charming the competition jury and on 10 September 1951, a little over year after its domestic release, it was awarded the festival’s highest prize, the Golden Lion. Rashomon was the first Japanese film to win the award and its success introduced Japanese cinema to the international film audiences, the country’s cinematic achievements having been internationally largely unknown until then. The film went on to win also numerous other international awards in Europe and North America, including an honorary Academy Award as the best foreign language film of the year.
As the news of Rashomon‘s success in Venice reached Japan a few days later, Kurosawa was suddenly in demand again. Boosted by his sudden international recognition, the director set out to work on his next film, Ikiru, which reunited him with film studio Toho, a partnership which would last for Kurosawa’s next eleven films.
Ikiru stars Takashi Shimura as a cancer-ridden Tokyo bureaucrat on his final quest for meaning before his death. For the screenplay, Kurosawa brought in Shinobu Hashimoto, as well as the experienced screenwriter Hideo Oguni who already for over a decade had helped Kurosawa with his writing, but never in official capacity. Following Ikiru, Kurosawa and Oguni would go on to co-write altogether eleven other of the director’s films.
Pre-production on Ikiru commenced in January 1952 and filming lasted from March until September, with the film opening on October 9 to rave reviews and big box office success. The film won the Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film, as well as Mainichi Film Awards for Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Sound Recording, while internationally it won a special prize at the Berlin Film Festival and earned Takashi Shimura a BAFTA nomination. The film remains one of Kurosawa’s most discussed and internationally best known, together with the director’s next work, Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai).
Less than a month after the release of Ikiru, Kurosawa’s mother Shima died at the age of 82. Changes happened also in Kurosawa’s own household, as he, Y?ko and Hisao moved into a new seven-bedroom home in the Komae area of Tokyo, reflecting the increased financial security brought to him by the recent successes of Rashomon and Ikiru.
Kurosawa kept working. In January 1953, Senkichi Taniguchi’s My Wonderful Yellow Car opened in theatres with a script written by Kurosawa and Taniguchi. But Kurosawa himself had no time to attend the premiere, as he had already taken his Ikiru screenwriters Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni for a forty five day secluded residence at an inn in order to create the screenplay for his next film Seven Samurai. The ensemble film was Kurosawa’s first proper samurai work, and centres on a small farming village and a group of samurai who are hired to protect the villagers from an impending bandit attack. The production turned out to be a massive undertaking, with three months spent in pre-production, a month of rehearsals, and a total of 148 shooting days spread over almost a year of filming that was interrupted by production and financing difficulties, as well as health problems for Kurosawa, who was suffering from exhaustion and an infection.
Seven Samurai finally opened on April 26, 1954, half a year behind its originally planned release date and some three times over budget, making it at the time the most expensive Japanese film ever made. Fortunately for Toho and the director, the film also garnered a positive critical reaction and turned out to be a big commercial success, quickly making back the money invested in it, and providing the studio with a product that they could, and would, market internationally for decades to come. Despite its popularity, the film failed to win any major awards, although it did earn Kurosawa a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for several other awards around the world.
On April 29, three days after the premiere of Seven Samurai and nine years after their firstborn, Y?ko gave birth to the couple’s second and last child, a girl they named Kazuko. Exhausted by the making of Seven Samurai and overjoyed about his new daughter, Kurosawa spent more than a year with his family before taking on a new project, although he did keep writing and two films featuring his screenplays were released in 1955: Akira Mimura’s Vanished Enlisted Man (Kieta chutai) and Hiromichi Horikawa’s Tomorrow I’ll be a Fire-Tree (Asunaro monogatari).
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 6: Darker themes and move to widescreen (1955–1959)
Kurosawa’s daughter Kazuko’s birth in 1954 coincided with somewhat uncertain times in Japan. United States and the Soviet Union, the two Cold War superpowers, had recently been involved in a war in Japan’s neighbouring Korea, while nuclear bomb tests had intensified in the Pacific Ocean after the invention of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon hundreds of times more powerful than what had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War. These tests caused radioactive rainstorms in Japan and one particular incident in March 1954 had exposed a Japanese fishing boat to nuclear fallout with disastrous results.
It is in this atmosphere that Kurosawa’s next film, Record of a Living Being (Ikimono no kiroku), was conceived. It portrays an elderly factory owner terrified about the prospect of a nuclear attack and determined to move his family to safety in Brazil. Production of the film began in May 19, 1955, with extensive preparation and rehearsals taking place before a relatively fast six-week shoot in August and September. The shoot was much less demanding than the director’s previous one, but it wasn’t without its hardships: a few days before the filming ended, Kurosawa’s composer and collaborator Fumio Hayasaka passed away of tuberculosis at the age of 41. The film’s score was finished by Hayasaka’s student Masaru Sat?, who would also go on to score Kurosawa next eight films.
Record of a Living Being opened on 22 November 1955 to mixed reviews and a muted audience reaction, becoming the first Kurosawa film to actually lose money during its original theatrical run. Unlike his last two features which had been given international releases soon after domestic release, Record of a Living Being would not be released abroad until years later, apart from a screening at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival. Today, it is nevertheless considered by many to be among the finest Japanese films dealing with the psychological effects of a global nuclear threat, and one of Kurosawa’s best works.
The commercial failure of Record of a Living Being did not prove to be a major hindrance for Kurosawa, and the director began working on his next film the following spring. The project, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, was something that Kurosawa had been originally wanted to make already a decade years earlier, but with Orson Welles’s 1948 film adaptation of the same play, he had decided to put it on hold. Throne of Blood (Kumonosu jo), as the film would be called, began shooting on June 29, 1956, and the production lasted until the end of the year. Postproduction followed, and the film was released on January 15, 1957 to a slightly less negative domestic response than had been the case with Kurosawa’s previous film. Abroad, Throne of Blood would, despite the liberties that it takes with its source material, quickly earn a place among the most celebrated Shakespeare adaptations. It is today considered one of Kurosawa’s finest films.
Another adaptation of a western play followed almost immediately, with production of The Lower Depths (Donzoko), based on the Maxim Gorky play of the same name, beginning in May 1957. Just like he had earlier done with Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky, the screenplay transported the story into Japan. After extensive preparations, only four weeks were spent shooting the film, with the filming commencing on June 24. The Lower Depths premiered in September and went to a general domestic release on October 1, receiving a somewhat mixed response similar to that of Throne of Blood.
After the Japanese premiere of The Lower Depths in 1957, Kurosawa embarked on his first trip to a western country, staying for two weeks in London where he attended the British premiere of Throne of Blood, which was screened as part of the London Film Festival. While in London, Kurosawa also met the American director John Ford, whom Kurosawa considered one of his favourites and biggest personal cinematic influences. Kurosawa’s biographer Stuart Galbraith IV notes that so influential was his meeting with Ford in 1957 that after returning from Europe, Kurosawa would adopt his American colleague’s style of personal wardrobe and from then on wear sunglasses and a wool cap on the set, a look that would become something of a trademark during the Kurosawa’s later career.
Kurosawa’s three films following Seven Samurai had not managed to capture Japanese audiences in the way that the samurai film had, and box office figures were down. Themes in the director’s films had been growing increasingly dark and pessimistic, with the possibility of individual redemption through personal responsibility that works such as The Quiet Duel and Stray Dog had promoted ten years earlier now very much questioned in recent works such as Throne of Blood and The Lower Depths. Kurosawa decided to aim for a more light-hearted and entertaining film for his next production, while also contemplating a switch to the new widescreen film format that had been gaining popularity also in Japan.
The resulting film, The Hidden Fortress (Kakushi toride no san akunin), is a period film action-adventure that follows a princess, her general, and two peasants who need to travel through enemy lines in order to reach their homes. The film, Kurosawa’s first in widescreen, borrows somewhat from his early work The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail as well as from his 1942 script for Three Hundred Miles Through Enemy Lines, which had finally been filmed by Kazuo Mori for a December 1957 release. Kurosawa began the production of The Hidden Fortress in spring 1958 with shooting commencing on the 27th of May and lasting until December 11. Another hurried post-production typical for Kurosawa followed, and the film was released on December 28.
Just like Kurosawa had hoped, The Hidden Fortress proved an enormous box office success in Japan and was also warmly received by critics. It won for best Screenplay at the Kinema Junpo Awards, Best Film at the Blue Ribbon Awards, and two awards at the Berlin Film Festival. Today, the film is considered Kurosawa’s lightest and among his less artistically important efforts, although it remains very popular, not least because of its influence on George Lucas who would use The Hidden Fortress as basis for his 1977 space opera Star Wars.
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 7: New production company and the end of an era (1959–1965)
Following Rashomon, the scope of Kurosawa’s productions had steadily increased and so had the director’s budgets, sometimes going multiple times over their pre-production estimates. Toho, concerned about this development, suggested that the director could help to finance his own works, therefore making Toho’s potential losses smaller, while in turn allowing Kurosawa more artistic freedom as a co-producer. Kurosawa agreed to the idea, and his new production company Kurosawa Production Co was founded in April 1959, with Toho as its majority shareholder.
Despite now directly risking his own money, Kurosawa was not interested in creating a work solely aimed at securing box office success for with debut film for his new production company. On the contrary, he decided to take advantage of his increased creative freedoms and chose a story more directly critical of the Japanese business and political elite than had been the case with his recent works. The film, The Bad Sleep Well (Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru), was based on a script by Kurosawa’s nephew Mike Inoue and is a revenge drama about a young man who climbs up in the hierarchy of a corrupt Japanese company with the aim of exposing the men responsible for his father’s death. Its theme proved very topical, as while the film was in production, mass demonstrations were held against a new US-Japanese treaty, which was seen by many to threaten the country’s young democracy by giving too much power to the hands of corporations and individual politicians.
Filming The Bad Sleep Well began on 28 March 1960, five days after Kurosawa turned 50. The shoot lasted for four months, with the first test screenings held on August 22. The completed film opened on 4 September 1960 to a positive critical reaction, and it proved a modest box office success. Today, The Bad Sleep Well is generally considered something of a flawed masterpiece, with its first 25-minute act seen as one of the most skilfully executed sequences that Kurosawa ever filmed, but with the rest of the film largely failing to live up to its promise.
After completing The Bad Sleep Well, Kurosawa embarked on his second trip to Europe, this time visiting the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, as well as several film festivals. The director had been offered the role of directing a documentary of the upcoming 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and intrigued by the idea Kurosawa wanted to familiarise himself with the event in Rome. Kurosawa’s involvement with the production would last two and a half years, but the director would ultimately come to a disagreement with the film’s producers over the proposed budget. In the end, the project was given to Kon Ichikawa, whose Tokyo Olympiad is now considered one of the finest documentary films of all time.
Meanwhile in the USA, Seven Samurai was being remade as a western under the title The Magnificent Seven, which had also been the original American title for Seven Samurai. Kurosawa, too, decided to turn his attention to westerns, but strongly with the samurai film genre also in mind. Yojimbo, Kurosawa Production’s second film, centres on a masterless super samurai portrayed by Toshir? Mifune who strolls into a town ruled by two opposing gangster groups and proceeds to destroy them. In the film, Kurosawa plays with many genre conventions, while simultaneously offering a more realistic and graphically explicit portrayal of violence than most films had dared to do. Shooting began on January 14, 1961 and wrapped on April 16, only four days before the film’s premiere. The film was an immense success at the box office, earning more in the box office than any Kurosawa film had before. Critical reaction was equally positive and Yojimbo proved a major influence on its genre, immediately ushering in a new era of ultra-violent samurai films, disappointing Kurosawa who felt that this was very much the opposite of what his intentions with the film had been.
Following the success of Yojimbo, Kurosawa found himself under pressure from Toho to create a quick sequel to the work. Never before interested in revisiting his characters or stories, Kurosawa now turned to a script that he had written before Yojimbo and reworked it to include the hero of his previous film. Sanjuro (Tsubaki Sanjuro), originally based on a Sh?gor? Yamamoto novel and now sharing the same or at least a very similar protagonist as Yojimbo, is actualy a film fairly different from its predecessor. Lighter in tone, it is less influenced by the samurai and western genres and closer to a conventional period film, with its story of a power struggle within a samurai clan portrayed with strongly comic undertones. Filming began on September 25, five months after the production of Yojimbo had wrapped, and lasted until December 20, making it a relatively quick shoot by Kurosawa’s standards. Once again, a mere one week post-production period followed, and the film opened on January 1st, 1962, quickly surpassing even Yojimbo‘s box office success and garnering similarly positive reviews from film critics. Today, both films are considered among Kurosawa’s finest.
As he was now co-producing his films, box office success directly correlated with Kurosawa’s own financial situation, and in April 1962 the Kurosawas moved to a new 3,600 square foot residence in the Setagaya district of Tokyo. The children were also growing: Hisao, now 16, was already majoring in economics and enjoying moderate success as a folk musician, while the eight-year-old Kazuko was attending elementary school.
Meanwhile, Kurosawa himself could not stop working. While filming Sanjuro, he had already started preparations for his next film, instructing Toho to purchase film rights to King’s Ransom, a hard-boiled crime novel about a kidnapping written by American author Ed McBain. Once the production of Sanjuro wrapped, Kurosawa immediately shifted his attention to the story, and after writing the screenplay together with his regular co-authors Ry?z? Kikushima, Hideo Ogumi and Eijir? Hisaita, preproduction of High and Low (Tengoku to Jigoku) began on July 20, 1962. The summer was spent in casting and rehearsals with filming beginning on September 2 and lasting for five months, finally wrapping on January 20, 1963. The film, released on March 1, 1963, broke Kurosawa’s personal box office record for the third film in a row and became the highest grossing Japanese film of the year. It also attracted glowing reviews, further solidifying Kurosawa’s critical and commercial standing as Japan’s leading film director. The film won the Best Film and Best Screenplay categories at the Mainichi Film Awards and while somewhat less well known today than Kurosawa’s other major films, it is nevertheless considered among his very best.
Enjoying his success and creative freedom, Kurosawa again quickly moved onto his next project, Red Beard, which he envisioned as his largest and most demanding production yet. Based on a short story collection by Sh?gor? Yamamoto and incorporating elements from a Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel, it is a fairly sentimental period film with strong humanist themes set in an early nineteenth-century rural clinic. The script was finished in July 1963 and a five-month pre-production period began, with filming finally commencing on December 21. The shoot, Kurosawa’s longest so far, lasted for over a year and wrapped in spring 1965, leaving the director, his crew and actors exhausted but proud of what they had achieved.
So long was the film’s production period that before Red Beard went on wide release, altogether four other films had been put into production that bore Kurosawa’s signature. Kinji Fukasaku’s Jakoman and Tetsu (Jakoman to Tetsu) was filmed from Kurosawa’s screenplay, while Kurosawa himself produced Sanshiro Sugata, a remake of his first film and its sequel, filmed and released partly to cover the costs of making Red Beard. Meanwhile, the American film The Outrage and the Italian A Fistful of Dollars premiered overseas, with the former a western based on Rashomon and the latter a spaghetti western by an upcoming talent Sergio Leone based on Yojimbo. As the Italians had made their film without permission, a lawsuit was launched against the producers and the film’s director. The case was ultimately settled out of court, with Kurosawa and Toho reportedly receiving a portion of the Italian film’s worldwide box office.
Red Beard premiered on April 3, 1965 and once again provided Kurosawa Production and Toho with a commercial hit, as the film become the year’s highest grossing Japanese film. Just like the audience, Japanese critics responded extremely well to the work, and it remains one of Kurosawa’s best known and most loved in the country. Internationally, critics have been more divided, with most commentators praising its technical merits as perhaps Kurosawa’s technically most complete work, while others insisting that it lacks true complexity and genuine narrative power.
What most film critics agree on is that Red Beard marks something of an end of an era for Kurosawa. The director himself recognised this at the time of the film’s release, telling film critic Donald Richie that a cycle of some kind had now come to an end, and that his next films and production methods would be different. Although unknown to Kurosawa at the time, his prediction proved very accurate. Large changes would indeed be taking place, and the director would never enjoy the same kind of almost unrestricted financial freedom and critical and commercial success that he had for the past fifteen years.
As an example of this, Red Beard approximately marks the midway point in the director’s career, and he had by now directed altogether twenty-three films in twenty-two years. In contrast, during the remaining twenty-eight years of his career, Kurosawa would have the chance to make only seven films. For reasons never fully explained by any of the involved parties, Red Beard would also be Kurosawa’s last work with actor Toshir? Mifune, the director’s leading man for most of his career, ending one of the most famous director-actor relationships in the history of cinema.
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 8: Unsuccessful Hollywood projects (1965–1969)
Following the release of Red Beard (1965), it looked like the 1960s would be Kurosawa’s decade. The previous five years had been very kind to the director, who had put out one film classic after another and broken box office records and collected awards in the process. It had been an unquestionable high point in Kurosawa’s career.
But the Japanese film industry was struggling. By the mid-1960s, television had overtaken cinema as the primary entertainment medium and film productions had become smaller with studios less eager to take risks. Kurosawa, whose exclusive contract with Toho came to an end in 1966, was contemplating his place in this picture. Considering the state of the domestic film industry, and having already received dozens of offers from abroad, the idea of working outside of Japan seemed appealing.
In early 1964, while working on Red Beard, Kurosawa had come across a magazine article about an incident with a runaway locomotive in the United States. The article, which Kurosawa encountered in Japanese in Bungei Shunju had originally appeared in the March 29, 1963 edition of the Life magazine under the title “The Runaway Train”. By coincidence, the editor-in-chief at Life magazine’s publisher Time Inc was an admirer of Kurosawa’s work and, visiting Japan in 1965, offered his help to Kurosawa. Soon Kurosawa had not only the rights to the story and additional information at his disposal, but he was also talking about the film with an American producer, Joseph E. Levine. Things moved with some speed and by the summer of 1966 Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni and Ry?z? Kikushima had come up with a screenplay that had been translated into English, and on June 29, 1966 Kurosawa and Levine announced the production of Runaway Train to the media in New York.
The film was to be shot in the US between October 1966 and February 1967 for a late 1967 release. It would be Kurosawa’s first film shot in colour, although the director was still planning the colour palette to be predominantly dominated by black (train engines) and a white (snow covered landscape). The screenplay would be finalised by Sidney Carroll, an American screenwriter best known for The Hustler. Carroll’s task was to convert the dialogue into American vernacular and the structure into American production standards.
With a $5.5 million budget, which was comparable for instance to the budget of The Planet of the Apes (1968), Runaway Train would not be a small project. Levine, however, was thinking even bigger, having talked with Kurosawa about collaboration on four further films after the release of Runaway Train. Things looked good, but problems began to soon emerge, primarily due to cultural differences.
Carroll, trying to shape the script into something that an American production crew would be familiar with and could make us of, tried to get Kurosawa to commit to details which Kurosawa, more accustomed to making final decisions on the day of the shoot, was not ready to decide. The matter dragged on, the shooting schedule was delayed, and in November 1966, only a month before the shoot was finally supposed to start, Kurosawa, physically exhausted by the process, requested that the entire production be delayed for a year. This, he thought, would give everyone enough time to prepare and get over the language and cultural barriers. Levine, despite having already contracted most of the 130 member crew, begrudgingly decided to accept Kurosawa’s decision and cancelled the shoot, rather than going with another director.
In spring 1967, there was still hope for Kurosawa’s Runaway Train, but the director’s plans were changing. By that point, Kurosawa had been contacted by 20th Century Fox film studios about the idea of him working on the war film Tora! Tora! Tora!, and it began to take precedence over Kurosawa’s plans for the locomotive action film. Tora! Tora! Tora!, produced by 20th Century Fox and Kurosawa Production, would be a retelling of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as told from an American and a Japanese point of view, with Kurosawa helming the Japanese part and an American director taking over the other half. The deal was officially announced in April 1967.
However, the problems encountered with Runaway Train returned. Much of 1967 was consequently spent on something of a tug of war about the Tora! Tora! Tora! script between Kurosawa and Fox’s representatives. Fox was aiming for a historically accurate cinematic spectacle, while Kurosawa was set on making an epic tragedy. It didn’t help that the script Kurosawa’s writing team had come up with was longer than the intended full film, which should also include the American half. Kurosawa was further infuriated by the fact that the American sequences would not be directed by David Lean as originally suggested, but the special effects specialist Richard Fleischer whom Kurosawa didn’t consider an equal.
After most of the major issues were more or less resolved by January 1968, Japanese preproduction was ready to begin. If the American producers thought that it would be smooth sailing from here on, they were wrong, for Kurosawa next shocked them by deciding to pick total amateurs for the film’s leading roles. Rather than looking for an impressive acting pedigree in casting, Kurosawa concentrated heavily on character type. By selecting Japanese businessmen who had in real life served in the war, Kurosawa believed that he could bring an air of authority onto the screen in a way that would not be possible with experienced actors. This, together with Kurosawa’s climbing budget needs, including a full-scale replica of battleship Nagato, continued to keep the American producers worried about the production’s Japanese half.
As the shoot, planned to start in December 1968, drew closer, Kurosawa felt increasingly under pressure and his health began to deteriorate. He also became increasingly paranoid as the production began to receive death threats due to its delicate subject matter. The situation was further complicated by the fact that Kurosawa would not be working with his regular crew, but with one based in Kyoto. From the beginning of the shoot the director and his crew, unaccustomed to Kurosawa’s working style, didn’t seem to be getting along.
In the end, Kurosawa lasted for only 23 days. His working methods puzzled his American producers, and as the shoot was immediately badly behind schedule under his erratic behaviour, the Americans concluded that the director must be nothing less than mentally ill. On the 24th of December 1968, Fox announced that Kurosawa had left the production due to fatigue, effectively firing him.
The situation was difficult and it led to two rather notable personal fallings-out to take place. One was between Kurosawa and his long time co-scriptwriter and Kurosawa Production executive, Ry?z? Kikushima, who would stay with the Tora! Tora! Tora! production and with whom Kurosawa would never work again. The other was with Toshir? Mifune, who had heavily criticised Kurosawa for his decision to cast non-actors. Mifune would likewise never work with Kurosawa again. Whether things said in the aftermath of Tora! Tora! Tora! were the sole reason for these broken friendships is difficult to say, but they probably did have an impact.
Also a legal battle about ownership and financial responsibilities followed, dragging all the way until early 1971. In the process, facts began to emerge that some of the core reasons for production difficulties with not only Tora! Tora! Tora! but also Runaway Train most probably lay with people working at Kurosawa’s own production company who had failed to keep either Kurosawa or his American producers in the loop about everything that they needed to know to guarantee a successful production. As a result, three prominent figures from Kurosawa Production resigned, and the company would not take part in another film production for over ten years.
This was not much of a consolation for Kurosawa, whose Hollywood career had ended before it had really even begun. With his two misadventures, the director had acquired a reputation that made it practically impossible for him to find other international projects. This would be the beginning of a difficult period in Kurosawa’s life and career.
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 9: A difficult decade (1969–1978)
Knowing that his reputation was at stake following the much publicised Tora! Tora! Tora! debacle, Kurosawa tried to move quickly to a new project that would prove that he was still a viable filmmaker capable of box office success. To his aid came friends and famed directors Masaki Kobayashi, Keisuke Kinoshita and Kon Ichikawa, who together with Kurosawa established a production company in July 1969 which they called Club of the Four Knights (Yonki no kai). The plan was for each of the four directors to create a film under the new banner, although it has been suggested that the real motivation for the other three directors was to make it easier for Kurosawa to successfully complete a production, and therefore find his way back into the business.
The first film proposed and worked on was a period film called Dora-heita, but as it was deemed too expensive, attention shifted to Kurosawa’s Dodesukaden. It is a vignette-like adaptation of a Sh?gor? Yamamoto novel, an author whose works had also provided the basis for Sanjuro and Red Beard. The script, co-written with Hideo Oguni and Shinobu Hashimoto, was finished in just a week, and preproduction began on March 31, 1970.
Despite being his first completed colour film and his first film in 4:3 standard ratio since The Lower Depths over a decade earlier, the film was shot very quickly for Kurosawa’s recent standards, filming beginning on April 23 and finishing on June 29, with the director determined to show that he was still capable of working quickly and efficiently within a budget. Before the film’s release in Japan, Kurosawa travelled to Russia in August, where Dodesukaden was shown at the Moscow International Film Festival and garnered a positive reaction, with the Soviets suggesting that the director should one day make a film in their country.
Dodesukaden was released in Japan on October 31, 1970, but although it was a minor critical success, the film was greeted with an indifferent audience reaction. As a result, Dodesukaden ended up losing money and caused the Club of the Four Knights to dissolve after just one film in their name. Initial reception abroad was somewhat better, but Dodesukaden has since been typically considered something of a lesser work, an interesting experiment but not a film comparable to the director’s best efforts.
After Dodesukaden failed to re-establish him as a major box office figure in Japan, Kurosawa’s options diminished again. Almost a year went by with Kurosawa, who was shopping around a Dostoyevsky adaptation, unable to secure funding for further work, while allegedly also suffering from health problems. An opportunity was given to him by Nippon TV. Some Japanese directors such as Shohei Imamura had already deserted the struggling conventional film industry and turned to lower budget documentaries and television productions, and Kurosawa appeared to be keen to consider it as a potential option also for himself. As a result, he directed a television documentary titled Song of the Horse (Uma no uta) which premiered in August 1971. But this appeared not to lift his spirits. On December 22, 1971, soon after relocating his family to a smaller place in Tokyo, the 61-year-old director attempted suicide by slitting his wrists. The attempt proved unsuccessful and the director’s health recovered fairly quickly, with Kurosawa now succumbing to quiet domestic life, uncertain if he would ever direct another film again.
1972 was a year without film work of any kind, but in early 1973 a sudden contact was made by the Russian film studio Mosfilm, asking if Kurosawa would be interested in working with them, just like they had suggested during his Russian visit a little over two years earlier. Kurosawa agreed, proposing an adaptation of Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev’s memoir Dersu Uzala, something that he had been wanting to film since the 1930s. Things moved forward relatively quickly and a contract was signed on March 14. Work on the script began with Kurosawa collaborating with Russian writer Yuri Nagibin through translators and mail, an arrangement that had five years earlier proven difficult with the Americans, but seemed to work much better with their Russian counterparts.
On December 11, 1973, Kurosawa set off to the Soviet Union with four of his closest aides. This was the beginning of their year and a half long stay in the country. Early 1974 was spent in preproduction, with shooting beginning on May 27 in Siberia, and moving to Moscow in early 1975. The production proved very demanding, but filming finally wrapped on April 28, 1975 and a month-long postproduction followed, with a thoroughly exhausted and home sick Kurosawa returning to Japan and his family on June 18.
Dersu Uzala had its world premiere in Japan on August 2, 1975. The film did well at the box office and while critical reception in Japan was muted, the work was better reviewed abroad, going on to win the Moscow International Film Festival’s Golden Prize, as well as an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Today, critics remain divided over the work, some seeing it as an example of Kurosawa’s artistic decline, while others counting it among his finest and most beautiful works.
Despite the international success of Dersu Uzala, Kurosawa found himself again without work in the struggling Japanese film industry. The demanding Russian production had also negatively affected his health, and although proposals for television projects were submitted to him, he had no interest in working again outside of the medium of the big screen. Nevertheless, in order to maintain his family’s standards of living, the director agreed to appear on television ads for Suntory whiskey, which aired in 1976.
While the prospects of the 66-year-old director’s professional life seemed gloomy, there was more happiness to be found in his personal one. His 21-year-old daughter Kazuko married in May 1976, and the following year Kurosawa became a proud grandfather. He also travelled, visiting India in 1977, where he met Michelangelo Antonioni and Satyajit Ray.
Although Kurosawa was again convinced that he might never be able to make another film, he nevertheless continued to work on potential projects, writing screenplays and creating detailed illustrations for them with the intention of leaving behind a visual record of his plans in case he would never again be able to put his stories on film. Fortunately, it turned out that those illustrations would not be the only form in which his stories would be realised.
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 10: Comeback (1978–1986)
By the late 1970s, Kurosawa was finding it impossible to get productions financed. Yet, in a manner of speaking the director had not been totally absent from silver screens. His influence on younger filmmakers continued to grow, and the filmgoers of the 1970s witnessed the emergence of a group of American directors who had been paying especially close attention to Kurosawa’s work. These filmmakers had names like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas.
Of these, it was Lucas who had been most visibly enamoured with Kurosawa. So much so that when his enormously successful space opera Star Wars opened in 1977, the more observant audience members could see a number of thematic, stylistic and plot connections with Kurosawa’s work, and especially his 1958 film The Hidden Fortress.
Lucas himself was keen to meet his idol, and when he did so he was amazed to hear about Kurosawa’s problems securing financing for new projects. In 1977, Star Wars had amassed almost $200 million in the US box office alone, and the 34-year-old Lucas was looking at a $30 million budget for his planned sequel. And here was a true legend of cinema still keen to create, but unable to do so only because no one was willing to back his considerably less expensive projects.
Of his planned films, Kurosawa had been working especially hard on three projects. One was a Shakespearean story set in medieval Japan (later filmed as Ran), another a project based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death (which remains unfilmed), and the third an original screenplay titled Kagemusha (“shadow warrior”). All three were period films since Kurosawa considered it impossible to find funding for stories depicting contemporary Japan.
Of the three projects, it was the Kagemusha script that Kurosawa considered the most commercially viable, and during the late 70s he had already been in talks about it with his old film studio Toho. The story certainly seemed interesting: very loosely based on historical characters and events from 16th century Japan, the epic film follows the story of a low-class criminal who, due to his uncanny resemblance to a dying old warlord, is taught to impersonate the warlord in order to maintain the illusion of the warlord’s continued leadership of the clan, and to keep both internal and external threats at bay for as long as possible. Yet, although Toho had initially showed interest, they had decided to pass due to the film’s estimated budget of $5.5 million, more than five times the cost of an average Japanese film at the time.
George Lucas, however, was in a position very different from Kurosawa’s. Lucas owned the rights to the Star Wars franchise, effectively giving him unprecedented negotiating power over film studios keen to distribute the film’s sequel. Following a meeting in July 1978 between Kurosawa and Lucas, it was decided that Lucas would help to secure funding for Kagemusha.
Lucas’s battle plan was elegant in its directness. 20th Century Fox, with whom Kurosawa had had his major falling out during the production of Tora! Tora! Tora!, was also the film studio responsible for distributing the first Star Wars film, and they were very much looking to work on the sequel as well. Together with Alan Ladd Jr (later founder of The Ladd Company) at Fox, Lucas negotiated a deal whereby Fox would co-finance Kagemusha in exchange for the foreign rights. From Fox’s point of view of course, it was an investment on Star Wars, more than anything else. Lucas was also able to attach his friend, film director Francis Ford Coppola to the production, and this calibre of foreign backing was enough to bring Toho back to the project. The Japanese company ultimately ended up spending around $6 million on the film, whose total cost climbed to around $10 million, or about twice the original estimate. The deal was finally announced on December 20, 1978.
And so, in the summer of 1979, Kurosawa was back behind the camera, thanks to the same film studio that a decade earlier had fired him from the set of Tora! Tora! Tora! and suggested that he suffered from mental instability, contributing in no small part to Kurosawa’s difficulties during the next ten years. Energised by the financial backing as well as the enormously positive public reaction to the news of a new Kurosawa film, the director set out to deliver his comeback. Yet, if Toho and 20th Century Fox had been hoping for a smooth production, they would soon be disappointed.
Kagemusha’s lead role, which in fact mandates a single actor to play two roles, had been written specifically with the popular Japanese comic actor Shintaro Katsu in mind, and Kurosawa had been able to secure him for the role. Yet, the personalities of the two men did not mix well and after an already troublesome pre-production period, Katsu ended up leaving the film set on the very first day of shooting. Accounts differ over whether he resigned or was fired, but the outcome was the same: the film that Kurosawa had just started to shoot was now without its leading man. Fortunately, Kurosawa’s name and connections were still valuable enough to deal with emergencies of this scale, and Tatsuya Nakadai who had previously had major roles in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Sanjuro and High and Low, was soon attached to take over the lead role. This would affect the shooting schedule, but at least the crisis was averted.
Katsu’s departure would not be the end of production difficulties, however. While the departed leading actor was trying to drum up negative press coverage to get back at Kurosawa, the production also had to face a number of other challenges, including a nearby bomb scare, Nakadai being hospitalised after falling off his horse, a typhoon sweeping through the film’s Hokkaido set, the challenges of shooting a period picture in modern Japan littered with power lines and telephone wires, as well as the health-related resignation of legendary cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, who had earlier worked on Rashomon and Yojimbo. Miyagawa, who remained on board as a consultant, was replaced by the young Sh?ji Ueda and an earlier Kurosawa regular Takao Sait?, both of who would continue to work with Kurosawa until the end of his career.
Another change of key personnel happened in post-production when Kurosawa fell out with composer Masaru Sat?. Despite having successfully worked on ten of Kurosawa’s previous films, from Seven Samurai to Red Beard, Sat? decided to walk out following Kurosawa’s insistence on controlling the scoring process. Sat? was quickly replaced by Shinichir? Ikebe, who had previously scored just four films.
Nakadai, Miyagawa, Sait? and Sat? were not the only familiar faces on the Kagemusha set. A number of Kurosawa’s regular actors including Takashi Shimura and Kamatari Fujiwara had roles in the film, while Kurosawa’s old friend and collaborator Ishir? Honda, best known for his Godzilla films, worked as a close aide to Kurosawa, and would continue in this role until his death in 1993. Finally, and very importantly importantly, Kurosawa’s trusty right hand woman Teruyo Nogami was once again by his side, as she had been since Rashomon, and is credited as both the script supervisor and assistant producer.
Despite the well-oiled machinery that was provided by the Kurosawa regulars, the various setbacks and personnel changes resulted in the production falling behind the schedule, although perhaps by less than what Toho or 20th Century Fox had at times feared. Following a six month shoot and a frantic and energetic post-production period, Kagemusha finally opened on April 27, 1980, only two weeks after its originally intended opening date.
There was plenty of anxiety preceding the film’s release. Toho had ended up investing five to six times more money into Kagemusha than for an average production, and Kurosawa had his reputation very much on the line. Surely, if the film flopped it would mark the end of the now 70-year-old flimmaker’s career.
Luckily for everyone, the film did well. In fact, it turned out to be a big commercial hit both domestically and abroad, ending up not only profitable but in fact more than doubling the studios’ investment into it. The film was similarly a critical success, winning the coveted Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1980. Kurosawa, who had traditionally refused most promotional and press duties, spent much of the rest of the year in Europe and North America promoting the film, collecting awards and accolades and exhibiting the drawings that he had made in preparation for the film. In addition to its success in Cannes, the film won Best Film, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Film Score and the Readers’ Choice Award at the Mainichi Film Awards, as well as the Blue Ribbon and two BAFTAs, while also receiving nominations for the Best Foreign Language Golden Globe and Oscar.
Kurosawa had now succeeded in creating his comeback, and although he would not be returning to his pre-1965 rate of putting out a film every year, he was able to create again. Energised by the overwhelmingly positive public reception that his comeback had received and inspired by the memoir that his hero Jean Renoir had published in 1974, the usually very private Kurosawa set out to work on his own autobiography. The result, originally serialised in the Japanese magazine Shukan Yomiuri, was Something Like an Autobiography (Gama no abura), a partial and self-admittedly subjective look at the director’s life up until his international breakthrough with Rashomon.
Kurosawa’s next film project, Ran (“chaos”), would be an epic period film in the vein of Kagemusha, but this time largely based on William Shakespeare’s King Lear. As Japanese studios continued to feel apprehensive about the idea of producing another film that would rank among the most expensive ever made in Japan, international help was again needed, this time coming from Europe in the form of French producer Serge Silberman. Extensive preproduction work began in late 1982 but was halted in 1983 due to financing and other difficulties. While waiting for the production of Ran to continue, Kurosawa began working on Modern Noh (Gendai no noh), a documentary film documentary about Noh theatre. He would, however, leave the documentary unfinished once the production of Ran was able to continue again, with filming beginning in December 1983 and projected to last for more than a year.
In January 1985, towards the end of its projected production period, the filming of Ran was halted again as Kurosawa’s 64-year-old wife Y?ko had fallen ill and the director wished to be by her bedside. The illness proved fatal, with Y?ko passing away on the 1st of February. The mourning Kurosawa returned to the set to finish his film. Now a month behind schedule, Ran was not able to make its intended premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and instead premiered at the Tokyo Film Festival on May 31, with a wide release following the next day. The film was a moderate financial success in Japan but a larger one abroad, and as he had done with Kagemusha, Kurosawa embarked on a trip to Europe and America, where he attended the film’s premieres in September and October.
Among other international awards, Ran was nominated for multiple American Academy Awards. Kurosawa lost in the Best Director category to Sydney Pollack for Out of Africa, which also bettered Kurosawa’s film in two other categories where it was nominated — best art direction (Yoshiro Muraki, Shinobu Muraki) and best cinematography (Takao Saito, Masaharu Ueda and Asakazu Nakai). But Ran‘s costume designer Emi Wada ended up picking up an Oscar for the Best Costume Design.
Kagemusha and Ran are generally considered among Kurosawa’s finest works and seen as remarkable examples of a director’s late career. However, the former film’s status remains somewhat overshadowed by the latter, not least because of Kurosawa himself at times suggesting that Kagemusha had functioned as something of a dress rehearsal for Ran, the film that he had really wished to make. After Ran‘s release, Kurosawa would also often point to it as the best film that he had ever made, a departure from his previous stock answer “my next one”.
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 11: Final works and last years (1986-1998)
While promoting Ran, Kurosawa had often indicated that he had poured all of his remaining creative energy into the film, yet once the dust settled, the director was far from ready to retire. With two commercial and critical successes behind him, for his next film the director chose a project very different from almost anything that he had attempted before. Although some of his earlier works like Kagemusha and Drunken Angel had included dream sequences, the next film Dreams (Yume) was to be entirely based on the director’s own dreams.
For the first time in over forty years, Kurosawa wrote the screenplay alone, a process which took him around two months. The project was very personal, not only because of its subject matter but also due to those now working with him. While his son Hisao had already helped him during the production of Kagemusha and Ran, earning an associate producer’s credit for the latter, Hisao now took over the role of a principal producer together with Mike Inoue, Kurosawa’s nephew whose script had thirty years earlier worked as the basis for The Bad Sleep Well. Kurosawa’s daughter Kazuko was also involved, working at the wardrobe department under Emi Wada, who had won an Academy Award for her work on Ran. By his side were also many long-time friends and associates, including Ishir? Honda and Teruyo Nogami.
Although the estimated budget of Dreams was lower than those of Kagemusha and Ran, Japanese studios continued to be unwilling to back a Kurosawa production, and so Kurosawa turned again to foreign investors. This time he found a supporter in American filmmaker Steven Spielberg who convinced the entertainment corporation Warner Bros to buy the international rights to the completed film. This made it easier for Hisao, who was by now also about to take over as the head of Kurosawa Production, to negotiate a loan that would cover the film’s production costs. With financing thus secured, shooting began on January 10, 1989, and took more than eight months to complete.
Dreams indeed turned out to be different from anything that Kurosawa had done before. The colourful and at times surrealistic film, which among other things featured the American filmmaker Martin Scorsese as Vincent van Gogh, premiered at Cannes on May 11, 1990 to a polite but muted reception, which was repeated when the film was released around the world. Since its release and especially throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Dreams has been one of Kurosawa’s most often watched works, largely thanks to its availability on home video at a time when Kurosawa’s other films were not similarly easily found.
Two months before the premiere of Dreams and three days after his 80th birthday, the director attended the 62nd Academy Awards in Los Angeles on March 26, 1990, where he received an Honorary Award “for cinematic accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained worldwide audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world”. The award was given to him by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, both of whom had produced a Kurosawa film in the past decade and were undoubtedly instrumental in Kurosawa’s reception of the award. In his brief acceptance speech, the 80-year-old filmmaker pondered whether the award was deserved and looked forward to continuing with his career: “I’m a little worried because I don’t feel that I understand cinema yet. I really don’t feel that I have yet grasped the essence of cinema. Cinema is a marvellous thing, but to grasp its true essence is very, very difficult. But what I promise you is that from now on I will work as hard as I can at making movies, and maybe by following this path I will achieve an understanding of the true essence of cinema and earn this award.”
For his next film, Kurosawa turned to a more conventional story. Rhapsody in August, the director’s first film entirely produced in Japan for over twenty years, explored the scars of the nuclear bombing that destroyed Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War. Adapted from a Kiyoko Murata novel, the film’s cast included the American actor Richard Gere as well as a number of child actors. Shooting took place in 1990, with the film opening on May 25, 1991 to a mixed critical reaction, especially in the United States where the director was groundlessly accused of naive anti-American sentiments. In Japan the film was nevertheless nominated for altogether ten Japanese Academy Awards, winning four of them. Although it remains one of Kurosawa’s lesser works, Rhapsody in August has since gained more critical currency and is often discussed in connection with artistic approaches to nuclear threats.
Despite his last two films having not garnered the kind of international critical and commercial success that Kagemusha and Ran had enjoyed, Kurosawa wasted no time moving onto his next project, to be called Madadayo, or Not Yet. Based on autobiographical essays by Hyakken Uchida (1889-1971), the film follows the life of a Japanese professor of German through the Second World War and beyond, centring on yearly birthday celebrations that he has with his former students. These celebrations give the film its name, as the protagonist each time declares his lack of intention to die yet, a topic that was becoming increasingly familiar also for the film’s 83-year-old director. The production was announced in early 1992 and filming began in February that year, progressing ahead of schedule and wrapping by the end of September.
Madadayo‘s release on April 17, 1993, was greeted by a somewhat disappointed reaction similar to what had been given to his two previous works, and it received delayed and largely low key releases abroad. In Japan, the film nevertheless received seven Japanese Academy Award nominations, winning four of them, as well as taking home two acting awards at the Blue Ribbon Awards. Just like with the other films of Kurosawa’s late era, Madadayo has since garnered an increasingly more understanding reception and today it is often celebrated for its quietly contemplative statement on ageing, wisdom and tolerance.
Although Madadayo was ultimately the last film that Kurosawa ever directed, he continued to work after its release. In 1993, Kurosawa wrote a screenplay titled The Sea is Watching (Umi wa miteita), and in 1995 completed the writing of After the Rain (Ame agaru), neither of which he would be able to film. His skills as a painter were also in demand. The Japanese airline Japan Air System commissioned livery designs for seven of their airplanes, while the watchmaker Swatch released a Kurosawa designed watch in 1995. Meanwhile in Hollywood, the Walter Hill directed Yojimbo adaptation Last Man Standing, with Bruce Willis in the leading role, premiered in 1996 to a fairly lukewarm response.
Unfortunately, while Kurosawa was putting in the finishing touches on The Sea is Watching at home in 1995, the now 85-year-old director one day slipped and ended up breaking the base of his spine. Following the accident, he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, thus putting an end to any hopes of him directing another film again.
The Life of Akira Kurosawa – Part 12: Death and posthumous works (1998–present)
Following Kurosawa’s accident in 1995 which left him wheelchair bound, his health began to deteriorate. While his mind remained sharp and lively, the body was slowly giving up. By the spring of 1998, the director was largely confined to bed in his home at Setagaya in Tokyo, spending his time listening to music and watching television. On September 6, 1998, Kurosawa passed away after a stroke. He was 88.
Kurosawa’s death made the news around the world, with goodwill pouring from peers, film critics, journalists and audiences alike. A production of Kurosawa’s unfilmed late screenplay After the Rain (Ame agaru) was soon announced, with the film premiering at the Venice Film Festival in September 1999 and going on wide release in Japan on 22 January 2000. Co-produced by Kurosawa Production which was now run by Kurosawa’s son Hisao, After the Rain was something of an homage project in that it was directed by Kurosawa’s long-time assistant director Takashi Koizumi and featured many of Kurosawa’s regular cast and crew. The film earned an exceptionally warm reception around the world and remains a competent homage to the late director.
The Berlin International Film Festival in 2000 was the host for another posthumous Kurosawa premiere, as Kon Ichikawa’s 74th film Dora-heita was screened out of competition. The film, which received its official release in Japan on May 13, 2000, was filmed from the screenplay written by the production unit Four Knights which Kurosawa, Ichikawa, Keisuke Kinoshita and Kobayashi had set up in 1969. Although a lovely tribute to the samurai films of the 1960s, the film is perhaps not entirely successful in its balance of humour and genre conventions.
In the winter of 2001-2002, the Kurosawa Production licensed animated television series Kaze no Yojimbo aired in Japan. The 25-episode series is a contemporary reimagining of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. Instead of the super samurai played by Toshir? Mifune in the original, Kaze no Yojimbo features a young man in his early twenties in a story whose pacing is closer to that of a detective story.
In 2002, another of Kurosawa’s unfilmed screenplays was brought to the big screen with Kei Kumai helming a production of The Sea is Watching (Umi wa miteita), with Kurosawa Production also part of the production. Although not quite as overwhelmingly positively received as After the Rain had been, the film is nevertheless another beautiful work based on Kurosawa’s late contemplative style.
In 2002 also two important documentary works were released. The Toho Masterworks series It Is Wonderful to Create explores Kurosawa’s films with interviews and archival material and its episodes have been included on many home video releases of Kurosawa’s films. Meanwhile, Stuart Galbraith IV’s gigantic English language dual biography The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa explores the lives and works of the two men whose careers were for two decades so closely linked.
The 50th anniversary of Seven Samurai was celebrated in 2004, with Kurosawa Production cooperating on the animated television series Samurai 7 and the video game Seven Samurai 20XX. Both were based on Kurosawa’s film but transported the story to a futuristic setting with a younger audience in mind.
The 2000s also saw another important development in the continuation of Kurosawa’s posthumous legacy as his films became increasingly available on home video formats such as DVD and later Blu-ray. For English speaking audiences, the Criterion Collection (USA), the British Film Institute (UK) and Madman Entertainment (Australia) have become the primary sources for Kurosawa’s works, with the first mentioned especially highly regarded for their restoration work and the overall quality of their releases. In Japan, Toho and other film companies have similarly remastered and released all of Kurosawa’s oeuvre on both DVD and Blu-ray. Hand in hand with the new home video releases and the increased public availability and awareness of Kurosawa’s works also came a string of book publications which have further helped to keep Kurosawa’s name and works relevant to modern audiences.
The late 2000s also saw a resurgence of remakes based on Kurosawa’s films. In 2007, the Japanese television station TV Asahi produced and aired small screen remakes of High and Low and Ikiru, while a separate Sanjuro remake directed by Yoshimitsu Morita had its premiere that same year in Japan. In 2008, Hidden Fortress: The Last Princess, a Japanese film based on Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, likewise premiered in Japan. Unfortunately, none of these films were able to approach the quality of the originals.
The centenary of Kurosawa’s birth was celebrated in 2010 under the AK100 banner, with preparations led by Kurosawa Production starting a few years earlier. Related events around the world included new home video releases as well a touring exhibition which visited a number of countries and displayed Kurosawa’s paintings and drawings. However, the event with the most lasting importance was the opening of the Akira Kurosawa Digital Archive, which made available over 20,000 scanned documents, including screenplays, photos, storyboards, drawings, notes, newspaper clippings, personal scribblings and more. The AK100 project also announced plans to complete Kurosawa’s unfinished 1983 documentary on Noh theatre as well as the production of an animated film based on Kurosawa’s unfilmed screenplay The Masque of Black Death, yet both projects remain unrealised and their current status is unknown.
In the spring of 2011 there was a string of bad news from the Kurosawa camp, starting in early March with the closure of the Kurosawa museum in the Japanese city of Imari. The museum had been only a temporary space which opened in 1999 as a place holder for a permanent museum that ultimately never materialised. Rumours about cash trouble and financial mismanagement at the Akira Kurosawa Foundation, a non-profit organisation responsible for the museum plans and closely connected to Kurosawa Production, had emerged already in late 2010, and they turned out to accurate as the Foundation dissolved soon after the Imari museum’s closure. A month later, DesignEXchange Co, a Japanese company connected to Kurosawa Production that had purchased rights to Kurosawa’s screenplays back in 2007, also went bankrupt and was dissolved.
In more positive news, 2011 also saw the premiere of a Thai film remake of Rashomon titled At the Gate of the Ghost, while in 2013 another TV Asahi remake was broadcast, this time based on Stray Dog. Again, neither film can be said to fight in the same category as the originals.
In 2014, the first film produced by Kurosawa Production Co in over a decade premiered at the Rainfance Film Festival in London. The film, titled The Hound of Heaven, was written and directed by N.D. Wilson and based on the English poet Francis Thompson’s 182 line poem of the same name about a girl believes that she is fleeing death, when she is actually running away from her only chance at life.
Over 70 years after his debut as a filmmaker and almost two decades after his death, Akira Kurosawa continues to move audiences and influence filmmakers around the world. His style and technique have become an integral part of the international language of cinema, while the stories that he told and the issues that he tackled remain both relevant and fresh to modern audiences. By now it seems safe to say that Kurosawa’s name and works have become a fundamental part of our global cultural canon and that they will live on alongside those of other artistic geniuses that history has produced.
Note From Akira Kurosawa:
This biography is based on the one that I wrote for Wikipedia back in the summer of 2010. Since then, the Wikipedia article has been revised by other people, while I have updated the text for Akira Kurosawa info. The biography is a synthesis of the various books, documentaries and other information available about Kurosawa with sources for direct quotes indicated in the text.
- Kira Kurosawa Biography and Profile (Kira Kurosawa)