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Kurosawa Akira
Kurosawa on the set of
The Shadow Warrior (1980),
winner of the Grand Prix
at the Cannes Film Festival.

Kurosawa Akira (1910-1998)

Kurosawa has had a greater influence on world cinema than any other Japanese director, ranging from the works of Steven Spielberg to the 'spaghetti westerns' of Clint Eastwood. He started out as a painter, trained in the Western school, but gave it up to become an assistant director at the age of 26. He also became an accomplished scriptwriter before making his directorial debut in 1943 with the entertaining Sugata Sanshiro, full of exciting martial arts fight scenes. After World War II, he made several films dealing with the war and its aftermath which enhanced his reputation. In 1950, Kurosawa used medieval Japan as the setting for the first of his great works, Rashomon (the title refers to one of the city gates of Kyoto and was the title of one of two short stories on which the movie was based). It centers around four characters different 'true' accounts of a rape and murder and examines the nature of truth (poster).

Rashomon was the first Japanese movie to win an international award, taking first prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. It also launched the career of actor Mifune Toshiro (1920-98), who appeared in 16 of Kurosawa's 29 films. To Live (Ikiru, 1952) dealt with the question of how we can live a meaningful life through the story of a bureaucrat who has cancer and only six months to live. Kurosawa's next film, the epic Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai, 1954), hardly needs an introduction. It always ranks as one of the greatest films ever made and even inspired a classic western, The Magnificent Seven. An unemployed samurai is asked to help a farm village under attack from bandits. He recruits six others and together they defeat the bandits but not without losing four of their own. A film of heroism, humor and humanity, it affirms the need to fight for a good cause but asks "At what price?" (poster)

Seven Samurai
Seven Samurai
To Live
To Live

Academy award Other Kurosawa classics include Yojimbo (1961) (poster) and The Shadow Warrior (Kagemusha, 1980). The former was remade as the classic Clint Eastwood western A Fistful of Dollars while the the latter won the Grand Prix at Cannes. In 1990, he made Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (Yume, poster) and was awarded a lifetime achievement Academy Award in Hollywood. His last film, No, Not Yet! (Mada Dayo, poster) was released in 1993.

Kurosawa readily acknowledged the great director Mizoguchi Kenji as his master. But it was his relationship with the West that most easily seen in his work. While his films influenced many foreign filmmakers, he was in turn influenced by the great American director John Ford and the works of foreign writers. The Idiot (Hakuchi, 1951) was based on the Dostoevsky novel, The Lower Depths (Donzoko, 1957) on the Gorky play, while Throne of Blood (Kumonosujo, 1957) and Ran (1985) (poster) were versions of Shakespeare's Macbeth and King Lear. Within the Japanese film world, Kurosawa was both praised and vilified for being such a 'Western' director, as if his films were seen as somehow not quite Japanese. The criticism and difficulties he encountered as a result led him to attempt suicide in 1971.

Kurosawa passed away in September 1998, less than a year after the death of his favorite leading man, Mifune. In 1999, a script which he completed just before his death was turned into the film When the Rain Lifts (Ame Agaru). A period piece with a fine cast, the film was warmly received but clearly lacked one thing - the magic of one of the world's visionary directors.

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams
Akira Kurosawa's Dreams

Links Top

Akira Kurosawa Database is a simple but well done fan site with a filmography, biography, links and more.

Kurofan.com is a fan site in French and English with lots of information and pictures (note: uses the VML plugin so you'll need to view it with IE5 or 6 on a Windows machine).

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