Akira Kurosawa (黒澤 明 Kurosawa Akira, also 黒沢 明) (March 23, 1910 - September 6, 1998) was a prominent Japanese director, producer, and screenwriter of films, many of which are considered highly influential worldwide classics.
To Western audiences, Kurosawa is perhaps Japan's best-known filmmaker. His films have greatly influenced a whole generation of filmmakers worldwide. His first film (Sanshiro Sugata ) was released in 1943; his last in 1999 (posthumously). During his career he saw Japan change from a country with military ambitions to a peaceful economic power. Few filmmakers have had a career so long or so acclaimed.
Kurosawa was born March 23, 1910, in Omori, Tokyo the youngest of seven children. He trained as a painter and began work in the film industry as an assistant director in 1936. He made his directorial debut in 1943 with Sugata Sanshiro. He became internationally famous with his 1950 film Rashomon which won the Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival. Although he is most remembered for his films of the 1950s and 1960s, he continued to direct and write films until his death.
Kurosawa is most well-known for his period pieces (called jidai geki 時代劇 "period play" in Japanese) like Seven Samurai and Ran, but many of his films dealt with contemporary Japan. Two of these films are Stray Dog, which looks at the criminal underworld just after the end of the war, and Ikiru, which is about Japanese bureaucracy.
A notable feature of Kurosawa's films is the breadth of his influences. Some of his plots are adaptations of William Shakespeare's works: The Bad Sleep Well, based on Hamlet; Ran, based on King Lear; and Throne of Blood, based on Macbeth. Kurosawa also directed film adaptations of Russian novels, including The Idiot by Dostoevsky and The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky. High and Low was based on a novel by American crime writer Ed McBain. Stray Dog was inspired by the detective novels of Georges Simenon. The American film director John Ford also had a large influence on his work. The list of largely western influences have led some Japanese reviewers to criticize his work as "too Western".
In turn, however, Kurosawa's films had a huge influence on world cinema. Most explicitly The Seven Samurai was later remade as the western The Magnificent Seven and as the science fiction movie Battle Beyond the Stars, and Yojimbo was the basis for the Clint Eastwood western A Fistful of Dollars and the Bruce Willis prohibition-era Last Man Standing . The Hidden Fortress had great influence on George Lucas's earliest of Star Wars film. The film Rashomon not only helped open Japanese cinema to the world but virtually entered the English language as a term for fractured, inconsistent narratives. Rashomon itself is based on Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short story "In a Grove." The themes explored in Rashomon have also been used in other works, including an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
During his most productive period from the late 40's to the mid- 60's, Kurosawa often worked with the same group of collaborators. Fumio Hayasaka composed music for seven of his films; notably Rashomon, Ikiru and Seven Samurai. Many of Kurosawa's scripts, including Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai and Ran were co-written with Hideo Oguni . Yoshiro Muraki was Kurosawa's production designer or art director for most of his films after Stray Dog in 1949 and Asakazu Naki was his cinematographer on 11 films including Ikiru, Seven Samurai and Ran. Kurosawa also liked recycling the same group of actors, especially Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune. His collaboration with the latter is one of the greatest director-actor combinations in cinema history. It began with 1948's Drunken Angel and ended with 1964's Red Beard.
After that film Kurosawa began working in colour and changed the style and scope of his films, which had formerly tended toward the epic. His subsequent film Dodesukaden, about a group of poor people living around a rubbish dump, was not a success. Kurosawa then began work on a Hollywood project, Tora! Tora! Tora!; but 20th Century Fox replaced him with Kinji Fukasaku before it was completed.
After an attempted suicide, Kurosawa went on to make several more films although arranging domestic financing was highly difficult despite his international reputation: Dersu Uzala, made in the USSR and set in Siberia in the early 20th century, won an Oscar; Kagemusha, (financed with the help of the director's most famous admirers, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola) the story of a man who is the double of a medieval Japanese lord and takes over his identity; and the aforementioned Ran, which was a phenomenal international success and is considered to be the crowning artistic achievement of Kurosawa's career.
Kurosawa made three more films during the 1990s which were more personal than his earlier works. Dreams is a series of vignettes based on his own dreams. Rhapsody in August is about memories of the Nagasaki atom bomb and his final film: Madadayo is about a retired teacher and his former students. Kurosawa died September 6, 1998, in Setagaya, Tokyo.
- Akira Kurosawa. Something Like An Autobiography. Vintage Books USA, 1983. ISBN 0394714393
- Stephen Prince. The Warrior's Camera. Princeton University Press, 1999. ISBN 0691010463
- Donald Richie, Joan Mellen. The Films of Akira Kurosawa. University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 0520220374
- Stuart Galbraith IV. The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Faber & Faber, 2002. ISBN 0571199828
See also Cinema of Japan.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04