"Kurosawa" redirects here. For other uses, see Kurosawa (disambiguation).

Akira Kurosawa (黒澤 明 or 黒沢 明 Kurosawa Akira?, 23 March 1910 – 6 September 1998) was a Japanese director, producer, screenwriter and editor. In a career that spanned 57 years, Kurosawa directed 30 films.[note 1]

Kurosawa entered the Japanese film industry in 1936, following a brief, unsuccessful career as a painter. After years of working on numerous films as an assistant director and scriptwriter, he made his debut as a director during the Second World War with the popular action film, Sanshiro Sugata (a.k.a. Judo Saga, 1943). After the war, the critically acclaimed Drunken Angel (1948), in which Kurosawa cast then-unknown actor Toshirō Mifune in a starring role, cemented the director’s reputation as one of the most important young filmmakers in Japan. (The two men would go on to collaborate on another fifteen films.) Rashomon, which premiered in Tokyo on August 25, 1950, and which also starred Mifune, became the surprise winner of the Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival and was subsequently released in Europe and North America. The commercial and critical success of this film opened up Western film markets for the first time to the products of the Japanese film industry, which in turn led to international recognition for other notable Japanese film artists, including Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Kurosawa released approximately a film a year, including a number of films widely regarded as classics, such as Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961). After the mid-1960s, he became much less prolific, but his later work – which included his final two epics, Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985) – continued to win accolades, though more often abroad than in his native land.

He is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in movie history. In 1990, he accepted the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement "for accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world."[1][2] Posthumously, he was named "Asian of the Century" in the category of Arts, Literature, and Culture by American AsianWeek magazine and CNN, cited as, "One of the [five] people who contributed most to the betterment of Asia in the past 100 years".[3]

Life and career

Childhood and youth (1910–1935)

Akira Kurosawa was born on 23 March 1910 in Oi-cho in the Ōmori district of Tokyo. His father Isamu, a member of a former samurai family from the Akita Prefecture, worked as the director of the Army's Physical Education Institute's lower secondary school, while his mother Shima came from a merchant's family living in Osaka. Akira was the eighth and youngest child of the moderately wealthy family, with two of his siblings already grown up at the time of his birth and one deceased, leaving Kurosawa to grow up with three sisters and a brother.[4][5]

In addition to promoting physical exercise, Isamu Kurosawa was open to western traditions and saw theater and motion pictures as educationally valuable. He encouraged his children to watch films; young Akira viewed his first movies at the age of six.[6] An important 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.[7]

Another major childhood influence was Heigo Kurosawa, Akira's older brother by four years. In the aftermath of the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923, which devastated Tokyo, Heigo took the 13-year-old Akira to view the devastation. When the younger brother wanted to look away from the human corpses and animal carcasses 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 would influence Kurosawa's later artistic career, as the director was seldom hesitant to confront unpleasant truths in his work.[8][9]

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.[5] In the late 1920s, Heigo became a benshi (silent film narrator) for Tokyo theaters showing foreign films, and quickly made a name for himself. Akira, who at this point planned to become a painter,[10] moved in with him, and the two brothers became inseparable.[11] Through Heigo, Akira devoured not only films but also theater and circus performances,[12] while exhibiting his paintings and working for the left-wing Proletarian Artists' League. However, he was never able to make a living with his art, and, as he began to perceive most of the proletarian movement as "putting unfulfilled political ideals directly onto the canvas," he lost his enthusiasm for painting.[13]

With the increasing production of talking pictures in the early 1930s, film narrators like Heigo began to lose work, and Akira moved back in with his parents. In July 1933, Heigo committed suicide. Kurosawa has commented on the lasting sense of loss he felt at his brother's death[14] and the chapter of his autobiography that describes it -- written nearly half a century after the event -- is titled, "A Story I Don't Want to Tell."[15] Only four months later, Kurosawa's eldest brother also died, leaving Akira, at age 23, the only one of the Kurosawa brothers still living, together with his three surviving sisters.[11][15]

Director in training (1935–1941)

In 1935, the new film studio Photo Chemical Laboratories, known as P.C.L. (which later became the major studio, Toho), advertised that it was looking to hire assistant directors. Although he had had no previous interest in film as a profession, Kurosawa answered the ad by submitting the required essay, which asked applicants to discuss the fundamental deficiencies of Japanese films and find ways to overcome them. His half-mocking view was that if the deficiencies were fundamental, there was no way to correct them. Kurosawa's essay earned him a call to take the follow-up exams, and director Kajiro Yamamoto, who was among the examiners, took a liking to Kurosawa and insisted that the studio hire him. The 25-year-old Kurosawa joined P.C.L. in February 1936.[16][17]

During his five years as an assistant director, Kurosawa worked under numerous directors, but by far the most important figure in Kurosawa's development at the time was Kajiro Yamamoto. Of his 24 films as A.D., he worked on 17 under Yamamoto, many of them comedies featuring the popular actor Kenichi Enomoto, known as "Enoken."[18] Yamamoto nurtured Kurosawa's talent, promoting him directly from third assistant director to chief assistant director a year after the young man had started working for him.[19] Kurosawa's responsibilities increased, and he worked at tasks ranging from stage construction and film development to location scouting, script polishing, rehearsals, lighting, dubbing, editing and second-unit directing.[20] In the last of Kurosawa's films as an assistant director, Horse (Uma, 1941), Kurosawa took over most of the production, as Yamamoto was occupied with the shooting of another film.[21]

One important piece of advice Yamamoto gave Kurosawa was that a good director needed to master screenwriting.[22] Kurosawa soon realized that the potential earnings to be gained from his scripts were much higher than what he was being paid as an assistant director.[23] Kurosawa would later write, or more often co-write, all of his own films, in addition to providing screenplays for other directors. These outside scripts would serve Kurosawa as a lucrative sideline lasting well into the 1960s, long after he became world-famous.[24][25]

Wartime films and marriage (1941–1945)

In the two years following the release of Horse in 1941, Kurosawa concentrated on script writing, searching for a story he could use to launch his directing career. Towards the end of 1942, about a year after the beginning of Japan's war with the United States, novelist Tsuneo Tomita published his Musashi Miyamoto inspired judo novel, Sanshiro Sugata, the advertisements for which intrigued Kurosawa. He bought the book on its publication day, devoured it in one sitting, and immediately asked Toho to secure the film rights. Kurosawa's initial instinct proved correct as, within a few days, three other major Japanese studios also offered to buy the rights. Toho prevailed, and Kurosawa began pre-production on his debut work as director.[26][27]

Shooting of Sanshiro Sugata began on location in Yokohama in December 1942.[28][29] Production proceeded smoothly, but getting the completed film past the censors was an entirely different matter. The censorship considered the work too "British-American" (an accusation tantamount, at that time, to a charge of treason), and it was only through the intervention of director Yasujiro Ozu, who championed the film, that Sanshiro Sugata was finally accepted for release on March 25, 1943. (Kurosawa had just turned 33.) The movie became both a critical and commercial success. Nevertheless, the censorship office would later decide to cut out some 18 minutes of footage, much of which is now considered lost.[30][31]

Kurosawa next turned to the subject of wartime female factory workers in The Most Beautiful, a propaganda film which he shot in a semi-documentary style in early 1944. In order to coax realistic performances from his actresses, the director had them live in a real factory during the shoot, eat the factory food and call each other by their character names. He would use similar methods with his performers throughout his career.[32][33]

File:Kenichi Enomoto 1945.jpg

The popular comedian Kenichi Enomoto, known as "Enoken," in the Kurosawa film, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945). His bewildered and irreverent reactions to the characters of the classic Kabuki play Kanjinchō got Kurosawa in trouble with the Japanese censors.

During production, the actress playing the leader of the factory workers, Yōko Yaguchi, was chosen by her colleagues to present their demands to the director. She and Kurosawa were constantly at loggerheads, and it was through these arguments that the two, paradoxically, became close. They married on May 21, 1945, with Yaguchi two months pregnant, and the couple would remain together until her death in 1985.[34][35] They would have two children: a son, Hisao, born December 20, 1945, who would serve as producer on some of his father's last projects, and Kazuko, born April 29, 1954, who would become a costume designer.[36]

Shortly before his marriage, Kurosawa was pressured by the studio against his will to direct a sequel to his debut film. The often blatantly propagandistic Sanshiro Sugata Part II, which premiered in May 1945, is generally considered one of his very weakest pictures.[37][38][39][40][41]

Kurosawa decided to write the script for a film that would be both censor-friendly and less expensive to produce. The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail, based on the Kabuki play Kanjinchō and starring the comedian Enoken, with whom Kurosawa had often worked during his assistant director days, was completed in September 1945.[42] By the time the movie was finished, Japan had surrendered and the occupation of Japan had begun. The new American censors interpreted the values allegedly promoted in the picture as overly "feudal" and banned the work. (It would only be released in 1952, the year of Ikiru.) Ironically, while in production, the film had already been savaged by Japanese wartime censors as too Western and democratic (they particularly disliked the comic porter played by Enoken), so the movie most probably would not have seen the light of day even if the war had continued beyond its completion.[43]

First postwar works (1945–1950)

The war now ended, Kurosawa, absorbing the democratic ideals of the Occupation, sought to make films that would establish a new respect towards the individual and the self. The first such film, No Regrets for Our Youth, was inspired by both the 1933 Takigawa incident and the Hotsumi Ozaki wartime spy case, and criticized Japan's pre-war regime for its political oppression. Atypically for the director, the heroic central character is a woman, Yukie, born into upper-middle-class privilege, who comes to question the value of her life in a time of crisis. The original script had to be extensively rewritten, and due to its controversial theme, the completed work divided critics, but it nevertheless managed to win the approval of audiences, who turned variations on the film's title ("No regrets for...") into something of a post-war catchphrase.[44][45][46][47]

His next film, One Wonderful Sunday premiered in July 1947 to mixed reviews. It is a relatively uncomplicated and sentimental love story dealing with an impoverished postwar couple trying to enjoy, within the devastation of postwar Tokyo, their one weekly day off. The movie bears the influence of Frank Capra, D. W. Griffith and F. W. Murnau.[48][49] Another film released in 1947 with Kurosawa's involvement was the action-adventure thriller, Snow Trail, directed by Senkichi Taniguchi from Kurosawa's screenplay. It marked the debut of the intense young actor Toshirō Mifune. It was Kurosawa who, with his mentor Yamamoto, had intervened to persuade Toho to sign Mifune, during an audition in which the young man greatly impressed Kurosawa, but managed to alienate most of the other judges.[50]


Toshirō Mifune electrified audiences as a rebellious but critically ill gangster in Drunken Angel (1948), considered Akira Kurosawa's breakthrough film.

Kurosawa's next film, Drunken Angel, is often considered the director's first major work. Although the script, like all of Kurosawa's first postwar works, had to go through forced rewrites due to occupation censorship, Kurosawa felt that this was the first film in which he was able to express himself freely. A realistic story of a doctor who tries to save a gangster (yakuza) with tuberculosis, it was also the director's first film with Toshirō Mifune, who would proceed to play either the main or one of the major characters in all but one of the director's next sixteen films. While Mifune was not cast as the protagonist in Drunken Angel, his explosive performance as the gangster so dominates the drama that it shifts the focus from the title character, the alcoholic doctor played by Takashi Shimura, who had already appeared in several of Kurosawa's earlier movies. However, Kurosawa permitted Mifune to unbalance the film dramatically, rather than try to smother his immense vitality. The film premiered in Tokyo in April 1948 to rave reviews and was chosen by the Kinema Junpo critics poll as the best film of its year, the first of three Kurosawa works to be so honored.[51][52][53]

Kurosawa, with producer Sōjirō Motoki, and fellow directors and friends Kajiro Yamamoto, Mikio Naruse and Senkichi Taniguchi, then formed a new independent production unit called Film Art Association (Eiga Geijutsu Kyōkai). For this organization's first work, and his first film for Daiei studios, Kurosawa turned to a contemporary play by Kazuo Kikuta and, together with Taniguchi, adapted it for the big screen. The Quiet Duel starred Toshirō Mifune as an idealistic young doctor struggling with syphilis, a deliberate attempt by Kurosawa to break the actor away from being typecast as gangsters. Released in March 1949, it was a box office success, but is generally considered one of the director's lesser achievements.[54][55][56][57]

His second film of 1949, also produced by Film Art Association and released by Shintōhō, was Stray Dog. The most celebrated of Kurosawa's works from this period, it is a detective movie (perhaps the first great Japanese film in that genre) that explores the mood of Japan during its painful postwar recovery, through the story of a young detective, played by Mifune, and his obsession over his handgun, stolen by a man who proceeds to rob and murder with it. Adapted from an unpublished novel by Kurosawa in the style of a favorite writer of his, Georges Simenon, it was the director's first collaboration with screenwriter Ryuzo Kikushima, who would later help to script eight other Kurosawa films. A famous, virtually wordless sequence, lasting over eight minutes, shows the detective, disguised as an impoverished veteran, wandering the streets in search of the gun thief; it employed actual documentary footage of Tokyo neighborhoods by Kurosawa's friend, Ishiro Honda, the future director of Gojira (aka, Godzilla).[58][59][60]

Scandal, released by Shochiku in April 1950, was inspired by the director's personal experiences with, and anger towards, Japanese yellow journalism. The work is an ambitious mixture of courtroom drama and social problem film about free speech and personal responsibility in postwar Japan, but even Kurosawa himself regarded the finished product as dramatically unfocused and unsatisfactory, and almost all critics agree.[61][62][63][64]

However, it would be Kurosawa's second film of 1950, Rashomon, that would ultimately win him a whole new audience.

International recognition (1950–1958)

File:Rashomon 1.jpg

Machiko Kyo and Toshiro Mifune in a scene from Rashomon (1950). The film's innovative storytelling and novel approach to film acting, photography and editing amazed audiences throughout the world.

After finishing Scandal, Kurosawa was approached by Daiei studios, which asked the director to make another film for them. Considering possible stories, Kurosawa picked a script by an aspiring young screenwriter, Shinobu Hashimoto. (They would eventually write nine films together.) It was based on Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's experimental short story In a Grove, which recounts the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife from various different and conflicting points of view. Kurosawa saw potential in the script, and with Hashimoto's help, polished and expanded it and then pitched it to Daiei, who were happy to accept the project due to its low budget.[65]

Shooting of Rashomon began on July 7, 1950 and, after extensive location work in the primeval forest of Nara, wrapped on August 17. Just one week was spent in hurried post-production, hampered by a studio fire, and the finished film premiered at Tokyo's Imperial Theatre on August 25, expanding nationwide the following day. The movie was met by lukewarm reviews, with many critics puzzled by its unique theme and approach, but it was nevertheless a moderate financial success for Daiei.[66][67][68]

Kurosawa's next film, for Shochiku, was The Idiot, an adaptation of the novel by the director's favorite writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The filmmaker relocated the story from Russia to Hokkaido, but it is otherwise very faithful to the original, a fact seen by many critics as detrimental to the work. A studio-mandated edit shortened it from Kurosawa's original cut of 265 minutes (nearly four-and-a-half hours) to just 166 minutes, making the resulting narrative exceedingly difficult to follow. It is widely considered today to be one of the director's least successful works. Contemporary reviews were very negative, but the film nevertheless managed a moderate success at the box office, largely because of the popularity of one of its stars, Setsuko Hara.[69][70] [71][72]

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kurosawa, Rashomon had been entered in the prestigious Venice Film Festival, due to the efforts of Giuliana Stramigioli, a Japan-based representative of an Italian film company, who had convinced Daiei to submit the work. On September 10, 1951, Rashomon was awarded the festival's highest prize, the Golden Lion, shocking not only Daiei but the international film world, which at the time was largely unaware of Japan's decades-old cinematic tradition.[73]

After Daiei very briefly exhibited a subtitled print of the film in Los Angeles, RKO purchased distribution rights to Rashomon in the United States. The company was taking a considerable gamble: it had put out only one prior subtitled film in the American market, and the only previous Japanese talkie commercially released in New York had been Mikio Naruse's comedy, Wife! Be Like a Rose - under the title, Kimiko - in 1937: a critical and box-office flop. However, Rashomon's commercial run, greatly helped by strong reviews from critics and even columnists like Ed Sullivan, was very successful. (The film was also released, by other distributors, in France, West Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.)[74] This success in turn led to a vogue in America for Japanese movies throughout the 1950s, replacing the vogue for Italian neorealist films.[75] Among the filmmakers whose work then began to win festival prizes and commercial release in the West were Kenji Mizoguchi (The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff) and, somewhat later, Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story, An Autumn Afternoon) - artists highly respected in Japan but, prior to this period, almost totally unknown in the West.[76] Later generations of Japanese filmmakers who found acclaim outside Japan, from Nagisa Oshima to Juzo Itami, Takeshi Kitano and Takashi Miike were able to pass through the door that Kurosawa's film had first opened.

Boosted by his sudden international fame, Kurosawa, reunited with his original film studio, Toho (which would go on to produce his next eleven films), set to work on his next project, Ikiru. The movie stars Takashi Shimura as a cancer-ridden Tokyo bureaucrat, Watanabe, on a final quest for meaning before his death. For the screenplay, Kurosawa brought in Hashimoto as well as writer Hideo Oguni, who would go on to co-write twelve Kurosawa films. Despite the work's grim subject matter, the screenwriters took a satirical approach, which some have compared to the work of Brecht, to both the bureaucratic world of its hero and the American cultural colonization of Japan. (American pop songs, with Japanese lyrics, figure prominently in the film.) Through this strategy, the filmmakers prevented the picture from falling into the pitfall of sentimentality common to many dramas about characters with terminal illnesses. Ikiru opened in October 1952 to rave reviews - it won Kurosawa his second Kinema Junpo "Best Film" award - and enormous box office success. It remains the most frequently discussed and best-respected of all the artist's films set in modern times.[77][78][79]

In December 1952, Kurosawa took his Ikiru screenwriters, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni, for a forty-five day secluded residence at an inn to create the screenplay for his next movie, Seven Samurai. The ensemble work was Kurosawa's first proper samurai film, the genre for which he would become most famous. The simple story, about a poor farming village in Sengoku period Japan that hires a group of samurai to defend it against an impending attack by bandits, was given a full epic treatment, with a huge cast (largely consisting of veterans of previous Kurosawa productions) and meticulously detailed action, stretching out to almost three-and-a-half hours of screen time. Three months were spent in pre-production and a month in rehearsal, and shooting took up a total of 148 days spread over almost a year, interrupted by production and financing troubles and Kurosawa's health problems. The film finally opened in April 1954, half a year behind its original release date and about three times over budget, making it at the time the most expensive Japanese film ever made (although it was a modestly-budgeted production by Hollywood standards). The film received positive critical reaction and became a big hit, quickly making back the money invested in it, and provided the studio with a product that they could, and did, market internationally - though with extensive edits. Over time - and with the theatrical and home video releases of the uncut version - its reputation has steadily grown, so that it is now regarded by some commentators as the greatest Japanese film ever made.[80][81][82]

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 after the invention of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon hundreds of times more powerful than the bombs 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 had exposed a Japanese fishing boat to nuclear fallout with disastrous results.[83]

It is in this atmosphere that Kurosawa's next film, Record of a Living Being, was conceived, portraying 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 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 consequently finished by Hayasaka's student Masaru Satō, who would go on to score all of Kurosawa next eight films.[84]

File:Akira Kurosawa on the set.jpeg

Kurosawa on the set of Throne of Blood

Record of a Living Being opened on November 22 to mixed reviews and a muted audience reaction, becoming the first Kurosawa film to lose money during its original theatrical run, and unlike his last two features would not be released abroad until years later. Today, it is nevertheless considered by many to be among the finest Japanese films dealing with the psychological effects of a global nuclear threat.[84][85]

The commercial failure of Record of a Living Being did not prove a major hindrance for Kurosawa, who began working on his next film the following spring. The project, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, was something that Kurosawa had originally wanted to make ten years earlier, but which he had at the time postponed due to Orson Welles's 1948 film version of the play. Throne of Blood, as the film would be called, began shooting on June 29, 1956, and 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, regardless of the liberties that it takes with its source material, quickly earn a place among the most celebrated Shakespeare adaptations.[86]

File:Akira Kurosawa directing.jpeg

Kurosawa on set during the 1950s

Another adaptation of a western play followed almost immediately, with production of The Lower Depths based on the Maxim Gorky play of the same name beginning in May 1957 and a four-week shoot commencing on June 24. The film premiered in September and went on a general release on October 1, receiving a mixed response similar to that of Throne of Blood.[87]

After the Japanese premiere of The Lower Depths, Kurosawa embarked on his first trip to a western country, staying two weeks in London and attending the British premiere of Throne of Blood. While there, he met the American director John Ford, whom Kurosawa considered as one of his biggest personal and artistic 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 dressing style and from here on wear sunglasses and a wool cap on the set, a look that would become something of a trademark during the director's later career.[88][89]

Kurosawa's three films following Seven Samurai had not managed to capture Japanese audiences in the way that the samurai film had, and studio profits were down. Themes in the director's films had also been growing increasingly pessimistic and dark, 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 Throne of Blood and The Lower Depths. The director himself recognised this and aimed 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 in Japan.[90]

The resulting film, The Hidden Fortress, is an action-adventure that follows a medieval princess, her general, and two peasants who need to travel through enemy lines in order to reach their home prefecture. The film, Kurosawa's first in widescreen, was loosely based on his earlier work The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail and 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 his 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 of Kurosawa followed, and the film was released on December 23. The Hidden Fortress proved an enormous box office success in Japan, and was warmly received by critics as well. Today, the film is generally considered Kurosawa's lightest and one of his least important, although it remains popular, not least because of the film's influence on George Lucas who would use The Hidden Fortress as basis for his 1977 space opera Star Wars.[91]

New production company and the end of an era (1958–1965)

Starting with Rashomon, Kurosawa's productions had become increasingly large in scope and so had the director's budgets, sometimes as in the case of Seven Samurai going multiple times over their pre-production estimates. Toho, concerned about this development, suggested to the director that he 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 with the idea, and his production company Kurosawa Production Co. was established in April 1959, with Toho as its majority share holder.[92]

Despite now risking his own money, Kurosawa was not interested in creating a film solely aimed at securing box office success for the first film of his new production company. On the contrary, he decided to take advantage of his increased creative freedom, and chose a story more directly critical of the Japanese business and political elite than had been the case with any of his previous works. The work, The Bad Sleep Well, based on a script by Kurosawa's nephew Mike Inoue, 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, and while the film was in production, mass demonstrations were held against a new U.S.-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.[93][94]

Filming of The Bad Sleep Well began on March 28, 1960 and lasted for four months, with the first test screenings held on August 22. The completed film opened on September 19 to a positive critical reaction, and 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 somewhat failing to live up to its promise.[95]

Following the completion of 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, the primary purpose of his trip was to familiarise himself with the event held 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. The project would ultimately be given to Kon Ichikawa, whose Tokyo Olympiad is now considered one of the finest documentary films of all time.[96][97]

Seven Samurai was meanwhile being remade in the United States and released as a western under the title The Magnificent Seven, and Kurosawa also turned his attention to westerns and the samurai film genre. Yojimbo, Kurosawa Production's second film, centres on a masterless super samurai 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 at the same time offering a more realistic and graphically explicit portrayal of violence. 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 than any Kurosawa film before. Critical reaction was equally positive, and the film 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 intention with Yojimbo had been.[98][99]

Following the success of Yojimbo, Kurosawa found himself under pressure from Toho to create a 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. Owing to this, Sanjuro, originally based on a Shūgorō Yamamoto novel and now sharing the same or at least a very similar protagonist as Yojimbo, is a film very 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 strong comic undertones. Filming began on September 25, only five months after the production of Yojimbo had wrapped, and lasted until December 20, making it a relatively quick shot in Kurosawa's standards. Once again, a one week post-production period followed, and the film opened on January 1st, 1962, quickly surpassing Yojimbo's box office success and garnering similarly positive reviews from film critics. Today, both films are generally considered among Kurosawa's finest works.[100][101][102]

As he was now co-producing his films, box office success meant that also Kurosawa's own financial security increased, and in April 1962 the Kurosawas moved to a new 3,600 square foot residence in Setagaya. 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.[103]

While working on Sanjuro, Kurosawa 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 shifted his attention to the acquired property, and after writing the script together with his regular co-authors Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Ogumi and Eijirō Hisaita, preproduction of High and Low started on July 20, 1962. The summer was spent in casting and rehearsals with filming beginning on September 2 and lasting for five months, wrapping on January 20, 1963. The film, released on March 1, broke Kurosawa's box office record for the third film in a row, becoming the highest grossing Japanese film of the year and winning glowing reviews, further solidifying Kurosawa's critical and commercial standing. While somewhat less well known today than many other Kurosawa films, it is nevertheless considered among his very best.[104]

Enjoying his success and creative freedom, Kurosawa 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 Shūgorō 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, lasted for over a year and wrapped in spring 1965, leaving the director, his crew and actors exhausted.[105][106]

So long was the film's production period that before Red Beard went on wide release, altogether four other films had come out that bore Kurosawa's influence. 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 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 one based on Yojimbo. As the Italians had made their film without permission, a lawsuit was launched against its producers and the film's director Sergio Leone. Ultimately, the case was settled out of court, with Kurosawa and Toho receiving a portion of the Italian film's worldwide box office.[107]

Red Beard premiered on April 3, 1965 and provided Kurosawa Production and Toho with yet another commercial hit, becoming the year's highest grossing Japanese film. Together with the audience, Japanese critics responded extremely well to the work, and the film remains one of Kurosawa's best known and most loved in the country. Internationally, critics have been more divided, with most commentators agreeing about its technical merits and many praising it as one of Kurosawa's best works, while others insisting that it lacks true complexity and genuine narrative power.[108][109]

What most film critics agree on, however, 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 come to an end with Red Beard, and that his next films and production methods would be different.[110] Although unknown to Kurosawa at the time, his prediction proved very accurate. Large changes would indeed take 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 decade. As an example of this, while Red Beard marks approximately the midway point in the director's career, he had by now directed altogether twenty-three films in twenty-two years, while he would only have the chance to make seven movies in the remaining twenty-eight years of his career. For reasons never fully explained by the parties involved, Red Beard would also be his last work with actor Toshirō Mifune, Kurosawa's leading man for most of his career, therefore ending one of the most famous director-actor relationships in the history of cinema.

Unsuccessful Hollywood projects (1965–1969)

Kurosawa, now 55 years old, had in the past five years been more successful than ever, 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 also contemplating change. 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 to Kurosawa.[111]

For his first project outside of Japan, Kurosawa chose a story based on a Life magazine article about a runaway train. The action thriller, to be filmed in English and called simply Runaway Train, would be his first in colour, although made to look much like a black-and-white film with its snow-covered landscapes and black train engines. Negotiations began in November 1965, and in the following June Kurosawa flew to New York to sign a contract with the American production company Embassy Pictures. Kurosawa, working with a translated script in a language that he did not understand, would be the first major foreign filmmaker to make a film in Hollywood since the 1930s. But the language barrier proved a major problem, and the English screenplay was not finished by the time filming was to begin in autumn 1966. The shoot, which required snow, was then moved to autumn 1967, but by 1968 the project had been cancelled. Some twenty years later, another foreigner working in Hollywood, Andrei Konchalovsky, would finally film Runaway Train.[112]

One reason for the eventual cancellation of Runaway Train was that by spring 1967, Kurosawa was already in negotiations about another Hollywood project, this one both larger in scope and one that would allow Kurosawa to work in Japan and with a Japanese crew and actors. 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, and Kurosawa spent several months working on the script with his co-writers Ryuzo Kikushima and Hideo Oguni, pushing for historical accuracy. But as the project evolved, it did so increasingly unfavourably for Kurosawa. The director to film the American sequences would not be David Lean as originally suggested, but the special effects specialist Richard Fleischer. The budget was also cut, and there was talk about Kurosawa having to shoot partly in Hollywood. Finally, the time allocated for his half would be only 90 minutes, which was a problem considering that the finished script for the Japanese half ran for over four hours. Numerous revisions were subsequently written, with a more or less finalised cut-down version agreed on in May, 1968 – more than a year after the writing process had begun.[113]

Kurosawa then turned his attention to sets, among other things commissioning a full-scale replica of battleship Nagato, while also announcing a cast composed of many first-time actors, including war veterans who were now prominent Japanese businessmen and industrialists. Shooting began in early December, but Kurosawa would last only a little over three weeks. On the set, he was struggling to work with an unfamiliar crew and the requirements of a Hollywood production, while his working methods puzzled his American producers, who ultimately concluded that the director must be mentally ill. On the 24th of December 1968, the Americans announced that Kurosawa had left the production due to fatigue, effectively firing him.[114]

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 reason for production difficulties with not only Tora! Tora! Tora! but also Runaway Train lay with people working at Kurosawa's own production company. 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. But by now it was already too late to save either of Kurosawa's Hollywood projects, and the director had acquired a reputation that made it practically impossible for him to find other international projects. As for Tora! Tora! Tora!, when released on September 23, 1970, it would not have Kurosawa's name on it following his request to have it removed, although its screenplay would remain his and his co-writers'.[115]

A decade of difficulties (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 that they called Club of the Four Knights (Yonki no kai). Although the plan was for the four directors to create a film each, it has been suggested that the real motivation for the three directors was simply to make it easier for Kurosawa to successfully complete a film, and therefore find his way back into the business.[116][117]

The first film proposed and worked on was a period film called Dora-heita, but as it was deemed too expensive, attention shifted to Dodesukaden, Kurosawa's vignette-like adaptation of a Shūgorō Yamamoto novel, 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 it being his first completed film in colour and his first film in standard ratio since The Lower Depths, the film was shot quickly for Kurosawa's standards, filming beginning on April 23 and finishing on June 29, with Kurosawa determined to show that he was still capable of working quickly and efficiently within a budget. Before its release in Japan, Kurosawa travelled in August to Russia, where Dodesukaden was shown at the Moscow International Film Festival garnering a positive reaction, with the Soviets suggesting that the director should make a film in their country.[118]

Dodesukaden was released in Japan on October 31, 1970, but although a minor critical success, it was greeted with an indifferent audience reaction, with the film losing money and causing the Club of the Four Knights to dissolve after just one film together. Initial reception abroad was 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 works.[119]

While the film was in postproduction, Kurosawa had also had the chance to direct a television documentary titled Song of the Horse (Uma no uta) that premiered in August, but after Dodesukaden failed to re-establish him as a major box office figure in Japan, Kurosawa's options diminished. Unable to secure funding for further work the following year and allegedly suffering from health problems, Kurosawa slit his wrists and throat on December 22, 1971, soon after relocating his family to a smaller place in Ebisu, Tokyo. But the suicide attempt proved unsuccessful, and the director's health recovered fairly quickly, with Kurosawa now succumbing to domestic life, uncertain if he would ever direct another film again.[120][121]

1972 passed without film work, but in early 1973 Kurosawa was suddenly contacted by the Russian film studio Mosfilm asking if he would be interested in working with them, like they had suggested a little over two years earlier. Kurosawa agreed, proposing an adaptation of Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev's autobiographical work Dersu Uzala, something that he had been wanting to film since the 1930s. A contract was signed on March 14, and work on the script began with Kurosawa collaborating with Russian writer Yuri Nagibin through translators and mail. On December 11, Kurosawa set off to the Soviet Union with four of his closest aides, beginning a 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 early next year. 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.[122]

Dersu Uzala had its world premiere in Japan on August 2, 1975, and did well at the box office. While critical reception in Japan was muted, the film 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 film, some seeing it as an example of Kurosawa's artistic decline, while others counting it among his finest works.[123]

Despite the international success of Dersu Uzala, Kurosawa found himself again without work in the similarly struggling Japanese film industry, while his health was also failing following the demanding Russian production. Although proposals for television projects were submitted to him, he had no interest in working outside of the film world. Nevertheless, in order to maintain his family's lifestyle, 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, as his 21-year-old daughter Kazuko married in May 1976, and the following year Kurosawa became a proud grandfather. And while again convinced that he might never be able to make another film, the director nevertheless continued working on potential projects, writing scripts and creating detailed illustrations for them with the intention of leaving behind a visual record of his plans in case he would never be able to film his stories.[124][125][126]

Two epics (1978–1986)

In 1977, American director George Lucas had released Star Wars, a wildly successful space opera which bore similarities to Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. Lucas, like many other New Hollywood directors, considered Kurosawa a mentor, and was shocked to find out that the Japanese filmmaker was currently unable to secure financing for a new work. With the help of Francis Ford Coppola, also an admirer of Kurosawa's works, Lucas contacted Kurosawa to see what could be done. The two consequently met in San Francisco in July 1978 to discuss Kagemusha, a story of a man hired as the body double of a medieval Japanese lord and the project Kurosawa considered the most financially viable of the scripts that he had been working on since Dersu Uzala. Lucas, enthralled by the screenplay and Kurosawa's illustrations, proceeded to use his influence over 20th Century Fox, coercing the studio that had fired Kurosawa just ten years earlier to now produce the director's next film.[127]

The deal was announced on December 20, 1978, with Toho also joining in as a co-producer. Production began the following April with Kurosawa in high spirits and with his health problems now appearing to have suddenly disappeared. Filming lasted from June 1979 until March 1980 and turned out to be extremely demanding, with numerous incidents including the departure of the film's leading actor stretching the shoot, and the film finishing a few weeks behind schedule. Kagemusha finally opened in Tokyo on April 27, 1980, and quickly became a massive hit in Japan. The film was similarly a critical and box office success abroad, winning the coveted Golden Palm at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival in May, and Kurosawa spending much of the rest of the year in Europe and America promoting Kagemusha, collecting awards and accolades, and exhibiting the drawings that he had made in preparation for the film.[128]

The international success of Kagemusha meant that Kurosawa could also begin to think about his next project Ran, another epic 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, who agreed to finance the film. 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, a film documentary on Noh theatre. He would, however, leave the documentary unfinished once the production of Ran could continue again, with filming beginning in December 1983 and lasting for more than a year.[129]

In January 1985, production of Ran was halted again as Kurosawa's 64-year-old wife Yōko had fallen ill and the director wished to be by her bedside. The illness proved fatal, with Yōko passing away on the 1st of February and Kurosawa subsequently returning 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.[130]

Kagemusha and Ran are generally considered to be among Kurosawa's finest works as well 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 once 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 point to it as the best film that he had ever made, a departure for the director who had previously always answered "my next one", when asked the question.[131][132]

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 the director was far from ready to retire. For his next film, Kurosawa chose a project very different from anything that he had done before, as while some of his earlier works like Kagemusha and Drunken Angel had included dream sequences, Dreams was to be entirely made 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 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, he now took 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. Additionally, Kurosawa's daughter Kazuko would work at the wardrobe department under Emi Wada, who had won an Academy Award for her work on Ran, while a long-time friend and fellow director Ishirō Honda worked as a second unit director.[133]

Although its estimated budget was lower than with his previous films, Japanese studios were still 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 Warner Bros. to buy the international rights to the completed film. This made it easier for Hisao, who was by now about to take over as the head of Kurosawa Production, to negotiate a loan that would cover the film's actual production costs. With financing secured, shooting began on January 10, 1989, and took more than eight months to complete. Dreams premiered at Cannes on May 10, 1990 to a polite but muted reception, which was repeated when the film was released around the world.[134]

For his next film, Kurosawa turned to a more conventional story, with Rhapsody in August – the director's first film fully produced in Japan in twenty years – exploring the scars of the nuclear bombing which 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 and shooting took place in early 1991, with the film opening on May 25 that year to a largely negative critical reaction, especially in the United States where the director was accused of naive anti-American sentiments.[135]

Although his last two films had not acquired the kind of critical and commercial success that Kagemusha and Ran had enjoyed, Kurosawa wasted no time moving onto his next project, which he called Madadayo, or Not Yet. Based on autobiographical essays by Hyakken Uchida, the film follows the German professor's life through the Second World War and beyond, centering on yearly birthday celebrations with his former students where the protagonist declares his lack of intention to die quite yet, a topic that was becoming increasingly topical for the film's 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. Its release on April 17, 1993, was greeted by an even more hostile and disappointed reaction than had been the case with his two previous works.[136]

Kurosawa nevertheless continued to work after Madadayo. In 1993, the now 83-year-old director wrote the screenplay for The Sea is Watching, and in 1995 he completed After the Rain. The screenplays were later filmed by Kei Kumai in 2002 and Takashi Koizumi in 1999, respectively. For, while putting finishing touches on the latter work in 1995, Kurosawa slipped and broke the base of his spine. Following the accident, he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, putting an end to any hopes of him directing another film again.[137]

Death and posthumous works

Following his accident in 1995, Kurosawa's health began to deteriorate. While his mind remained sharp and lively, his body was giving up, and for the last half a year of his life the director was largely confined to bed, listening to music and watching television at home. On September 6, 1998, Kurosawa died of a stroke in Setagaya, Tokyo, at the age of 88.[138]

Following Kurosawa's death, several posthumous works based on his unfilmed screenplays have been in production. After the Rain was released in 1998, and The Sea is Watching premiered in 2002. To coincide with the 100th anniversary of Kurosawa's birth, his unfinished documentary Gendai no Noh is scheduled to be completed and released in 2010, as is an animated film created from his script The Masque of Black Death, based on an Edgar Allan Poe short story.

In addition to new works based on previously unfilmed properties, Kurosawa's works have similarly continued to provide the basis for numerous films, television series and video games that have been released after the director's death.

Artistic influences, working methods, style and content

Cinematic, theatrical and literary influences

Kurosawa drew upon an enormous range of influences from cinematic, theatrical and literary traditions – both those of his native culture and of the West – in the creation of his films.

Cinematic influences

According to his own statements, one of the strongest influences on Kurosawa was the cinema of the silent period. Recalling, near the end of his life, a 1928 French Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, La Chute de la Maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher), directed by Jean Epstein, he said, “As you know, it's a silent movie… That power of expression. Simply wonderful. And before I start to make a movie, every time I try to imagine how I would have made this picture if it was a silent movie.”[139] Prior to making Rashomon, he did extensive silent film research (with very limited resources at that time in Japan) to recapture that special aesthetic. “Since the advent of the talkies in the 1930s, I felt, we had misplaced and forgotten what was so wonderful about the old silent movies… I believed that there was something to be learned from the spirit of the French avant-garde films of the 1920s… Rashomon would be my testing ground, the place where I could apply the ideas and wishes growing out of my silent film research.”[140]

Among American sound film directors, Kurosawa held Frank Capra and John Ford in particular esteem. Critics have asserted that, of the Japanese director's early films, both One Wonderful Sunday and Scandal owe a debt to Capra’s work in general, and the latter film includes scenes that appear to allude directly to It’s a Wonderful Life.[141][142] Kurosawa often cited Ford as one of his favorite directors: “There is one more film director I would like to resemble as I grow old: the late American film director John Ford.”[143] and he identified My Darling Clementine as his favorite film by the director (“It’s a model of what cinema should be”).[144] (On the other hand, he once remarked, “I’m sure that my films do show some influence from John Ford, whose work I like very much, but I’m certainly not conscious of doing anything to imitate him.”)[145]

Ford was, of course, an acknowledged master of the Western, and the influence of that genre (or lack of it) on Kurosawa’s work has been frequently discussed by critics and scholars, though there has been no consensus on the subject. Donald Richie compares Yojimbo, for example, to such classic Westerns as Shane, Bad Day at Black Rock and High Noon.[146] Stephen Prince, on the other hand, maintains that Kurosawa “cannot simply make Westerns, since the social perceptions and the national tradition that they express are quite foreign [to Japan],” and cites a quote by the director, in which he remarked that he had learned from the “grammar” of the Western, to argue that Kurosawa utilized only “certain syntactic features” from the genre and not its content.[147] Joan Mellen asserts, “Questions of whether Kurosawa influenced Western films – or that they influenced him – are irrelevant to understanding him as a film-maker.”[148]

So much attention has been given to the influence of Hollywood on Kurosawa that it is often overlooked that the classic European art cinema also inspired him. In his autobiography, he lists the titles of nearly a hundred non-Japanese films he viewed during his youth, under the influence of his brother Heigo, and this list includes celebrated works by such continental directors as Ernst Lubitsch, Abel Gance, Carl Theodore Dreyer, F.W. Murnau, Sergei Eisenstein and Jean Renoir.[149] The last-named director particularly impressed Kurosawa: he was a great admirer of Renoir’s Grand Illusion. He described Renoir as “a warm and broad-minded person” when he met the Frenchman in Paris[150] and later called him one of two major directors (the other being John Ford), compared to whom he himself, in his view, was “no more than a little chick.”[143] Near the end of his life, he prepared a list of 100 favorite films, which included works by such distinguished postwar European figures as Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle, Francois Truffaut and Andrei Tarkovsky.[139]

Theatrical influences

After the Second World War, Kurosawa became a connoisseur of Japanese theater, particularly the Noh and the works of its major theorist, the playwright Zeami, and would later write fondly about particular performances and performers he had witnessed.[151] The influence of this form of theater is particular strong in his Macbeth adaptation, Throne of Blood. "I wanted to use the way that Noh actors have of moving their bodies, the way they have of walking, and the general composition which the Noh stage provides."[152] According to Donald Richie, the actress Isuzu Yamada "moves, heel to toe, as does the Noh actor; the shape of [her] face is used to suggest the Noh mask; her scenes with her husband have a very Noh-like composition, and her handwashing is pure Noh drama."[152]

Even in The Lower Depths, adapted from the famous play by Maxim Gorky, non-occidental elements appear. The climax is highlighted by the characters singing a comic song derived from the very Japanese musical tradition of the bakabayashi (literally, "fool festival") and the very last sound of the movie, after the final word of dialogue, is of the hyoshigi: the bamboo clappers "used to begin and end traditional Japanese theatrical entertainments."[153]

Literary influences

Kurosawa, addressing aspiring young filmmakers, advised them to read as widely as possible. "In order to write scripts, you must study the great novels and dramas of the world. You must consider why they are great."[154] Not surprisingly, Kurosawa drew heavily from literature in his work, particularly Russian literature, an enthusiasm he originally shared with his brother Heigo.[155] Even when a script was ostensibly original, a Russian connection sometimes existed: when he was getting ready to write the script for Ikiru, he told one of his collaborators, Hideo Oguni, that he wished to use Tolstoy’s novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, as the basis of the screenplay.[156]

But Kurosawa’s favorite writer was always Dostoevsky.[157] In 1951, he released an adaptation of The Idiot that (as already mentioned above) was much-derided for its slavish fidelity to the original novel. Yet even in Red Beard, ostensibly an adaptation of a Japanese book, Kurosawa incorporates some elements of Dostoevsky’s The Insulted and Injured, specifically in the scenes involving the child prostitute, Otoyo.[158] And one of Kurosawa's unrealized projects was a film, which he wanted to shoot in the 70-millimeter format, of the Russian novelist’s The House of the Dead.[159]

Working methods

All biographical sources, as well as the filmmaker’s own comments, confirm that Kurosawa was a completely “hands-on” director, passionately involved in every aspect of the filmmaking process. As one interviewer summarized, “he (co-)writes his scripts, oversees the design, rehearses the actors, sets up all the shots and then does the editing.”[160] His active participation extended from the initial concept to the editing and scoring of the final product.


Kurosawa emphasized time and again that the screenplay was the absolute foundation of a successful film and that, though a mediocre director can sometimes make a passable film out of a good script, even an excellent director can never make a good film out of a bad script.[161] During the postwar period, he began the practice of collaborating with a rotating group of five screenwriters: Eijirō Hisaita, Ryuzo Kikushima, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni, and Masato Ide.[162] Whichever members of this group happened to be working on a particular film would gather around a table, often at a hot-springs resort, where they would not be distracted by the outside world. (Seven Samurai, for example, was written in this fashion.)[163] Often they all (except Oguni, who acted as “referee”) would work on the exact same pages of the script, and Kurosawa would choose the best-written version from the different drafts of each particular scene.[164] This method was adopted "so that each contributor might function as a kind of foil, checking the dominance of any one person’s point-of-view."[165]

In addition to the actual script, Kurosawa at this stage often produced extensive, fantastically detailed notes to elaborate his vision. For example, for Seven Samurai, he created six notebooks in which he created (among many other things) detailed biographies of the samurai, including what they wore and ate, how they walked, talked and behaved when greeted, and even how each tied his shoes.[163][166] For the 101 peasant characters in the film, he created a registry consisting of 23 families and instructed the performers playing these roles to live and work as these “families” for the duration of shooting.[167]


During the actual production of a film, Kurosawa was always greatly concerned with capturing the action of the script as vividly as possible. This involved careful work with his actors, and he often gave them great freedom to shape their own performances. During the shooting of Drunken Angel, for example, Toshirō Mifune’s performance as a young gangster was so aggressive that Kurosawa feared it would unbalance the drama by overshadowing the main character of the alcoholic doctor (played by Takashi Shimura). However, he was even more afraid of smothering Mifune’s immense vitality, so he let the actor do what he wanted.[168] Said Kurosawa: “In the end, although the title refers to the doctor, it is Mifune that everyone remembers.”[169]

Beginning with Seven Samurai (1954), Kurosawa's cinematic technique changed drastically, through his extensive use in that film of telephoto lenses (or long lens) and multiple cameras. The director claimed that he used these lenses and several cameras rolling at once to help the actors — allowing them to be photographed at some distance from the cameras, without the knowledge of which particular camera's image would at any given moment represent the final "take" — making their performances much more natural.[170] (Tatsuya Nakadai agreed that the multiple cameras did help his performances with the director.)[171] But these changes had a powerful effect as well on the look of the action scenes in that film, particularly the final battle in the rain. Says Stephen Prince: "He can use the telephoto lenses to get under the horses, in between their hooves, to plunge us into the chaos of that battle in a visual way that is really quite unprecedented, both in Kurosawa’s own work and in the samurai genre as a whole."[172]

With The Hidden Fortress, Kurosawa began to utilize the widescreen (anamorphic) process for the first time in his work.[173] These three techniques — long lenses, multiple cameras and widescreen — were fully exploited even in sequences with little or no overt action, such as the early scenes of High and Low that take place in the central character's home, in which they are employed to dramatize tensions and power relationships between the characters within a highly confined space.[174]

For all his films, but particularly for his jidai-geki, Kurosawa insisted on absolute authenticity of sets, costumes and props. Numerous instances of his fanatical devotion to detail have been recorded, of which the following are only a few examples.

For Red Beard, to construct the gate for the clinic set, Kurosawa had his assistants dismantle rotten wood from old sets and then create the prop from scratch with this old wood, so the gate would look properly ravaged by time.[175] For the same film, for teacups that appeared in the movie, he ordered his crew to pour fifty years’ worth of tea into the cups so they would appear appropriately stained.[176]

For Throne of Blood, in the scene where Washizu (Mifune) is attacked with arrows by his own men, the director had archers shoot real arrows, hollowed out and running along wires to make sure they’d reach their designated targets, at Toshirō Mifune from a distance of about ten feet, with the actor carefully following chalk marks on the ground (some of the arrows missed him by an inch; the actor suffered nightmares afterward).[177][178]

For Ran, art director Yoshirō Muraki, constructing the "third castle" set under the director’s supervision, created the "stones" of that castle by having photographs taken of actual stones of a celebrated castle, then painting Styrofoam blocks to exactly resemble those stones and gluing them to the castle “wall” through a process known as “rough-stone piling,” which required months of work. Later, before shooting the famous scene in which the castle is attacked and set on fire, in order to prevent the Styrofoam “stones” from melting in the heat, the art department coated the surface with four layers of cement, then painted the colors of the ancient stones onto the cement.[179]


Kurosawa often remarked that he shot a film simply in order to have material to edit, because the editing of a picture was the most important and creatively interesting part of the process for him.[180] Kurosawa’s creative team believed that the director’s skill with editing was his greatest talent. Said Hiroshi Nezu, a longtime production supervisor on his films, “Among ourselves, we think that he is Toho’s best director, that he is Japan’s best scenarist, and that he is the best editor in the world. He is most concerned with the flowing quality which a film must have… The Kurosawa film flows over the cut, as it were.”[181]

The director’s frequent crew member Teruyo Nogami confirms this view. “Akira Kurosawa’s editing was exceptional, the inimitable work of a genius… No one was a match for him.”[182] She claimed that Kurosawa carried in his head all the information about all shots filmed, and if, in the editing room, he asked for a piece of film and she handed him the wrong one, he would immediately recognize the error, though she had taken detailed notes on each shot and he had not. She compared his mind to a computer, which could do with edited segments of film what computers do today.[183]

Kurosawa’s habitual method – at variance with the standard Hollywood practice of editing a film only after all footage has been shot – was to edit a film daily, bit by bit, during production. This helped particularly when he started using multiple cameras, which resulted in a large amount of film to assemble. “I always edit in the evening if we have a fair amount of footage in the can. After watching the rushes, I usually go to the editing room and work.”[184] Because of this practice of editing as he went along, the post-production period for a Kurosawa film could be startlingly brief: Yojimbo had its Japanese premiere on April 20, 1961, four days after shooting concluded on April 16th.[185]

The "Kurosawa-gumi"

Throughout his career, Kurosawa worked constantly with people drawn from the same pool of creative technicians, crew members and actors, popularly known as the "Kurosawa-gumi" (Kurosawa group). The following is a partial list of this group, divided by profession. This information is derived from the IMDB pages for Kurosawa’s films[186] and Stuart Galbraith’s IV’s filmography:[187]

ComposersFumio Hayasaka (Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Scandal, Rashomon, The Idiot, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Record of a Living Being); Masaru Satō (Throne of Blood, The Lower Depths, The Hidden Fortress, The Bad Sleep Well, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, High and Low, Red Beard); Tōru Takemitsu (Dodeskaden, Ran); Shin-ichirō Ikebe (Kagemusha, Dreams, Rhapsody in August, Madadayo).

CinematographersAsakazu Nakai (No Regrets for Our Youth, One Wonderful Sunday, Stray Dog, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Record of a Living Being, Throne of Blood, High and Low, Red Beard, Dersu Uzala, Ran); Kazuo Miyagawa (Rashomon, Yojimbo);[note 2] Takao Saitō (Sanjuro, High and Low, Red Beard, Dodeskaden, Kagemusha, Ran, Dreams, Rhapsody in August, Madadayo].

Art DepartmentYoshiro Muraki served as either assistant art director, art director or production designer for all Kurosawa’s films (except for Dersu Uzala) from Drunken Angel until the end of the director’s career.

Production Crew – Teruyo Nogami served as script supervisor, production manager, associate director or assistant to the producer on all Kurosawa’s films from Rashomon to the end of the director’s career. Hiroshi Nezu was production supervisor or unit production manager on all the films from Seven Samurai to Dodeskaden, except Sanjuro.

ActorsLeading actors: Takashi Shimura (21 films); Toshirō Mifune (16 films), Susumu Fujita (8 films), Tatsuya Nakadai (6 films) and Masayuki Mori (5 films). Supporting performers (in alphabetical order): Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Bokuzen Hidari, Fumiko Homma, Hisashi Igawa, Yunosuke Ito, Kyoko Kagawa, Daisuke Kato, Isao Kimura, Kokuten Kodo, Akitake Kono, Yoshio Kosugi, Koji Mitsui, Seiji Miyaguchi, Eiko Miyoshi, Nobuo Nakamura, Akemi Negishi, Denjiro Okochi, Noriko Sengoku, Gen Shimizu, Ichiro Sugai, Haruo Tanaka, Akira Terao, Eijiro Tono, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kichijiro Ueda, Atsushi Watanabe, Isuzu Yamada, Tsutomu Yamazaki and Yoshitaka Zushi.



Sanshiro takes leave of his sweetheart, Sayo...


After the jump cut...


After the second jump cut

Virtually all commentators have noted Kurosawa’s bold, dynamic style, which many have compared to the traditional Hollywood style of narrative moviemaking, one that emphasizes, in the words of one such scholar, "chronological, causal, linear and historical thinking."[188] But it has also been claimed that, from his very first film, the director displayed a technique quite distinct from the seamless style of classic Hollywood. This technique involved a disruptive depiction of screen space through the use of numerous unrepeated camera setups, a disregard for the traditional 180-degree axis of action around which Hollywood scenes have usually been constructed, and an approach in which “narrative time becomes spatialized,” with fluid camera movement often replacing conventional editing.[189] The following are some idiosyncratic aspects of the artist’s style.

The axial cut

In his films of the 1940s and 1950s, Kurosawa frequently employs the "axial cut," in which the camera moves closer to (or further away from) the subject, not through the use of tracking shots or dissolves, but through a series of matched jump cuts. For example, in Sanshiro Sugata II, the hero takes leave of the woman he loves, but then, after walking away a short distance, turns and bows to her, and then, after walking further, turns and bows once more. This sequence of shots (illustrated on film scholar David Bordwell's blog)[190] is reproduced on this page. The three shots are not connected in the film by camera movements or dissolves, but by a series of two jump cuts. The effect is to stress the duration of Sanshiro's departure.

In the opening sequence of Seven Samurai in the peasant village, the axial cut is used twice. When the villagers are outdoors, gathered in a circle, weeping and lamenting the imminent arrival of the bandits, they are glimpsed from above in extreme long shot, then, after the cut, in a much closer shot, then in an even closer shot, until finally the viewer is at ground level, and the dialogue begins. A few minutes later, when the villagers go to the mill to ask the village elder's advice, there is a long shot of the mill, with a slowly turning wheel in the river, then a closer shot of this wheel, and then a still closer shot of it. (As the mill is where the elder lives, these shots forge a mental association in the viewer's mind between that character and the mill.)[191]

Cutting on motion

A number of scholars have pointed out Kurosawa’s tendency to “cut on motion”: that is, to edit a sequence of a character or characters in motion so that an action is depicted in two or more separate shots, rather than one uninterrupted shot. A commentator, as an example, describes a tense scene in Seven Samurai in which the samurai Shichiroji, who is standing, wishes to console the peasant Manzo, who is sitting on the ground, and he gets down on one knee to talk to him. Kurosawa chooses to film this simple action in two shots rather than one (cutting between the two only after the action of kneeling has begun) to fully convey Shichiroji’s humility. Numerous other instances of this device are evident in the movie. “Kurosawa [frequently] breaks up the action, fragments it, in order to create an emotional effect.”[192]

The wipe


A bureaucrat refers petitioners to the Environmental Sanitation Department...


Wipe transition to the Environmental Sanitation Department...


The Environmental Sanitation Department bureaucrat refers petitioners to... another department. (From Ikiru)

A form of cinematic punctuation very strongly identified with Kurosawa is the wipe. This is an effect created through an optical printer, in which, when a scene ends, a line or bar appears to move across the screen, “wiping” away the image while simultaneously revealing the first image of the subsequent scene. As a transitional device, it is used as a substitute for the straight cut or the dissolve (though Kurosawa, of course, often used both of those devices as well). In his mature work, Kurosawa employed the wipe so frequently that it became a kind of signature. For example, one blogger has counted no less than twelve instances of the wipe in Drunken Angel.[193]

There are a number of theories concerning the purpose of this device, which, as James Goodwin notes, was common in silent cinema but became considerably rarer in the more “realistic” sound cinema.[194] Goodwin claims that the wipes in Rashomon, for instance, fulfill one of three purposes: emphasizing motion in traveling shots, marking narrative shifts in the courtyard scenes and marking temporal ellipses between actions (e.g., between the end of one character’s testimony and the beginning of another’s).[194] He also points out that in The Lower Depths, in which Kurosawa completely avoided the use of wipes, the director cleverly manipulated people and props “in order to slide new visual images in and out of view much as a wipe cut does.”[195]

An instance of the wipe used as a satirical device can be seen in Ikiru. A group of women visit the local government office to petition the bureaucrats to turn a waste area into a children’s playground. The viewer is then shown a series of point of view shots of various bureaucrats, connected by wipe transitions, each of whom refers the group to another department. On Nora Tennessen's blog (on which the screenshots at left appear), she comments that “the wipe technique makes [the sequence] funnier -- images of bureaucrats are stacked like cards, each more punctilious than the last.”[196]

Image-sound counterpoint

Kurosawa by all accounts always gave great attention to the soundtracks of his films (Teruyo Nogami’s memoir gives many such examples).[197] In the late 1940s, he began to employ music for what he called "counterpoint" to the emotional content of a scene, rather than merely to reinforce the emotion, as Hollywood traditional did (and still does). The inspiration for this innovation came from a family tragedy. When news reached Kurosawa of his father's death in 1948, he wandered aimlessly through the streets of Tokyo. His sorrow was magnified rather than diminished when he suddenly heard the cheerful, vapid song "The Cuckoo Waltz", and he hurried to escape from this "awful music." He then told his composer, Fumio Hayasaka, with whom he was working on Drunken Angel, to use "The Cuckoo Waltz" as ironic accompaniment to the scene in which the dying gangster, Matsunaga, sinks to his lowest point in the narrative.[198]

"Ah, counterpoint," said Hayasaka. "Right. The Sharpshooter," Kurosawa answered.[199] This referred to a Soviet film both men had liked (which Teruyo Nogami more accurately refers to as The Sniper), a World War I drama in which, during a scene in which an enemy sniper is stabbed to death, cheerful French music is heard by the characters.[200] By using "The Cuckoo Waltz" rather than sad music during a grim scene, Kurosawa and Hayasaka sought to emulate the dramatic effect they so admired in the earlier movie.

This ironic approach to music can also be found in Stray Dog, a film released a year after Drunken Angel. In the climactic scene, the detective Murakami is fighting furiously with the murderer Yusa in a muddy field. The sound of a Mozart piece is suddenly heard, played on the piano by a woman in a nearby house. As one commentator notes, "In contrast to this scene of primitive violence, the serenity of the Mozart is, literally, other-worldly" and "the power of this elemental encounter is heightened by the music."[201] Nor was Kurosawa’s "ironic" use of the soundtrack limited to music. One critic observes that, in Seven Samurai, "During episodes of murder and mayhem, birds chirp in the background, as they do in the first scene when the farmers lament their seemingly hopeless fate."[202]

Recurring themes

The master-disciple relationship

Many commentators have noted the frequent occurrence in Kurosawa’s work of the complex relationship between an older and a younger man, who serve each other as master and disciple, respectively. This theme was clearly an expression of the director's life experience. "Kurosawa revered his teachers, in particular Kajiro Yamamoto, his mentor at Toho. The salutary image of an older person instructing the young evokes always in Kurosawa’s films high moments of pathos."[203] The critic Tadao Sato considers the recurring character of the "master" to be a type of surrogate father, whose role it is to witness the young protagonist’s moral growth and approve of it.[204]

In his very first film, Sanshiro Sugata, after the Judo master Yano becomes the title character’s teacher and spiritual guide, "the narrative [is] cast in the form of a chronicle studying the stages of the hero’s growing mastery and maturity."[205] The master-pupil relationship in the films of the postwar era – as depicted in such works as Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Seven Samurai, Red Beard and Dersu Uzala – involves very little direct instruction, but much learning through experience and example; Stephen Prince relates this tendency to the private and nonverbal nature of the concept of Zen enlightenment.[206]

By the time of Kagemusha, however, according to Prince, the meaning of this relationship has changed. A thief chosen to act as the double of a great lord continues his impersonation even after his master’s death: "the relationship has become spectral and is generated from beyond the grave with the master maintaining a ghostly presence. Its end is death, not the renewal of commitment to the living that typified its outcome in earlier films."[207] However, according to the director's biographer, in his final film, Madadayo – which deals with a teacher and his relationship with an entire group of ex-pupils – a sunnier vision of the theme emerges. "The students hold an annual party for their professor, attended by dozens of former students, now adults of varying age… This extended sequence… expresses, as only Kurosawa can, the simple joys of student-teacher relationships, of kinship, of being alive."[208]

The heroic champion

Kurosawa’s is a heroic cinema, a series of dramas (mostly) concerned with the deeds and fates of larger-than-life heroes. Stephen Prince has identified the emergence of the unique Kurosawa protagonist with the immediate postwar period, when the aim of the American Occupation to replace Japanese feudalism with individualism coincided with the director’s artistic and social agenda: "Kurosawa welcomed the changed political climate and sought to fashion his own mature cinematic voice."[209] The Japanese critic Tadao Sato concurs: "With defeat in World War II, many Japanese… were dumbfounded to find that the government had lied to them and was neither just nor dependable. During this uncertain time Akira Kurosawa, in a series of first-rate films, sustained the people by his consistent assertion that the meaning of life is not dictated by the nation but something each individual should discover for himself through suffering."[210] The filmmaker himself remarked that, during this period, "I felt that without the establishment of the self as a positive value there could be no freedom and no democracy."[211]

The first such postwar hero was, curiously, a woman – Yukie, played by Setsuko Hara, in No Regrets for Our Youth. "[Yukie’s] desertion of family and class background to assist a poor village, her perseverance in the face of enormous obstacles, her assumption of responsibility for her own life and for the well-being of others, and her existential loneliness… are essential to Kurosawan heroism and make of Yukie the first coherent… example."[212] This "existential loneliness" is also exemplified by Dr. Sanada (Takashi Shimura) in Drunken Angel: "Kurosawa insists that his heroes take their stand, alone, against tradition and battle for a better world, even if the path there is not clear. Separation from a corrupt social system in order to alleviate human suffering, as Sanada does, is the only honorable course."[213]

Behind these values lies the keen awareness of the filmmaker of class distinctions and the realities of poverty. Referring to the cruel, impoverished kidnapper in High and Low, Joan Mellen writes, "Appalled as he is by [the kidnapper’s] brutality, Kurosawa does not believe that some should live in mansions high on a hill overlooking the squalor of the working poor, confined to three tatami rooms, freezing in winter, stifling in summer." (Mellen goes on to trace the director’s class consciousness to his brief membership in the Marxist Proletarian Artists League in the late 1920s.)[214]

Many commentators regard Seven Samurai as the ultimate expression of the artist’s heroic ideal. Joan Mellen’s comments are typical of this view: "Seven Samurai is above all a homage to the samurai class at its most noble… Samurai for Kurosawa represent the best of Japanese tradition and integrity."[215] The leader of the samurai, Kambei, is a hero not only because he takes pity on the farmers’ poverty and oppression, but because he teaches them to transcend their petty self-interest. In a scene exactly halfway through the film, Kambei informs the community that the fields will have to be flooded to protect the village from bandits, even though this will require the abandonment of three outlying houses. When the owners of those houses rebel against this decision and try to run off, Kambei, literally and figuratively, forces them back into line. He then declares: "We can’t endanger twenty for three… He who thinks only about himself will destroy himself, too."[216] Later, Mosuke (one of the owners of the three houses), watching those houses set on fire by the bandits, dismisses them as "worthless shacks," revealing that he has learned from Kambei to put the common good above his own.[217]

As Kurosawa’s career progressed, however, he seemed to find it increasingly difficult to sustain the heroic ideal. As Prince notes, "Kurosawa’s is an essentially tragic vision of life, and this sensibility… impedes his efforts to realize a socially committed mode of filmmaking."[218] He also observes that, although Seven Samurai "embodies a belief in the centrality of class exploitation… and searches for an alternative,… an end to class differentiation would also mean an end to heroes, to those extraordinary individuals whose supremacy to the masses has constituted a moral example… central to Kurosawa’s narratives."[219] Furthermore, the director’s ideal of heroism is subverted by history itself: "When history is articulated as it is in Throne of Blood, as a blind force… heroism ceases to be a problem or a reality."[220] According to Prince, the filmmaker’s vision eventually became so bleak that he would come to view history merely as eternally recurring patterns of violence, within which the individual is depicted as not only unheroic, but utterly helpless (see “#Cycles of violence” below).

The double

Kurosawa sometimes created, for dramatic contrast, adversarial characters that functioned as "doubles" of his heroic protagonists. For his debut, Sanshiro Sugata, Kurosawa created an elegant, Westernized villain, Higaki (Ryunosuke Tsukigata), who issues a challenge to the hero, which Sugata first refuses, than accepts. "Higaki, in fact," writes Stephen Prince, "is Sanshiro’s double, as he makes clear through similar actions that he has each character repeat."[221]

In Stray Dog, the detective-hero, Murakami, slowly realizes that the pistol thief he is chasing, Yusa, is almost exactly like himself: a veteran without strong family ties who, like Murakami, had his army knapsack with all his belongings stolen, while returning from the war. In the climactic scene, the detective has located the thief (who is now also a murderer) and fights him in a muddy field to arrest him and get his pistol back. As Donald Richie describes this scene: "The camera looks at cop and robber, both so mud-covered that it is difficult to tell which is which. They look identical… Man’s fight against evil is artificial, man himself is both hero and villain, in himself.”[222] Stephen Prince takes a different view: "The thief and killer… represents a national self, crushed and deformed by the war and its aftermath, and recovery entails suppressing and abandoning this self. In this sense, Yusa is Murakami’s evil double, a doppelgӓnger who must be symbolically apprehended."[223]

In one of Kurosawa’s most discussed scenes, the conclusion of High and Low, the protagonist, Gondo, faces the taunting kidnapper who has ruined him – but there is a glass-and-wire barrier between them and the image of the face of each is reflected in the glass on his own side, so that, at times, the two faces seem to overlap one another. As Richie writes, "We know [the two characters] are not one – they are good and evil; they are opposite poles… Yet, here… Kurosawa is showing us something entirely different. He is suggesting that, despite everything, good and evil are the same, that all men are equal."[224] Again, Prince disagrees: "These compositions do not make a statement about the equality or common humanity of the characters, any more than the bath of mud at the end of Stray Dog implied the equivalence of Murakami and Yusa… High and Low offers, finally, structures of separation, not humanistic reconciliation."[225]

In Kagemusha, the great feudal Lord, Shingen Takeda, confronts his literal double: a thief who bears an uncanny resemblance to himself. At first this thief, like the criminal in High and Low, taunts his “betters”: he has only stolen a few coins, after all, while Shingen, as a warlord, has murdered many, so which of them is the real criminal? In this, Prince sees a momentary reassertion of "the critique of economic and political oppression that sustained and lifted Seven Samurai to greatness."[226] But then Shingen points out to the thief that his savagery serves a higher purpose: to unify the nation in order to end the civil wars and prevent even greater bloodshed. After the thief grasps this, he begins to be transformed from antagonist to disciple – but one who, as noted above, can only follow his master to the grave.

Nature and weather

Nature is a crucial element in Kurosawa’s films. According to Stephen Prince, "Kurosawa’s sensibility, like that of many Japanese artists, is keenly sensitive to the subtleties and beauties of season and scenery."[227] The director himself once said, "I like hot summers, cold winters, heavy rains and snows, and I think most of my pictures show this. I like extremes because I find them most alive."[228] He has never hesitated to exploit climate and weather as plot elements, to the point where they become "active participants in the drama… The oppressive heat in Stray Dog and Record of a Living Being is omnipresent and becomes thematized as a signifier of a world disjointed by economic collapse and the atomic threat."[229]

Wind is also a powerful symbol: "The persistent metaphor of Kurosawa’s work is that of wind, the winds of change, of fortune and adversity."[230] "The visually flamboyant [final] battle [of Yojimbo] takes place in the main street, as huge clouds of dust swirl around the combatants… The winds that stir the dust… have brought firearms to the town along with the culture of the West, which will end the warrior tradition."[231] It is also difficult not to notice the importance of rain to Kurosawa: "Rain in Kurosawa’s films is never treated neutrally. When it occurs… it is never a drizzle or a light mist but always a frenzied downpour, a driving storm."[232] "The final battle [in Seven Samurai] is a supreme spiritual and physical struggle, and it is fought in a blinding rainstorm, which enables Kurosawa to visualize an ultimate fusion of social groups… but this climactic vision of classlessness, with typical Kurosawan ambivalence, has become a vision of horror. The battle is a vortex of swirling rain and mud… The ultimate fusion of social identity emerges as an expression of hellish chaos."[219]

Cycles of violence

Beginning with Throne of Blood (1957), what Stephen Prince calls "the countertradition to the committed, heroic mode of Kurosawa’s cinema"[233] first appears: an obsession with historical cycles of inexorable savage violence. According to Donald Richie, within the world of that film, "Cause and effect is the only law. Freedom does not exist."[234] and Prince claims that its events "are inscribed in a circle of time that infinitely repeats."[235] (He uses as evidence the fact that Washizu’s lord, unlike the kindly Duncan of Shakespeare’s play, had murdered his own lord years before to seize power, and is then murdered in turn by Washizu for the same reason.)[235] "The fated quality to the action of Macbeth was transposed by Kurosawa with a sharpened emphasis upon predetermined action and the crushing of human freedom under the laws of karma."[235]

Prince claims that Kurosawa’s last epics, Kagemusha and particularly Ran, mark a major turning point in the director’s vision of the world. In Kagemusha, "where once [in the world of his films] the individual [hero] could grasp events tightly and demand that they conform to his or her impulses, now the self is but the epiphenomenon of a ruthless and bloody temporal process, ground to dust beneath the weight and force of history."[236] The following epic, Ran, is “a relentless chronicle of base lust for power, betrayal of the father by his sons, and pervasive wars and murders."[237] The film is "a commentary on what Kurosawa now perceives as the timelessness of human impulses toward violence and self-destruction."[237] "History has given way to a perception of life as a wheel of endless suffering, ever turning, ever repeating," which is compared in many instances in the screenplay with hell.[238] "Kurosawa has found hell to be both the inevitable outcome of human behavior and the appropriate visualization of his own bitterness and disappointment."[239]


Despite the extraordinary acclaim that Kurosawa’s work has received both in Japan and abroad, his films, as well as Kurosawa as an individual, have also been subject to considerable criticism, much of it harsh. Below are summarized some of the major criticisms of the director, both those that have been made generally and those that are primarily voiced in Japan.

In general

In the early-to-mid 1950s, while Kurosawa’s films were being widely viewed in Europe and North America, the final films of a Japanese film master of the older generation, Kenji Mizoguchi, also began to be shown internationally. A number of critics belonging to the French New Wave championed Mizoguchi’s films at the expense of Kurosawa’s work. New Wave critic-filmmaker Jacques Rivette, said: "You can compare only what is comparable and that which aims high enough. Mizoguchi, alone, imposes a feeling of a unique world and language, is answerable only to himself... He seems to be the only Japanese director who is completely Japanese and yet is also the only one that achieves a true universality, that of an individual." [240] According to such French commentators, Mizoguchi seemed, of the two artists, the more authentically Japanese. But at least one film scholar has questioned the validity of this dichotomy between “Japanese” Mizoguchi and “Western” Kurosawa by pointing out that "Mizo" was as influenced by Western culture as Kurosawa.[241]

A criticism frequently directed at Kurosawa’s films is that the director’s preoccupation with ethical and moral themes led him at times to create what some commentators regard as sentimental or naïve work. Speaking of the postwar “slice of life” drama One Wonderful Sunday, for example, film scholar (and future politician) Audie Bock claimed that not even Kurosawa’s celebrated prowess as an editor could save one particular scene from bathos: “The last sequence… is an excruciating twelve minutes of the boy conducting an imaginary orchestra in an empty amphitheater while his girlfriend appeals directly to the camera for the viewer to join in. Angles and focal lengths change, details of leaves scattering in the wind are intercut, but nothing makes the scene go any faster."[242]

Some commentators claim that Kurosawa can at times be excessively didactic about the ethical points he makes in his films. Donald Richie, speaking of the upright hero of Red Beard (a film he otherwise praises highly), writes: "These [wise moral] precepts are known to Dr. Niide before the film opens; they are not revealed to him in the course of the action. As a result Red Beard contains a didactic quality absent from Kurosawa’s finest works, films like Ikiru, which also treat social themes."[243] Scholar Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, however, points out that the director may have created the cynical character of the master swordsman Sanjurō in Yojimbo as a reaction to this very perception of naïve moralism in the director’s earlier work.[244]

Some controversy exists about the extent to which Kurosawa's films of the Second World War period could be considered fascist propaganda. The cultural historian Peter B. High sees Kurosawa’s wartime cinema as part of the propagandistic trends of Japan at war and as an example of many of these conventions. High refers to his second film, The Most Beautiful, as a "dark and gloomy rendition of the standard formulas of the [home front] genre."[245] High also points out that Kurosawa during this period demonstrated “a talent and enthusiasm for national policy scenarios” by writing the blatantly propagandistic 1942 film Winged Victory (also known as A Triumph of Wings or Victory Song of Wings) for director Satsuo Yamamoto and submitting several other scripts that won prizes in “people’s cinema script” contests given by the wartime Information Bureau.[246]

The narrative of one of Kurosawa’s last films, Rhapsody in August, centers on an elderly survivor of the atomic attack on Nagasaki who is visited by her half-Japanese, half-American nephew, Clark (Richard Gere), who appears (at least to some viewers) to apologize, as an American, for the city’s wartime destruction. Some viewers took Kurosawa to task for criticizing the U.S. while failing to condemn Japanese conduct during the war. The New York Times critic Vincent Canby wrote: "A lot of people at Cannes were outraged that the film makes no mention of Pearl Harbor and Japan's atrocities in China… If Clark can apologize for bombing Nagasaki, why can't Granny apologize for the raid on Pearl Harbor?"[247]

A number of critics have reacted negatively to the female characters in Kurosawa’s movies. Joan Mellen, in her examination of this subject, praises only the director’s characterization of Yukie (Setsuko Hara), the heroine of No Regrets for Our Youth.[248] By the time of Red Beard (1965), "women in Kurosawa have become not only unreal and incapable of kindness, but totally bereft of autonomy, whether physical, intellectual, or emotional… Women at their best may only imitate the truths men discover."Script error: No such module "Footnotes". Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince concurs with the Mellen's view, though less censoriously: "Kurosawa’s is a world of men, and his interests are not piqued by the sexuality or the psychology of men and women in relation to each other… Unlike a male-oriented director like Sam Peckinpah, Kurosawa is not hostile to women, but his general lack of interest in them should be regarded as a major limitation of his work."[249]

Several critics maintain that sometime around the mid-1960s, Kurosawa appeared to lose touch with (or perhaps interest in) the contemporary sociopolitical realities of Japan. Writes Stephen Prince: "The tide of popular activism [in 1960s Japan] is relevant to Red Beard and to the films that followed because of its glaring absence from their narratives and concerns, because of the adamant refusal by these films to believe that society could be made better… The resurgent pessimism of the late films is defiant indeed."[250] Audie Bock, writing in 1978, claims that the humanist ideology that sustained the director during previous decades was no longer relevant: "By the time Red Beard was released, in 1965, the postwar era of values like 'humanism,' 'culture' and 'democracy' was over. Those who still flock to see it today do so not because it says something about contemporary Japan, but because it is a kind of summary statement of Kurosawa's values and technical virtuosity… The shantytown atmosphere of Dodeskaden is hard to find in contemporary wealthy Japan, and the man in unspoiled nature represented by Dersu [Uzala] is hard to find anywhere in the world."[251]

In Japan

In Japan, both critics and other filmmakers, conscious of Kurosawa's samurai background, have sometimes accused his work of elitism, because of his focus on exceptional, heroic individuals and groups of men. In her commentary on the deluxe DVD edition of Seven Samurai, Joan Mellen maintains that certain shots of the samurai characters Kambei and Kyuzo, which to her reveal Kurosawa "privileging" these samurai, "support the argument voiced by several Japanese critics that Kurosawa was an elitist... Kurosawa was hardly a progressive director, they argued, since his peasants could not discover among their own ranks leaders who might rescue the village. Instead, justifying the inequitable class structure of their society and ours, the peasants must rely on the aristocracy, the upper class, and in particular samurai, to ensure their survival… Kurosawa defended himself against this charge in his interview with me. 'I wanted to say that after everything the peasants were the stronger, closely clinging to the earth… It was the samurai who were weak because they were being blown by the winds of time.'"[192][252]

Because of Kurosawa’s popularity with Western audiences from the early 1950s onward, he has not escaped the charge of deliberately catering to the tastes of Westerners to achieve or maintain that popularity. Joan Mellen, recording the violently negative reaction (in the 1970s) of the left-wing director Nagisa Oshima to Kurosawa and his work, states: "That Kurosawa had brought Japanese film to a Western audience meant [to Oshima] that he must be pandering to Western values and politics."[253] Kurosawa always strongly denied pandering to Western tastes: “He has never catered to a foreign audience” writes Audie Bock, “and has condemned those who do.”[254] However, he did concede in an interview that part of the reason he employed dynamic "Western" stylistic elements in his films was to attract the young Japanese audience of that time, who were strongly attracted to such elements in European and American films.[255]

Kurosawa was often criticized by his countrymen for perceived "arrogant" behavior. It was in Japan that the (initially) disparaging nickname “Kurosawa Tennō” – “The Emperor Kurosawa” – was coined. “Like tennō,” Yoshimoto claimed, “Kurosawa is said to cloister himself in his own small world, which is completely cut off from the everyday reality of the majority of Japanese. The nickname tennō is used in this sense to create an image of Kurosawa as a director who abuses his power solely for the purpose of self-indulgence.”[256]

On the sets of his productions, he could be very hard on newcomers to his team and even sometimes on seasoned, highly respected film professionals. During the filming of Yojimbo, he lost his temper with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, who has been called "quite simply, Japan’s preeminent cinematographer."[257] But when one of Miyagawa’s assistants asked him, "Why don’t you get angry when Kurosawa yells at you?” Miyagawa answered, “Look at Kurosawa. He devotes himself completely to his work. No other director works so hard to achieve the ideal shot he has envisioned in his mind. I have no right to say anything to someone like him."[258]

Worldwide impact

Kurosawa's reputation among other filmmakers

Many internationally well known directors have been influenced by Kurosawa and have expressed admiration towards his work. From his contemporaries, Ingmar Bergman famously called his own film The Virgin Spring "touristic, a lousy imitation of Kurosawa"[259], while Federico Fellini declared the director "the greatest living example of what an author of the cinema should be", despite having reportedly seen only one film from Kurosawa's oeuvre.[260] Meanwhile, pointing out Kurosawa's own influences, the American director Sam Peckinpah once suggested that he would "like to be able to make a Western like Kurosawa makes Westerns."[261]

Among American filmmakers, Kurosawa's influence was particularly strong with the so-called New Hollywood directors, including Robert Altman[262][263], Roman Polanski[264], Steven Spielberg[265][266], Martin Scorsese[265][266], George Lucas[265], Francis Ford Coppola[267] and John Milius[268], who have each acknowledged Kurosawa as a mentor. He has similarly served as a model also for many Asian and European filmmakers, with Takeshi Kitano[269], John Woo[270][271][272], Zhang Yimou[273], Bernardo Bertolucci[274] and Werner Herzog[275][276] being some notable examples.


A number of Akira Kurosawa's films have been remade. The following table shows the remakes that have been released as of July 2010. (Note: This list includes full remakes only; it does not include films whose narratives have been loosely inspired by the basic plot of one or more of the director's films – as A Bug's Life references both Seven Samurai and its Hollywood remake The Magnificent Seven – nor movies that adapt or parody particular plot elements or characters from a Kurosawa film without adapting the entire film, as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope did with The Hidden Fortress.) The information below is derived from the Akira Kurosawa IMDB page[277] and Stuart Galbraith IV's filmography of the director.[187]

Year Original title of remake English title Director Remake of... Country of origin Kurosawa credited?
1955 Sugata Sanshiro Sanshiro Sugata Shigeo Tanaka Sanshiro Sugata Japan Yes
1960 The Magnificent Seven John Sturges Seven Samurai USA No
Rashomon (Television)[note 3] Sidney Lumet Rashomon USA Yes
1964 Per un pugno di dollari A Fistful of Dollars Sergio Leone Yojimbo (unauthorized)[note 4] Italy-Spain-West Germany No
The Outrage Martin Ritt Rashomon USA Yes
1965 Sugata Sanshiro Sanshiro Sugata Seiichiro Uchikawa Sanshiro Sugata and
Sanshiro Sugata II
Japan Yes[note 5]
1968 Xue cheng The Last Day of Hsianyang
aka, The Last Days of Hsin Yang
aka, They Died For Their Princess
Fu Di Lin The Hidden Fortress Taiwan – Hong Kong Yes
1973 Nora Inu Stray Dog Azuma Morisaki Stray Dog Japan Yes
1980 Battle Beyond the Stars Jimmy T. Murakami
Roger Corman (uncredited)
Seven Samurai (Unauthorized) USA No
1996 Last Man Standing Walter Hill Yojimbo USA Yes
2004 Samurai 7 (Television anime) Toshifumi Takizawa (and others) Seven Samurai Japan – USA Yes
2007 Tsubaki Sanjurō Sanjurō Tsubaki Yoshimitsu Morita Sanjuro Japan Yes
2008 Kakushi Toride no San-Akunin: The Last Princess Hidden Fortress: The Last Princess Shinji Higuchi The Hidden Fortress Japan Yes

Remakes for Ikiru,[278] High and Low,[279] Rashomon (to be called Rashomon 2010)[280] and Seven Samurai[281] are all (as of summer 2010) currently in development.

Homages and allusions

Several films and television programs have come to use what is known as the Rashomon effect, wherein various people give opposing or contrasting accounts of an event. These films include, for example, Vantage Point, Courage Under Fire, Hero, Hoodwinked, and The Usual Suspects.

Seven Samurai has been called the progenitor of the "men on a mission" film, popularized by films such as The Dirty Dozen (1967) and The Guns of Navarone (1961). The film also popularized the use of slow motion in action films/sequences.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars season 2, episode 17, starts with a dedication – "In Memory of Akira Kurosawa". The episode's plot is a tribute to the story of Seven Samurai.

On March 23, 2010, Google's doodle appeared as a cartoon portrait of the director standing near a camera, with a Seven Samurai-like village in the background, as a tribute to Kurosawa's 100th birthday. (This doodle was not visible in all countries.)[282]

Current standing

The website They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? (aka, TSPDT) is an aggregator site that compiles existing printed and online "best film" lists that have been previously created by mainstream publications, critics, scholars, filmmakers and others passionate about cinema. One of the purposes of the site is to rank a given movie according to its current reputation. In the most recent (2010) edition of the site's "1,000 Greatest Films" list, eleven Kurosawa-directed films appear. The titles and rankings of these eleven films are: Seven Samurai (8), Rashomon (18), Ikiru (79), Ran (116), Throne of Blood (196), High and Low (327), Yojimbo (336), Dersu Uzala (418), Kagemusha (615), Red Beard (714) and Stray Dog (948). In the site's "Top 200 Directors" list (based partly on the placement of a director's films within the "1,000 Greatest Films" list), Kurosawa ranked seventh overall.[note 6] Only ten other directors had eleven or more films on the list.[note 7][283]

As of late July 2010, on the Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 Films list – which is derived from the ratings, on a one-to-ten scale, of “regular voters” for individual films – the following Kurosawa-directed films appear (note: the list is constantly subject to change, as recent Hollywood releases often appear there): Seven Samurai (15), Rashomon (90), Yojimbo (140), Ran (141) and Ikiru (246).[284]


Kurosawa Production Co., established in 1959, continues to oversee much of Kurosawa's legacy with the director's son Hisao Kurosawa working as the current head of the company. Its American subsidiary Kurosawa Enterprises is located in Los Angeles. Rights to Kurosawa's works are held by Kurosawa Production and the film studios under which he worked, most notably Toho.

In 1981, the Kurosawa Film Studio was opened in Yokohama, with two additional locations having since been launched in Japan. Kurosawa Production also works closely with the Akira Kurosawa Foundation, which was established in December 2003 and is also run by Hisao Kurosawa. The foundation organises an annual short film competition, as well as spearheading Kurosawa related projects, including a now shelved one to build a memorial museum for the director.[285]

A large collection of archive material, including scanned screenplays, photos and news articles, has been made available through the Akira Kurosawa Digital Archive, a Japanese website maintained by Ryukoku University Digital Archives Research Center in collaboration with Kurosawa Production.

The Anaheim University Akira Kurosawa School of Film was launched in spring 2009 with the backing of Kurosawa Production. The school offers a range of online programmes in digital film making, with headquarters in Anaheim and a learning centre in Tokyo. Two film awards have also been named in Kurosawa's honour. The Akira Kurosawa Award for Lifetime Achievement in Film Directing is awarded during the San Francisco International Film Festival, while the Akira Kurosawa Award is given during the Tokyo International Film Festival.[286]

In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Kurosawa's birth in 2010, a project called AK100 was launched in 2008. The AK100 Project aims to "expose young people who are the representatives of the next generation, and all people everywhere, to the light and spirit of Akira Kurosawa and the wonderful world he created."[287]

Directing filmography

Year Title Japanese Romanization
1943 Sanshiro Sugata
aka Judo Saga
姿三四郎 Sugata Sanshirō
1944 The Most Beautiful 一番美しく Ichiban utsukushiku
1945 Sanshiro Sugata Part II
aka Judo Saga 2
續姿三四郎 Zoku Sugata Sanshirô
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail 虎の尾を踏む男達 Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi
1946 No Regrets for Our Youth わが青春に悔なし Waga seishun ni kuinashi
1947 One Wonderful Sunday 素晴らしき日曜日 Subarashiki nichiyōbi
1948 Drunken Angel 酔いどれ天使 Yoidore tenshi
1949 The Quiet Duel 静かなる決闘 Shizukanaru ketto
Stray Dog 野良犬 Nora inu
1950 Scandal 醜聞 Sukyandaru
aka Shūbun
Rashomon 羅生門 Rashōmon
1951 The Idiot 白痴 Hakuchi
1952 Ikiru
aka To Live
生きる Ikiru
1954 Seven Samurai 七人の侍 Shichinin no samurai
1955 Record of a Living Being
aka I Live in Fear
生きものの記録 Ikimono no kiroku
1957 Throne of Blood
aka Spider Web Castle
蜘蛛巣城 Kumonosu-jō
The Lower Depths どん底 Donzoko
1958 The Hidden Fortress 隠し砦の三悪人 Kakushi toride no san akunin
1960 The Bad Sleep Well 悪い奴ほどよく眠る Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru
1961 Yojimbo
aka The Bodyguard
用心棒 Yōjinbō
1962 Sanjurō 椿三十郎 Tsubaki Sanjūrō
1963 High and Low
aka Heaven and Hell
天国と地獄 Tengoku to jigoku
1965 Red Beard 赤ひげ Akahige
1970 Dodesukaden どですかでん Dodesukaden
1975 Dersu Uzala デルス・ウザーラ Derusu Uzāra
1980 Kagemusha
aka The Shadow Warrior
影武者 Kagemusha
1985 Ran Ran
1990 Dreams
aka Akira Kurosawa's Dreams
1991 Rhapsody in August 八月の狂詩曲 Hachigatsu no rapusodī
aka Hachigatsu no kyōshikyoku
1993 Madadayo
aka Not Yet
まあだだよ Mādadayo

Kurosawa on home video

All thirty films directed by Kurosawa are available on DVD worldwide, most of them from more than one distributor and in more than one region code. The availability of Kurosawa on blu-ray is also steadily improving.

For the English speaking viewers in DVD region 1 (North America), most of Kurosawa's films have been released by The Criterion Collection, with other titles available from other distributors (Kino International, Studio Canal, Warner Brothers). In DVD region 2 (Europe, South Africa, Middle East, Japan), Kurosawa's films are available from numerous distributors, most notably the British Film Institute. In DVD region 4 (Australia, New Zealand, Latin America), the company best known for Kurosawa releases is Madman Entertainment.[288][289]

See also

Further reading

  • Galbraith IV, Stuart (2002). The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-19982-8
  • Richie, Donald; Mellen, Joan (1999). The Films of Akira Kurosawa. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22037-4
  • Kurosawa, Akira (1983). Something Like An Autobiography. Vintage Books USA. ISBN 0-394-71439-3
  • Nogami, Teruyo (2006). Waiting on the Weather: Making Movies With Akira Kurosawa. Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 1-933-33009-0
  • Akira Kurosawa: Biography
  • Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998)
  • Buchanan, Judith (2005). Shakespeare on Film. Longman-Pearson. Chapter 3. ISBN 0582437164
  • Cardullo, Bert (2007). Akira Kurosawa: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers). University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-578-06997-1
  • Goodwin, James (1993). Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-801-84661-7
  • Goodwin, James (1994). Perspectives on Akira Kurosawa. G.K. Hall & Co.. ISBN 0-816-11993-7
  • Martinez, Dolores (2009). Remaking Kurosawa: Translations and Permutations in Global Cinema. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0312293585
  • Prince, Stephen (1999). The Warrior's Camera. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01046-3
  • Yoshimoto, Mitsuhiro (2000). Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2519-5
  • Cowie, Peter (2010). Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema. Rizzoli. ISBN 978-0-8478-3319-1


  1. In 1946, Kurosawa co-directed, with Hideo Sekigawa and Kajiro Yamamoto, the feature Those Who Make Tomorrow (Asu o tsukuru hitobito); apparently, he was commanded to make this film by Toho studios, to which he was under contract at the time. (He claimed that the film was shot in only a week.) It was the only film he ever directed for which he did not receive sole credit and the only one that has never been released on home video in any form. The movie was later repudiated by Kurosawa and is often not counted with the 30 other films he made, though it is listed in some filmographies of the director. See Galbraith, pp. 65–67, and Kurosawa's IMDb page.
  2. Miyagawa was hired as cinematographer for Kagemusha, but about one month into shooting, eye problems caused by diabetes forced him to drop out of the project. See Galbraith, pp. 548–549.
  3. This television version of the Fay and Michael Kanin stage adaptation of the Kurosawa film appeared on the syndicated program Play of the Week on December 12, 1960.
  4. Sergio Leone took the plot and characters for his classic Western directly from Kurosawa's Yojimbo without authorization. According to one source, during the filming, Leone was "slaving over a moviola machine and copying Yojimbo, changing only the setting and details of the dialogue." Kurosawa himself wrote a letter to Leone, saying "[A Fistful of Dollars] is a very fine film, but it is my film" and demanding payment. The case was eventually settled out of court, with Kurosawa getting 15 percent of the Italian film's worldwide box office. See Galbraith, pp. 311–312.
  5. Kurosawa produced, adapted (from his own scripts) and, according to one source, edited this remake. Future remakes of the Sanshiro Sugata story were based directly upon Tsuneo Tomita's novel, rather than Kurosawa's 1943 film.
  6. Of the top ten directors listed, the other nine, in descending order, are: Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, Francis Ford Coppola and Jean-Luc Godard.
  7. These directors are: Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Luis Buñuel, Howard Hawks and Fritz Lang.



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  2. "Akira Kurosawa Tribute with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg". 2008-11-19. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  3. "ASIANOW – Asiaweek – Asian of the Century – Kurosawa Akira – 12/10/99". Retrieved 2010-06-18. 
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  85. Goodwin, James. "Akira Kurosawa and the Atomic Age". In Goodwin, James. Perspectives on Akira Kurosawa. G. K. Hall & Co. p. 125. ISBN 0-8161-1993-7. 
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  94. Yoshimoto, Mitsuhiro (1994). Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema. Duke University Press. p. 274. ISBN 0801846617. 
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  110. Richie, Donald (1996). The Films of Akira Kurosawa. University of California Press. p. 183. ISBN 0520220374. 
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  143. 143.0 143.1 Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  144. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  145. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  146. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  147. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  148. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  149. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  150. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  151. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  152. 152.0 152.1 Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  153. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  154. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  155. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  156. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  157. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  158. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  159. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  160. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  161. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  162. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  163. 163.0 163.1 Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  164. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  165. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  166. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  167. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  168. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  169. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  170. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  171. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  172. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  173. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  174. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  175. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  176. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  177. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  178. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  179. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  180. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  181. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  182. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  183. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  184. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  185. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  186. "Akira Kurosawa". Retrieved 2010-07-22. 
  187. 187.0 187.1 Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  188. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  189. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  190. "Observations on Film Art: Kurosawa's Early Spring". Retrieved 2010-08-05. 
  191. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  192. 192.0 192.1 Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  193. "Akira Kurosawa YOIDORE TENSHI". Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  194. 194.0 194.1 Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  195. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  196. Tennessen, Nora (January 6, 2010). "Trix McGovern, Girl Reporter: WIPE-OUT: Kurosawa's Tricky Cuts". Retrieved August 8, 2010. 
  197. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  198. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  199. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  200. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  201. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  202. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  203. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  204. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  205. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  206. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  207. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  208. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  209. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  210. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  211. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  212. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  213. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  214. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  215. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  216. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  217. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  218. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  219. 219.0 219.1 Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  220. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  221. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  222. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  223. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  224. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  225. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  226. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  227. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  228. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  229. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  230. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  231. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  232. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  233. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  234. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  235. 235.0 235.1 235.2 Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  236. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  237. 237.0 237.1 Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  238. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  239. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  240. "Beauty Beneath the Brutality: Japanese Masters Mizoguchi and Ozu". moviemaker.com. Retrieved 2010-06-27. 
  241. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  242. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  243. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  244. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  245. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  246. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  247. Canby, Vincent (1991-12-20). "Review/Film; Kurosawa, Small in Scale and Blunt". nytimes.com. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  248. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  249. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  250. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  251. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  252. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  253. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  254. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  255. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  256. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  257. "KAZUO MIYAGAWA". Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  258. Script error: No such module "Footnotes".
  259. Ingmar Bergman Foundation. "Ingmar Bergman on Akira Kurosawa". Ingmarbergman.se. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  260. Cardullo, Bert; Federico Fellini (2006). Federico Fellini: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 49. ISBN 1578068851.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  261. Hayes, Kevin J. (2008). Sam Peckinpah: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 15. ISBN 1934110647. 
  262. "Master of reinvention". Smh.com.au. September 30, 2006. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  263. Phipps, Keith. "Robert Altman". A.V. Club. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  264. Morrison, James (2007). Roman Polanski. University of Illinois Press. p. 160. ISBN 0252074467. 
  265. 265.0 265.1 265.2 "Akira Kurosowa Memorial Tribute". Anaheim.edu. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  266. 266.0 266.1 "Eugene Register-Guard – Google News Archive Search". 1998-09-07. Retrieved 2010-01-01. 
  267. "The Hollywood Interview: FRANCIS COPPOLA INTERVIEW!". Thehollywoodinterview.blogspot.com. 2008-01-07. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  268. by Ken P. (1944-04-11). "IGN: An Interview with John Milius". Movies.ign.com. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  269. Tirard, Laurent (2002). Moviemakers' Master Class: Private Lessons from the World's Foremost Directors. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 167. ISBN 057121102X. 
  270. John Woo (speaker). (1999). Kurosawa: The Last Emperor.
  271. Interview by Nev Pierce (2004-01-16). "Movies – Calling the Shots No.10: John Woo". BBC. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  272. "Epic homecoming". Star-ecentral.com. 2008-07-15. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  273. "Time 100: Akira Kurosawa". Time.com. 1910-03-23. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  274. Bernardo Bertolucci (speaker). (1999). Kurosawa: The Last Emperor.
  275. "The secret mainstream: Contemplating the mirages of Werner Herzog". Harpers.org. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  276. Cronin, Paul; Werner Herzog (2003). Herzog on Herzog. Faber & Faber. p. 138. ISBN 0571207081.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  277. "Akira Kurosawa". Retrieved 2010-07-22. 
  278. By (2004-09-09). "Irish eyes smile on DreamWorks' 'Ikiru' remake". Variety.com. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  279. "Nichols Directing High and Low Remake". Comingsoon.net. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  280. By (2008-09-22). "'Rashomon' remake finds a Harbor". Variety.com. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  281. "The Seven Samurai (2009) IMDb entry". Imdb.com. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  282. Hough, Andrew (2010-03-23). "100th birthday of Akira Kurosawa celebrated with Google doodle". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  283. "TSPDT – The 1,000 Greatest Films". Retrieved 2010-06-19. 
  284. "IMDB Top 250". Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  285. "Money paid for building Akira Kurosawa museum to be returned". The Mainichi Daily News. 2010–06–06. Archived from the original on 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2010–06–27.  Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  286. "Tokyo International Film Festival | Prizes". Tiff-jp.net. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  287. "AK100 Project" (in (Japanese)). Akirakurosawa100.com. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  288. Maunula, Vili (30 June 2010). "Akira Kurosawa's Movies on DVD". Akira Kurosawa: News, Information and Discussion. Retrieved 29 July 2010. 
  289. Maunula, Vili (16 July 2010). "Akira Kurosawa's Movies on Blu-ray". Akira Kurosawa: News, Information and Discussion. Retrieved 29 July 2010. 


  • Bock, Audie (1978). Japanese Film Directors. Tokyo, New York & San Francisco: Kodansha International Ltd. ISBN 0870113046. 
  • Desser, David (1988). Eros Plus Massacre. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253204690. 
  • (DVD) Dodes'ka-den (Criterion Collection Spine #465). Criterion.
  • (DVD) Drunken Angel. Criterion.
  • Galbraith IV, Stuart (2002). The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. New York-London: Faber and Faber, Inc. ISBN 0571199828. 
  • Godard, Jean-Luc (1972). Tom Milne, ed. Godard on Godard. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306802597. 
  • Goodwin, James (1994). Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema. The John Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801846617. 
  • High, Peter B. (2003). The Imperial Screen: Japanese Film Culture in the Fifteen Years' War, 1931–1945. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0299181340. 
  • Kurosawa, Akira (1982). Something Like an Autobiography. Translated by Audie E. Bock. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0394509382. 
  • Kurosawa, Akira (1983). Something Like an Autobiography. Translated by Audie E. Bock. Vintage Books. ISBN 0394714393. 
  • Kurosawa, Akira (1999). Yume wa tensai de aru (A Dream Is a Genius). Tokyo: Bungei Shunjū. ISBN 4163555706. 
  • Kurosawa, Akira (2008). Bert Cardullo, ed. Akira Kurosawa: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1578069963. 
  • (DVD-R) Kurosawa: The Last Emperor. Channel Four (UK)/Exterminating Angel Productions.
  • (DVD) Kurosawa. WNET, BBC and NHK. 2000.
  • Mellen, Joan (1975). Voices from the Japanese Cinema. Liveright Publishing Corporation. ISBN 0871406047. 
  • Mellen, Joan (1976). The Waves at Genji's Door. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0394497996. 
  • Mellen, Joan (2002). Seven Samurai (BFI Classics). London: British Film Institute. ISBN 085170915X. 
  • Nogami, Teruyo (2006). Waiting on the Weather. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 9781933330099. 
  • Prince, Stephen (1991). The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691031606. 
  • Prince, Stephen (1999). The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa (2nd, revised ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691010463, Check |isbn= value: invalid character (help). 
  • Richie, Donald (1999). The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Third Edition, Expanded and Updated. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0520220374. 
  • Richie, Donald (2001). A Hundred Years of Japanese Film. Tokyo, New York, London: Kodansha International. ISBN 477002582X Check |isbn= value: checksum (help). 
  • (DVD) Seven Samurai: 3-disc Remastered Edition (Criterion Collection Spine #2). Criterion.
  • Sato, Tadao (1987). Currents in Japanese Cinema. Tokyo, New York and San Francisco: Kodansha International Ltd. ISBN 0870118153. 
  • (DVD) Yojimbo: Remastered Edition (Criterion Collection Spine #52). Criterion.
  • Yoshimoto, Mitsuhiro (2000). Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema. Duke University Press. ISBN 0822325195. 

External links

  1. REDIRECT Template:IMDb name
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
René Clément
for The Walls of Malapaga
Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
for Rashomon
Succeeded by
René Clément
for Forbidden Games
Preceded by
André Cayatte
for Justice Is Done
Golden LionVenice Film Festival
for Rashomon
Succeeded by
René Clément
for Forbidden Games
Preceded by
Federico Fellini
for Amarcord
Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
for Dersu Uzala
Succeeded by
Jean-Jacques Annaud
for Black and White in Color
Preceded by
Francis Ford Coppola
for Apocalypse Now and Volker Schlöndorff
for The Tin Drum
Palme d'OrCannes Film Festival
for Kagemusha (tied with Bob Fosse
for All That Jazz)
Succeeded by
Andrzej Wajda
for Man of Iron
Preceded by
Francis Ford Coppola
for Apocalypse Now
BAFTA Award for Best Direction
for Kagemusha
Succeeded by
Louis Malle
for Atlantic City
Preceded by
Woody Allen
for Manhattan
César Award for Best Foreign Film
for Kagemusha
Succeeded by
David Lynch
for The Elephant Man
Preceded by
Charles Chaplin, Anatoly Golovnya, Billy Wilder
Career Golden Lion
Succeeded by
Michelangelo Antonioni
Preceded by
Eastman Kodak, National Film Board of Canada
Academy Honorary Award
Succeeded by
Sophia Loren, Myrna Loy


Template:Asian of the Century Template:BAFTA Award for Best Direction 1968-1984

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