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Akira Kurosawa DIRECTOR


Akira Kurosawa was a Japanese film director, sometimes regarded as one of the top influential filmmakers in cinematic history. He directed over thirty features in a career that spanned for more than fifty years. His popularity stemmed from his ability to combine both ancient filmmaking traditions with new ones, creating purely modern pictures.   

Kurosawa was born March 23, 1910 in Ōimachi in the Ōmori district of Tokyo, Japan. As an adolescent he was introduced to art and film, quickly developing interests for both. One elementary teacher especially, Mr. Tachikawa, encouraged him to embrace his artistic side. Another figure that impacted Kurosawa’s life was his brother. After an earthquake in 1923 left 100,000 people dead, his seventeen year old brother Heigo urged him to face all of the dead bodies in the street. This later influenced the director’s career, for he found no hesitation in confronting frightening truths. His brother also had a love of film, working as a benshi, or silent film narrator. When Heigo committed suicide, however, Kurosawa was greatly affected. Four months later, his oldest brother died also, leaving him as the last remaining son of an original four, along with his three sisters.  

In 1936, after failing to grasp his dream of becoming a painter, he answered a newspaper request for an assistant director at the film studio Photo Chemical Laboratories, known as PCL (and later changed to Toho). Kurosawa began assisting director Kajiro Yamamoto, who eventually turned into his mentor. He worked under Yamamoto for seven years, helping him with over fifteen pictures. In the last of his films as assistant, “Uma” (1941), Kurosawa took over most of the production. He soon made a picture featuring his name as director, however: “Sanshiro Sugata” (1943). It was a martial arts masterpiece, earning much acclaim and establishing the Kurosawa as a new, bright force in the film industry.     

Next he focused on wartime female factory workers in the semi-documentary propaganda film “The Most Beautiful” (1944). He married one of its stars (ironically one with whom he often argued on set), Yôko Yaguchi, a year later when she was two months pregnant. They had another child nine years later, in 1954. Both, sons, would also become involved in the film industry.   

Between 1944 and 1948, Kurosawa had to comply with themes provided by official state propaganda policy, so his films were restricted in stylistic aspects. However, this gave him a chance to experiment with form. By the time “Drunken Angel” (1948) came out, the director had found himself. Kurosawa was passionate about the film, which followed the relationship between an alcoholic doctor and a tuberculosis infected gangster. He later recalled: “In this picture I finally discovered myself”.   

By the 1950s, the director’s unique filmmaking technique was apparent, and Kurosawa’s films were easily identifiable. He preferred to use telephoto lenses to flatten the frame, and he never shot actors close up. A masterful technician and stylist, he also always injected heart into his films, many times offering metaphysical and ethical dilemmas. He seemed to portray a deep compassion for his characters, producing humanistic films that were toiled over with perfectionism. In fact, he was so perfectionistic, even dictatorial in his directing style, that he became known as “Tenno”, literally meaning “Emperor”. Nevertheless, he masterfully made evident his deep passion for the cinematic arts, winning support from both Japanese and Western filmgoers alike.    

After the director filmed the dramatically unfocused and unsuccessful “Scandal” (1950), a movie inspired by Kurosawa’s anger towards Japanese yellow journalism, he redeemed himself with “Rashomon” (1950). It earned a special award for best foreign film at the Oscars, as well as won the top prize at the 1951 Venice Film Festival. Additionally, it became one of the first post war Japanese pictures to win wide favor with Western audiences. However, it was Kurosawa’s epic “Seven Samurai” (1954) that made the biggest impact on Western viewers. The nearly 3 ½ hour long action drama, shot in painstaking detail, became one of the most popular Japanese films in the West.   

His next film, “I Live in Fear: Record of a Human Being” (1955), dealt with the psychological effects of the global nuclear stalemate. Following, the director made “Throne of Blood” (1957), an Asian adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. “The Lower Depths” (1957), his subsequent film, was also based on a play. Still, both the Shakespearean and Maxim Gorky inspired movies received mixed responses. The latter though is sometimes considered one of the director’s most underrated works. 

Kurosawa quickly made up for his underachievements by releasing “The Hidden Fortress” in 1958. The award winning picture found a large fan base in the West, with George Lucas even admitting to lifting the plot to create his 1977 space film “Star Wars”. In fact, many of the director’s works were picked up and used as inspiration for Western filmmakers. As is seen in “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) (based on Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961)) and “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) (a remake of “Seven Samurai” (1954)). Kurosawa was even dubbed “Japan’s most Western director” by film critic Donald Richie, in that his methods were modern and innovative, unlike the formulaic techniques employed by most directors in Japan.    

After making the three hour period piece “Red Beard” (1965), the director entered into a slump. For the next five years he started and aborted a number of projects due to financing issues and health problems. His first film back, “Dodes’ka-den” (1970), failed at the box office, causing him to unsuccessfully attempt suicide. He began to recover, however, when asked to direct the Japanese-Soviet joint production “Dersu-Uzala” (1975). It brought Kurosawa a second Academy Award and the gold medal at the Moscow Film Festival.   

 In 1978, after discovering that one of his role models, Kurosawa, was having difficulty in financing his films, George Lucas met with the director. Thus, the epic story about a thief hired to act as the double of a samurai warlord who later dies, titled “Kagemusha” (1980), was born. It was both a box office and critical success, even earning international acclaim and winning the Palme d’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival. Next, the director once again found inspiration from Shakespeare for his picture “Ran” (1985). The “King Lear” based feature was a success around the world, and Kurosawa even considered it his best picture.    

For his subsequent effort, the director focused on a subject unlike any he had done before: his own dreams. Appropriately titled “Dreams” (1990), the film was deeply personal and showed a series of tales depicting Kurosawa’s dreams. His next feature was more conventional. “Rhapsody in August” (1991) explored the scars made and memories had from the nuclear bombing which destroyed Nagasaki at the end of World War II. His final picture, “Madadayo” (1993), was based on the autobiographical essays of a Japanese professor who taught German through World War II and further.   

Kurosawa slipped and broke his spine in 1995, forcing him to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. After the accident, the director’s health quickly deteriorated. On September 6, 1998, in Setagaya, Japan, Kurosawa suffered from a stroke and died. He was eighty eight years old.  


1993       Madadayo

1991       Rhapsody in August

1990       Dreams

1985       Ran

1980       Kagemusha

1975       Dersu Uzala

1970       Dodes'ka-den

1965       Red Beard

1963       High and Low

1962       Sanjuro

1961       Yojimbo

1960       The Bad Sleep Well

1958       The Hidden Fortress

1957       The Lower Depths

1957       Throne of Blood

1955       I Live in Fear: Record of a Living Being

1954       Seven Samurai

1952       Ikiru

1951       The Idiot

1950       Rashomon

1950       Scandal

1949       Stray Dog

1949       The Quiet Duel

1948       Drunken Angel

1947       One Wonderful Sunday

1946       No Regrets for Our Youth

1946       Those Who Make Tomorrow

1945       Sanshiro Sugata Part Two

1945       The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail

1944       The Most Beautiful

1943       Sanshiro Sugata

1941       Uma 

1940       Enoken no songokû: songokû zenko-hen 

1940       Enoken no zangiri Kinta 

1940       Roppa no shinkon ryoko 

1939       Nonki Yokocho 

1939       Chûshingura: Kôhen 

1939       Enoken no gatchiri jidai 

1938       Enoken no bikkuri jinsei 

1938       Tsuzurikata kyoshitsu 

1938       Tojuro no koi 

1938       Chinetsu 

1937       Utsukushiki taka 

1937       Enoken no chakkiri Kinta 'Go', kaeri wa kowai, mateba hiyori 

1937       Enoken no chakkiri Kinta 'Zen' - Mamayo sandogasa - Ikiwa yoiyoi 

1937       Avalanche 

1937       Nihon josei dokuhon 

1937       A Husband's Chastity: Fall Once Again

1937       Otto no teiso - haru kitareba 

1937       Sengoku gunto-den - Dai nibu Akatsuki no zenshin 

1937       Sengoku gunto-den - Dai ichibu Toraokami 

1936       Tokyo rapusodei  

1936       Enoken's Ten Millions 2 

1936       Enoken no senman chôja 

1936       Shojo Hanazono

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