AKIRA KUROSAWA BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY:
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.
1991 Rhapsody in August
1975 Dersu Uzala
1965 Red Beard
1963 High and Low
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
1951 The Idiot
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
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
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 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