Akira Kurosawa 1910–1998
Japanese director and screenwriter.
For further information on Kurosawa's life and career, see CLC, Volume 16.
In a career that spanned fifty years and produced thirty films, Kurosawa established himself as a major force in international cinema. Kurosawa made nine films before his talent gained widespread recognition outside Japan. His tenth film Rashomon (1950) was entered in the Venice Film Festival and look lop honors. Set in medieval Japan, Rashomon relates the story of a rape and murder in four conflicting versions, each telling as much about the narrator as the events. Kurosawa's examination of larger questions such as the subjectivity of truth and perception helped to give his films their universal appeal. He borrowed freely from Western film and literature, writing and directing Japanese versions of Shakespeare's Macbeth (as Throne of Blood; 1956), and King Lear (as Ran; 1985), Maxim Gorky's Lower Depths, Fedor Dostoevsky's The Idiot, and Ed McBain's King's Ransom. This cross-cultural stimulation proved to be a two-way street. John Sturgess' The Magnificent Seven, Martin Ritt's The Outrage, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, Walter Hill's Last Man Standing, and George Lucas' Star Wars are all based on Kurosawa films. Kurosawa's early work is noted for the technical virtuosity of his action sequences, including high-speed tracking shots and elaborate battle scenes. He frequently employed the use of multiple cameras, getting the scene with all its cuts in one take. But these one-take filmings came after many hours, and sometimes days, of rehearsal, giving Kurosawa the reputation of a difficult perfectionist. His early training in painting gave him a strong sense of visual composition which he used in filming. Kurosawa frequently filmed through a telephoto lens, the optics of which compress depth, giving scenes the two-dimensional flatness of classic Japanese scroll paintings. He also incorporated aspects of Noh theater (which uses standardized masks to convey the character and emotions of the actors) by having his actors' makeup applied in replication of these masks. His work is criticized by some as too Eastern and others as too Western, but many reviewers see it as a successful melding of the different arts and cultures. In response, Kurosawa would refer to his personal art collection. "I collect old Japanese lacquerware as well as antique French and Dutch glassware. In short, the Western and the Japanese live side by side in my mind naturally, without the least bit of conflict."