Written by: Ron Cotton on July 14th, 2004
Kurosawa first love was drawing political art that faced the issues Kurosawa had with Socialism and Marxism. This career would soon come to a close with the death of Kurosawa’s brother. This made Kurosawa the eldest son and was now compelled to care for his parents. Kurosawa’s aimlessness during this point of his life burdened him immensely. So he tried for an assistant director job at Photo Chemical Laboratories (which later became Toho Studios). But Kurosawa still was financially strapped, so to make ends meet Kurosawa freelanced as a writer as well.
Japan was at war with China in 1931, censors during this propaganda era forced Kurosawa to write with flare within strict guidelines. Sanshiro Sugata was his directorial debut of a traditional Judo master seeking enlightenment. Even this early movie had all the hallmarks of Kurosawa. In his next film, The Most Beautiful, a documentary like movie about women constructing lenses for fighting planes, is were Kurosawa found his wife. As a reflection to the wake of the war, the men who tread on the tiger’s tail were a short kabuki drama whose controversial nature denied its release until United States occupation ended.
“The freedom and democracy of post-war era were not things I had fought for and won. They were granted to me; by powers beyond my own …it was up to me to approach them with an earnest and humble desire to learn and to make them my own. But most Japanese in these post war years, simply swallowed the concepts of freedom and democracy whole. Waiving slogans around, without really knowing what they meant.” - Akira Kurosawa
Later, Kurosawa started noticing a change in the Japanese public after the war. Many Japanese began to indulge themselves into excesses without thinking of the Consequences. Drunken Angel depicted this lifestyle with an actor with an amazing on stage magnetism, Toshiro Mifune.
“A talent I have never encountered before. The speed of his movements was such that he set in a single action what ordinary actors took three separate movements to express.” – Akira Kurosawa
His next film the critically acclaimed Rashomon, a rape trial which becomes a question of what real truth is. Winning the Golden Lion Award of Venice, Japanese journalist claimed that the award was given for exoticism. Ikiru, meaning to live, examines self-sacrifice as a dieing man discovers what it means to live. More then any movie Ikiru shows Kurosawa’s humanity and sensitivity.
Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and Hidden Fortress are samurai tales of grace and melodrama. These movies were later recreated in the western genre, and influenced many to take note of this international director. Of the four, Seven Samurai was a historical film that almost financially ruined Toho Studios. Red Beard, Kurosawa’s last collaboration with Mifune was what many feel was Kurosawa’s last great feature. “Make the most of their lot in life, live honestly to develop your abilities to the fullest. People who do this are the real heroes.” – Akira Kurosawa
Studios could no longer give Akira Kurosawa large budgets he needed to produce his films. He would collaborate with three other visionaries, creating Four Knights. There careers depended immensely on their first film to create a strong impact. Instead, Dodes’ka-Den was considered too depressing. Four Knights disappeared into obscurity.
Kurosawa, in light of his previous triumphs, depended on Four Knights to guarantee funding for future projects. So much was riding on this, that on December 1971, Kurosawa locked himself in the bathroom and slashed his wrists more than thirty times with a razor blade.
After he finished working on a filming project with Soviet Union. Kurosawa united with Frances Coppola and George Lucas to create Kagemusha, a historical look at the unsettling spoils of samurai war. Kurosawa’s last project, Dreams was a film created at a point in his life where he no longer was swayed by what the critics would say. Dreams was his film.
“What is there for me to say, except much has happened? If I were to write anything at all it would only be about movies. Take myself subtract movies, and I would be zero. “ – Akira Kurosawa
Not Yet (1993)
Rhapsody in August (1991)
Dersu Uzala (1975)
Red Beard (1965)
High and Low (1963)
The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
The Lower Depths (1957)
Throne of Blood (1957)
The Seven Samurai (1954)
The Idiot (1951)
Stray Dog (1949)
A Silent Duel (1949)
Drunken Angel (1948)
Wonderful Sunday (1947)
No Regrets for Our Youth (1946)
Those Who Make Tomorrow (1946)
Walkers on the Tiger’s Tail (1945)
Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945)
The Most Beautiful (1944)
Sugata Sanshiro (1943)