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The King and the Little Prince (credit: Adrian Brooks)
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The Words of a Master from Kurosawa
Grades: 9-12
OverviewProcedures for TeachersOrganizers for Students

BACKGROUND ACTIVITIES:


The purpose of these activities is to provide background knowledge on director Akira Kurosawa and his films.

Activity One

1. Read the following Akira Kurosawa quote from GREAT PERFORMANCES' KUROSAWA:

"There is something that might be called cinematic beauty. It can only be expressed in a film, and it must be present for that film to be a moving work. When it is very well expressed, one experiences a particularly deep emotion while watching that film. I believe that it is this quality that draws people to come and see a film, and that it is the hope of attaining this quality that inspires the filmmaker to make his film in the first place."
Discuss the quote. Draw on the students' personal experiences with films.

2. Create a class "Kurosawa Cinematic Beauty Chart." (Cover one section of the classroom wall with paper where the students can post their information.)

3. Send the students on a search for information about Akira Kurosawa and his films.

4. Students can begin their research with the following resources:

5. Encourage the students to make use of the Ask the Expert feature of this site for help with any unanswered questions.


STEPS:

The purpose of this activity is for students to create a project that incorporates ideas or techniques learned during their Kurosawa research.

Activity One

1. Explain to the students that they are going to create a group project based on a quote from GREAT PERFORMANCES' KUROSAWA. Review the list of project subject options.
(Note to Teachers: This activity will contain three components: script, video, or skit/play; written explanation of the activity; and a watercolor based on the activity.)

2. Print the list of project subject options from the Organizers for Students section of this lesson plan and distribute it to the students.

3. Organize the students into small groups based on their project subject choice.

4. The students may choose one of the following formats for the project:
  • script

  • video

  • skit or play
5. Tell the students that they will provide a written explanation of their project that addresses the following questions:
  • What was the goal of your project?

  • What did you include in your project to reach this goal?

  • How successful do you think you were in accomplishing your goal?

  • In what ways is your project important, unique, and/or influential?
6. Provide time for the students to brainstorm ideas and outline their project.

7. Stop the students at this point and have them visit the MADADAYO section of the RAN Web site (http://www.ran2000.com/). Ask the students to click on the Photos link to see some of the watercolors Kurosawa created for MADADAYO, his final film.

8. Tell the students that they are going to create a watercolor (other mediums could also be used) that depicts a scene from their project.

9. Provide time for the groups to present their project in class.


PROJECT SUBJECT OPTIONS:

Option One

In September 1923 Kurosawa and his brother Heigo went to look at the area around Tokyo that had been destroyed by a firestorm following a massive earthquake. When Kurosawa turned away from the charred corpses, his brother said:
"If you shut your eyes to a frightening sight, you end up being frightened. If you look at everything straight on, there is nothing to be afraid of."
Create a project that is based on something that you are afraid of or fear. (The events of 9/11 might work well here.)

Option Two

"Narrative in films normally depends on dialogue, but I find this boring. I try to remove unnecessary dialogue. If you watch early silent films, you can appreciate this. I still like watching silent films. And when I'm making a film, I try to imagine what a scene would be like if it were silent ... and I try to leave out unnecessary dialogue."
-- Akira Kurosawa
Create a video or skit/play that uses this concept of limited dialogue.

Option Three

"In the years which followed Kurosawa was to make a succession of masterpieces which focused on individuals trying to live virtuous lives amidst hardship and adversity. ...

Self-sacrifice and moral commitment are the central themes running through many of Kurosawa's films, and they resonate with his own samurai background. 'The characters in my films try to live honestly and make the most of their lot in life. I believe you must live honestly and develop your abilities to the full. People who do this are the real heroes.'"
Create a project that features a person you consider to be a real hero.

Option Four

"I was born into a samurai family and had a formal upbringing. So I don't know much about the townspeople. That's the reason I find it hard to write about them."
-- Akira Kurosawa
Create a project that is based on personal life experiences.

Option Five

"In order to write scripts, you must first study the great novels and dramas of the world. You must consider why they are great. Where does the emotion come from that you feel as you read them? What degree of passion did the author have to have, in order to portray the characters and events as he did? You must read thoroughly, to the point where you can grasp all these things."
-- Akira Kurosawa
Create a project based on a book that you know well.


EXTENSION ACTIVITIES:

Activity One

Performance Activity
Create a Noh play. Scripts and background on creating this Japanese theatrical art form can be found at:

University of Virginia Library: Japanese Text Initiative: No Plays http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/japanese/noh/

Japan Access: Noh and Kyogen
http://jin.jcic.or.jp/access/noh/history.html

Activity Two

Art Activity
Replay, if possible, the segment in the program when the abbot at Komyoji Temple writes the Chinese poem "Benefit All Mankind" in calligraphy on a fan for Kurosawa. Ask the students to create a poem or "words to live by" and write it on a fan. Information on Chinese characters and calligraphy is available on these Web sites:

Newton Public Schools: Angier School: Chinese Calligraphy
http://www.newton.mec.edu/Angier/DimSum/Chinese%20Caligraphy%20Lesson.html

ThinkQuest Junior: Chinese Calligraphy
http://tqjunior.thinkquest.org/3614/drawing.htm

Zhongwen.com: Chinese Characters and Culture
http://www.zhongwen.com/

Activity Three

View a film by Akira Kurosawa and compare it with the Western film that was based on it.
  • SEVEN SAMURAI/THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

  • YOJIMBO/A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS

  • THE HIDDEN FORTRESS/STAR WARS

 
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