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Watch Kurosawa on location filming KAGEMUSHA.
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Akira Kurosawa: Essential Films
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British Film Institute: Akira Kurosawa
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TIME 100: Asians of the Century: Akira Kurosawa
Toshiro Mifune
IMDb: Takashi Shimura
Hollywood.com: Tatsuya Nakadai
Hollywood.com: Machiko Kyo
E! Online: Isuzu Yamada
Japan Society of Boston


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AKIRA KUROSAWA: A GIANT AMONG FILMMAKERS AND AMONG MEN
(continued)

Although the materials from which Kurosawa fashioned his films are Japanese -- his stories and their settings, his actors and their language -- his fundamental messages are for everyone, everywhere. If one looks beyond the cultural patterns on the surfaces of his films, beneath the costumes that identify his actors as Japanese, the themes that lie within are neither arcane nor esoteric: man's struggle for fulfillment and self-perfection, the illusions of reality that disguise truth, conflicts of good and evil. What other subjects can there be for an artist whose real subject is mankind? In film after film, Kurosawa returned to these themes, shifting the premises slightly, altering historical periods, changing the costumes of his actors but never their souls. Sometimes the actor on Kurosawa's stage is Hamlet disguised as a modern businessmen (THE BAD SLEEP WELL), Macbeth occupying a medieval Japanese castle (THRONE OF BLOOD), sometimes a cowboy in a kimono (SEVEN SAMURAI, YOJIMBO, SANJURO), or Everyman as a petty Japanese bureaucrat (IKIRU). But their identities are not difficult to recognize and the passions that motivate them are familiar to all of us.

It is for these reasons of universal validity -- along with his unchallenged mastery of film technique -- that Kurosawa stands apart from other Japanese filmmakers. Although his films were always made for Japanese audiences, they have been adopted and cherished by filmgoers throughout the world, enlarging the stature of their creator as a philosopher-artist to colossal proportions. Virtually every serious film director of the last half century, regardless of nationality, acknowledges Kurosawa as a master from whom he or she has learned much about the art of film.

As Francis Ford Coppola, one of America's greatest admirers of Kurosawa, has said, "Most directors have one masterpiece by which they are known, or possibly two. Kurosawa has at least eight or nine." Determining which Kurosawa films are his finest is a game played by film lovers everywhere, a game that will never be concluded since everyone has personal favorites that he or she will defend as among the greatest masterpieces of world cinema. Nearly everyone's short list would include IKIRU and SEVEN SAMURAI, two films made by Kurosawa in quick succession in 1952 and 1954, both of which almost always appear on critics' lists of the 10 or 20 "finest films of all time." Though they were made by the same director and at almost the same time, the two works are totally different from each other. IKIRU is an intimate and tightly structured modern drama, an existential portrait of a single, rather unimportant office worker facing death and obsessed with a determination to give meaning to his life. It is a fable set in postwar Japan, made at a time when the entire surrounding society was seeking a new identity and purpose. SEVEN SAMURAI is an epic saga of overwhelming sweep and vigor, with a huge cast of heroic characters caught up in action of enormous proportions. When it was made, it nearly bankrupted its production company and thoroughly exhausted its crew and actors. But today -- nearly 50 years later -- SEVEN SAMURAI endures as a film that seems new with every re-viewing and still offers lessons to modern action-picture directors.





Top banner photos: A scene from Akira Kurosawa's RED BEARD (Toshiro Mifune, Yuzo Kayama, and Terumi Niki), and a production still from DRUNKEN ANGEL (Michiyo Kogure and Toshiro Mifune). Photos courtesy of Photofest.

Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa during an interview with the BBC.

Lord Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) in RAN.

Lord Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu) leads his army in RAN. Photo: Studio Canal Image.

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