Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Great Performances
HomeBroadcast ScheduleFeedbackNewsletter Great Performances Shop
Musical TheaterOpera on FilmClassical MusicDanceRegional PerformanceCinema
Multimedia PresentationsDialogueEducational ResourcesCinema
Video clip photo
Watch Kurosawa on location filming KAGEMUSHA.
Kurosawa banner
Multimedia Presentation
Akira Kurosawa: Essential Films
Ask the Expert
Lesson Plan
Related Web Sites
British Film Institute: Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa Database
Asa Fitch's Akira Kurosawa Site
Dan Kim's Akira Kurosawa Site
TIME 100: Asians of the Century: Akira Kurosawa
Toshiro Mifune
IMDb: Takashi Shimura Tatsuya Nakadai Machiko Kyo
E! Online: Isuzu Yamada
Japan Society of Boston



Kurosawa fans will no doubt argue forever about which of his other films should be called masterpieces. Many will say RASHOMON (1950) because it was the film that awoke the world to the power and artistry of Japanese cinema; others admire STRAY DOG (1949) or HIGH AND LOW (1963) for their narrative brilliance in a film noir mode of detective drama; still others claim that the swashbuckling samurai dramas YOJIMBO (1961) and SANJURO (1962) are the finest action pictures ever made. Some film fans consider THRONE OF BLOOD (1957) and RAN (1985) to be the best adaptations of Shakespearean drama for the screen, despite the fact that both films are set in medieval Japan and represent great cultural departures from the world of the English playwright. Still others find in films like THE BAD SLEEP WELL (1960), RED BEARD (1965), and DODES'KA-DEN (1970) a humanism and yearning for social justice that set them apart as classic works of art. Thus, Kurosawa appeals in many ways to many viewers -- but all of them recognize in his work a power and authority matched by few other directors anywhere in the world.

Akira Kurosawa was fortunate in finding a company of actors and technicians superbly equipped to help him fulfill his vision. The film performances of Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Tatsuya Nakadai, Isuzu Yamada, and Machiko Kyo -- to name only a few actors featured in his films -- have established themselves in the eternal cinema memories of filmgoers all over the world. Similarly, the work of script writers, cameramen, composers, art directors, costume designers, and other dedicated artists in Kurosawa's crew has set standards of excellence rarely matched in other film industries. A few have names that are known beyond the studios of Japan, but the dedication of these hundreds of largely unknown film technicians is another measure of Kurosawa's greatness. Some journalists may have dubbed him "Tenno" (Emperor), scornful of his imperious authority on a film set, but those who knew him better recognized his extraordinary skill -- working as a general in the complex battle that is filmmaking -- and his genius for eliciting from all his troops work even greater than they themselves felt capable of producing.

Film directing, according to some, is the toughest art of all. It demands a wisdom, a breadth of vision, and a control over hundreds of subordinates that elude younger artists, and yet it requires the vigor of youth and a stamina and physical energy that few can sustain beyond middle age. Akira Kurosawa, in a career lasting several decades, defied nearly all such conventional wisdom. Films made in his 30s and 40s reveal a maturity and understanding of the human condition far beyond his age. And shortly before his death on September 6, 1998, at the age of 88, he was still writing scripts with a vigor, skill, and inventiveness that would be envied by many screenwriters just beginning their careers.

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.

Great Performances Shop

This program is available on DVD.
T1 56k