Akira Kurosawa


Director, Screenwriter
Akira Kurosawa

About

Birth Place
Japan
Born
March 23, 1910
Died
September 06, 1998
Cause of Death
Complications From A Stroke

Biography

Akira Kurosawa is unquestionably the best known Japanese filmmaker in the West. This can perhaps be best explained by the fact that he is not so much a Japanese or a Western filmmaker, but that he is a "modern" filmmaker. Like postwar Japan itself, he combines the ancient traditions with a distinctly modern, Western twist.Kurosawa got his start in films following an education which inclu...

Family & Companions

Yoko Yaguchi
Wife
Had three others; survived her.
Yoko Yaguchi
Wife
Actor. Married in 1945 at Meiji shrine (Tokyo); shrine was bombed by US fighters the following morning; died in 1985 during production on "Ran" (1985); appeared in his film "The Most Beautiful" (1944); died on February 1, 1985 at age 63.

Bibliography

"Something Like an Autobiography"
Akira Kurosawa (1982)

Notes

Kurosawa has seen several of his films remade in the West. His epic "Seven Samurai" (1954) was converted into John Sturges's popular Western, "The Magnificent Seven" (1960); "Rashomon" (1950) was "westernized" as "The Outrage" (1964) by director Martin Ritt; Italian director Sergio Leone unofficially borrowed the plot of "Yojimbo" (1961) for his "spaghetti Western" "A Fistful of Dollars" (1964) and George Lucas has acknowledged the influence of Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" (1958) on his "Star Wars" trilogy.

"When I watch my movies I still find only a few parts which are truly film. I've never made a film where I though that from beginning to end, it was all a film. so i'm still hoping to make one." (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 10/2/1992)

Biography

Akira Kurosawa is unquestionably the best known Japanese filmmaker in the West. This can perhaps be best explained by the fact that he is not so much a Japanese or a Western filmmaker, but that he is a "modern" filmmaker. Like postwar Japan itself, he combines the ancient traditions with a distinctly modern, Western twist.

Kurosawa got his start in films following an education which included study of Western painting, literature and political philosophy. His early films were made under the stringent auspices of the militaristic government then in power and busily engaged in waging the Pacific war. While one can detect aspects of the pro-war ideology in early works like "The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail" (1945) or, more especially, "Sanshiro Sugata" (1943), these films are notable more for stylistic experimentation than pro-war inspiration.

Before he had a chance to mature under these conditions, though, Kurosawa, like all of Japan, experienced the American occupation. Under its auspices he produced pro-democracy films, the most appealing of which is "No Regrets for Our Youth" (1946), interestingly his only film which has a woman as its primary protagonist. His ability to make films that could please Japanese militarists or American occupiers should not be taken as either cultural schizophrenia or political fence-sitting, for at their best these early films have a minimal value as propaganda, and tend to reveal early glimpses of the major themes which would dominate his cinema. His style, too, is an amalgam, a deft dialectic of the great pictorial traditions of the silent cinema, the dynamism of the Soviet cinema (perhaps embodied in the Japanese-Russian friendship dramatized in his "Dersu Uzala" 1975) and the Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking (which explains how easily his work has been remade by American directors).

Above all, Kurosawa is a modern filmmaker, portraying (in films from "Drunken Angel" 1948 to "Rhapsody in August" 1991) the ethical and metaphysical dilemmas characteristic of postwar culture, the world of the atomic bomb, which has rendered certainty and dogma absurd. The consistency at the heart of Kurosawa's work is his exploration of the concept of heroism. Whether portraying the world of the wandering swordsman, the intrepid policeman or the civil servant, Kurosawa focuses on men faced with ethical and moral choices. The choice of action suggests that Kurosawa's heroes share the same dilemma as Albert Camus' existential protagonists--Kurosawa did adapt Dostoevsky's existential novel "The Idiot" in 1951 and saw the novelist as a key influence in all his work--but for Kurosawa the choice is to act morally, to work for the betterment of one's fellow men.

Perhaps because Kurosawa experienced the twin devastations of the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and WWII, his cinema focuses on times of chaos. From the destruction of the glorious Heian court society that surrounds the world of "Rashomon" (1950) to the never-ending destruction of the civil war era of the 16th century that gives "The Seven Samurai" (1954) its dramatic impetus, to the savaged Tokyo in the wake of US bombing raids in "Drunken Angel" (1948), to the ravages of the modern bureaucratic mind-set that pervade "Ikiru" (1952) and "The Bad Sleep Well" (1960): Kurosawa's characters are situated in periods of metaphysical eruption, threatened equally by moral destruction and physical annihilation; in a world of existential alienation in which God is dead and nothing is certain. But it is his hero who, living in a world of moral chaos, in a vacuum of ethical and behavioral standards, nevertheless chooses to act for the public good.

Kurosawa was dubbed "Japan's most Western director" by critic Donald Richie at a time when few Westerners had seen many of the director's films and at a time when the director was in what should have been merely the middle of his career. Richie felt that Kurosawa was Western in the sense of being an original creator, as distinct from doing the more rigidly generic or formulaic work of many Japanese directors during the height of Kurosawa's creativity. And indeed some of the director's best work can be read as "sui generis," drawing upon individual genius such as few filmmakers in the history of world cinema have. "Rashomon," "Ikiru" and "Record of a Living Being" (1955) challenge easy classification and are stunning in their originality of style, theme and setting.

Furthermore, Kurosawa's attractions to the West were apparent in both content and form. His adaptations from Western literature, although not unique in Japanese cinema, are among his finest films, with "Throne of Blood" (1957, from "Macbeth") and "Ran" (1985, from "King Lear") standing among the finest versions of Shakespeare ever put on film. And if Western high culture obviously appealed to him, so did more popular, even pulp forms, as evinced by critically acclaimed adaptations of Dashiell Hammett's "Red Harvest" to fashion "Yojimbo" (1961) and Ed McBain's "King's Ransom" to create the masterful "High and Low" (1962). Of course such borrowings show not only the richness of Kurosawa's thinking and his work but also just how notions of "genius" require a complex understanding of the contexts in which the artist works.

Indeed, for all of the Western adaptations and the attraction to Hollywood and Soviet-style montage, Kurosawa's status as a Japanese filmmaker can never be doubted. If, as has often been remarked, his period films have similarities with Hollywood westerns, they are nevertheless accurately drawn from the turmoil of Japanese history. If he has been attracted to Shakespearean theater, he has equally been drawn to the rarefied world of Japanese Noh drama. And if Kurosawa is a master of dynamic montage, he is equally the master of the Japanese trademarks of the long take and gracefully mobile camera.

Thus to see Kurosawa as somehow a "Western" filmmaker is not only to ignore the traditional bases for much of his style and many of his themes, but to do a disservice to the nature of film style and culture across national boundaries. Kurosawa's cinema may be taken as paradigmatic of the nature of modern changing Japan, of how influences from abroad are adapted, transformed and made new by the genius of the Japanese national character, which remains distinctive yet ever-changing. And if Kurosawa tends to focus on an individual hero, a man forced to choose a mode of behavior and a pattern of action in the modern Western tradition of the loner-hero, it is only in recognition of global culture that increasingly centralizes, bureaucratizes and dehumanizes.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Madadayo (1993)
Director
Rhapsody In August (1991)
Director
Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990)
Director
Ran (1985)
Director
Kagemusha (1980)
Director
Dersu Uzala (1975)
Director
Dodes'ka-Den (1971)
Director
I Live in Fear (1967)
Director
Red Beard (1966)
Director
The Bad Sleep Well (1963)
Director
The Idiot (1963)
Director
High and Low (1963)
Director
Sanjuro (1962)
Director
The Lower Depths (1962)
Director
Throne of Blood (1961)
Director
Yojimbo (1961)
Director
Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru (1960)
Director
The Hidden Fortress (1959)
Director
The Seven Samurai (1956)
Director
Ikiru (1952)
Director
Hakuchi (1951)
Director
Scandal (1950)
Director
Shubun (1950)
Director
Rashomon (1950)
Director
Stray Dog (1949)
Director
Shizukanaru naru ketto (1949)
Director
Stray Dog (1949)
Director
Drunken Angel (1948)
Director
One Wonderful Sunday (1947)
Director
Asu o Tsukuru Hitobito (1946)
Director
No Regrets for Youth (1946)
Director
Sanshiro Sugata Part 2 (1945)
Director
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945)
Director
The Most Beautiful (1944)
Director
Sanshiro Sugata (1943)
Director
Uma (1941)
2nd Unit Director (2nd Unit)

Assistant Direction (Feature Film)

Uma (1941)
Assistant Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Kurosawa (2001)
Himself
A.K. (1985)
Himself
75 Years of Cinema Museum (1972)
Himself

Writer (Feature Film)

The Magnificent Seven (2016)
Source Material
The Last Princess (2008)
Source Material
Tsubaki Sanjuro (2007)
Source Material
The Sea is Watching (2003)
Screenwriter
Kurosawa (2001)
Book As Source Material
Dora-Heita (2000)
Screenplay
AFTER THE RAIN (1999)
Screenplay
Last Man Standing (1996)
From Story
Madadayo (1993)
Screenplay
Rhapsody In August (1991)
Screenplay
Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990)
Screenplay
Ran (1985)
Screenplay
Runaway Train (1985)
From Story
Kagemusha (1980)
Screenwriter
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
From Story
Dersu Uzala (1975)
Screenplay
Dodes'ka-Den (1971)
Screenplay
I Live in Fear (1967)
Screenwriter
Red Beard (1966)
Screenwriter
Judo Saga (1965)
Screenwriter
Saga of the Vagabonds (1964)
Screenwriter
High and Low (1963)
Screenwriter
The Idiot (1963)
Screenwriter
The Bad Sleep Well (1963)
Screenwriter
The Lower Depths (1962)
Screenwriter
Sanjuro (1962)
Screenwriter
Yojimbo (1961)
Screenwriter
Throne of Blood (1961)
Screenwriter
The Hidden Fortress (1959)
Story By
The Hidden Fortress (1959)
Screenplay
The Hidden Fortress (1959)
From Story
The Seven Samurai (1956)
Story By
The Seven Samurai (1956)
Screenwriter
The Seven Samurai (1956)
From Story
Sugata Sanshiro (1955)
Screenwriter
Sengoku burai (1952)
Screenwriter
Ikiru (1952)
Screenwriter
Ikiru (1952)
Story By
Hakuchi (1951)
Screenwriter
Scandal (1950)
Screenplay
Scandal (1950)
From Story
Akatsuki no dasso (1950)
Screenwriter
Rashomon (1950)
Screenwriter
Stray Dog (1949)
Screenwriter
Stray Dog (1949)
Screenwriter
Shizukanaru naru ketto (1949)
Screenwriter
Jakoman to Tetsu (1949)
Screenwriter
Drunken Angel (1948)
Screenwriter
One Wonderful Sunday (1947)
Screenwriter
Snow Trail (1947)
Screenwriter
No Regrets for Youth (1946)
Screenwriter
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945)
Screenwriter
Sanshiro Sugata Part 2 (1945)
Screenplay
The Most Beautiful (1944)
From Story
The Most Beautiful (1944)
Screenwriter
Sanshiro Sugata (1943)
Screenplay
Uma (1941)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

Kagemusha (1980)
Executive Producer
Dodes'ka-Den (1971)
Producer
The Bad Sleep Well (1963)
Producer
The Lower Depths (1962)
Producer
Throne of Blood (1961)
Producer
The Hidden Fortress (1959)
Producer

Editing (Feature Film)

Ran (1985)
Editor
Sanjuro (1962)
Film Editor
Sanshiro Sugata (1943)
Editor
Uma (1941)
Editor

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

A.K. (1985)
Other

Cast (Special)

The 62nd Annual Academy Awards Presentation (1990)
Performer
The 58th Annual Academy Awards Presentation (1986)
Presenter

Life Events

1928

Painting accepted by Nitten exhibition

1929

Joined Japan's Proletarian Artists' League in order to study new art movements

1932

Left Artists' League

1936

Answered newspaper ad and was hired by Photo Chemical Laboratory (later Toho Motion Picture Company) as assistant director, worked with mentor Kajiro Yamamoto

1936

Worked way up with Yamamoto's crew from third assistant to chief assistant and B-group second unit director at PCL; also learned editing and dubbing techniques

1941

First screenplay published, "A German at the Daruma Temple"

1943

Film directing debut with "Sugata Sanshiro/Sanshiro Sugata"

1948

Made first film starring Toshiro Mifune, "Yoidore Tenshi/Drunken Angel"

1950

Directed a film, "Rashomon", which received widespread international acclaim not only for his own films but for much of Japanese cinema as a whole

1959

Gave first press conference; formed, Kurosawa Productions, first independent company run by working director

1966

Joseph E. Levine of Embassy Pictures announced the upcoming production of Kurosawa's screenplay "Runaway Train"; differences between Levine and Kurosawa Productions' producer Tetsuro Aoyagi brought project to halt; film was finally made by director Andrei Konchalovsky, working from a re-written version of Kurosawa's original in 1985

1970

Shot first color picture as director, "Dodes'ka-den", in 28 days

1971

Hospitalized in ill health, attempted suicide on December 22

1975

Directed "Dersu Uzala"; received Best Foreign-Language Film Academy Award

1978

Traveled to USA; foreign rights to "Kagemusha" bought by 2Oth-Century Fox

1985

Helmed "Ran", inspired by Shakespeare's "Macbeth"; nominated for four Oscars including Best Director

1985

Subject of Chris Marker's documentary "AK: Portrait of Akira Kurosawa"

1985

Scripted "Runaway Train", directed by Andrei Konchalovsky

1986

Made Fellow of British Film institute

1989

Awarded honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement

1990

Wrote and directed "Akira Kurosawa's Dreams"

1991

Helmed "Rhapsody in August", featuring Richard Gere; also scripted

1993

Final film, "Madadayo"; released in USA in 2000

Photo Collections

The Seven Samurai - Movie Poster
Here is the original Japanese-release movie poster for The Seven Samurai (1954), directed by Akira Kurosawa.
Rashomon - Movie Poster
Here is the original Japanese-release movie poster for Rashomon (1950), directed by Akira Kurosawa.

Videos

Movie Clip

Red Beard (1966) — (Movie Clip) We Won’t Meet Again A visually striking flashback vignette deep in Akira Kurosawa’s narrative, Tsutomi Yamazaki as Sahachi, patient of Toshiro Mifune’s title character, in a deathbed confession recalls meeting his wife (Miyuki Kuwano) whom he believed died years earlier, with her baby by another father, shortly after her remains were found in his home, in Red Beard, 1966.
Red Beard (1966) - He's The Dictator Here In early 19th century Japan, skeptical young doctor Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) is introduced to the clinic and the head man (Toshiro Mifune, title character), early in Akira Kurosawa's Red Beard, 1966, from a novel by Shugoro Yamamoto.
Stray Dog (1949) - Just Give Me A Hint The frustration and exhaustion of detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) is paplaable, as he pursues the notorious woman pickpocket Ogin (Teruko Kishi) through the sweaty streets of Tokyo seeking his stolen pistol, in Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog, 1949.
Drunken Angel (1948) - Don't Think Like A Slave! First domestic scene for Takashi Shimura as the title character, inebriate Tokyo doctor Sanada, arguing with granny (Choko Iida) and scolding his assistant and friend Miyo (Chieko Nakakita) for her fear of a gangster due to be released from prison, in Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel, 1948.
Drunken Angel (1948) - There's Nothing Left To Drink Doctor Sanada (Takashi Shimura, title character) has contrived an excuse to visit his new patient, gangster Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) at his night club, aiming to scold him for failing to show him a damning x-ray, in grungy post-WWII Tokyo, in Kurosawa’s landmark Drunken Angel,1948.
Drunken Angel (1948) - You Already Look Like A Ghost Staggering home in the Tokyo slums after a bad night, consumptive gangster Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune, in his first picture for director Akira Kurosawa) tangles with snarky sometime-girlfriend Nanae (Michiyo Kogure), then meets dreaded crime boss Okada (Reizaburo Namamoto), just released from prison, in Drunken Angel, 1948.
Sanjuro (1962) - Attack Me! Toshiro Mifune (title character) is pretending he's defected and joined evil Muroto (Tatsuya Nakadai), when his pals led by Iori (Yuzo Kayama), not in on the scheme, stage a raid, in Akira Kurosawa's Sanjuro, 1962.
Sanjuro (1962) - Killing People Is A Bad Habit Having just rescued the chamberlain's daughter (Reiko Dan) and her mother (Takako Irie), Toshiro Mifune (title character), Iori (Yuzo Kayama) and their gang decide to flee, in Akira Kurosawa's Sanjuro, 1962.
Yojimbo (1961) - Chickening Out The Samurai Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) makes a strategic switch of sides, as the first confrontation between warring clans takes shape, in Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, 1961.
Yojimbo (1961) - There's No Cure For Fools The Samurai (Toshiro Mifune) demonstrates his value by slaughtering three ruffians and placing an order with the coffin-maker (Atsushi Watanabe), early in Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, 1961.
Sanjuro (1962) - You Wanna Fight? From the opening scene, Toshiro Mifune (title character) shows the nine Samurai led by Iori (Yuzo Kayama) that their true enemy is the superintendent, whose henchman Muroto (Tatsuya Nakadai) appears with posse, in Akira Kurosawa's Sanjuro, 1962.
Yojimbo (1961) - The Chance To Get Killed! The wandering Samruai (Toshiro Mifune) comes upon a son (Yosuke Natsuki) arguing with his father, before his memorable entry into the town, in Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, 1961.

Trailer

Promo

Family

Isamu Kurosawa
Father
Has nine.
Isamu Kurosawa
Father
Army officer, athletics teacher, school administrator. Born in Akita Prefecture, Japan; of samurai descent; died on February 8, 1948; graduated from Toyama Imperial Military Academy.
Shima Kurosawa
Mother
Survived him; resides in Beijing.
Shima Kurosawa
Mother
From family of merchants eight children--four sons and four daughters--by Yutaka (Akira the youngest); died on November 4, 1952.
Heigo Kurosawa
Brother
Married when Howard was a teenager; marriage annuled at insistance of Howard's mother; her name is reportedly unknown even to family members.
Heigo Kurosawa
Brother
Writer of movie theater program notes, narrator for silent films. Older; committed suicide (second attempt) in 1933 at age 27; of his brother Kurosawa said: "It was because of the existence of my brother as the negative that I was born the positive".
Hisao Kurosawa
Son
Had four; survived him.
Hisao Kurosawa
Son
Producer. Born on December 20, 1945; produced several of his father's films; survived him.
Kazuko Kurosawa
Daughter
Has three.
Kazuko Kurosawa
Daughter
Costume designer. Born on April 29, 1954; worked on several of her father's films; survived him.

Companions

Yoko Yaguchi
Wife
Had three others; survived her.
Yoko Yaguchi
Wife
Actor. Married in 1945 at Meiji shrine (Tokyo); shrine was bombed by US fighters the following morning; died in 1985 during production on "Ran" (1985); appeared in his film "The Most Beautiful" (1944); died on February 1, 1985 at age 63.

Bibliography

"Something Like an Autobiography"
Akira Kurosawa (1982)

Notes

Kurosawa has seen several of his films remade in the West. His epic "Seven Samurai" (1954) was converted into John Sturges's popular Western, "The Magnificent Seven" (1960); "Rashomon" (1950) was "westernized" as "The Outrage" (1964) by director Martin Ritt; Italian director Sergio Leone unofficially borrowed the plot of "Yojimbo" (1961) for his "spaghetti Western" "A Fistful of Dollars" (1964) and George Lucas has acknowledged the influence of Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" (1958) on his "Star Wars" trilogy.

"When I watch my movies I still find only a few parts which are truly film. I've never made a film where I though that from beginning to end, it was all a film. so i'm still hoping to make one." (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 10/2/1992)

Honored at the first London Film Festival together with John Ford, Rene Clair and Vittorio De Sica as the movie directors most contributiong to film and art in 1957.

Received the National Medal with Laurel (together with Charles Chaplin and John Ford) presented by President Tito of Yugoslavia (1973).

Decorated with the French Legion of Honor (c. 1982)

"Rashomon" honored as the "Golden Lion Among Golden Lions" by LA REPUBLICIA newspaper on the anniversary of the Venice Film Festival.