Akira Kurosawa

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Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa (黒澤 明 Kurosawa Akira, also 黒沢 明) (March 23, 1910September 6, 1998) was a prominent Japanese director, producer, and screenwriter of films, many of which are considered highly influential worldwide classics.

Kurosawa is perhaps Japan's best-known filmmaker. His films have greatly influenced a whole generation of filmmakers worldwide. Few filmmakers have had a career so long or so acclaimed. His first film (Sanshiro Sugata) was released in 1943; his last (Madadayo) in 1993. His many awards include the Legion d'Honneur and an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement.

Contents

Early Career

Kurosawa was born March 23, 1910, in Omori, Tokyo the youngest of seven children. He trained as a painter and began work in the film industry as an assistant director in 1936. He made his directorial debut in 1943 with Sugata Sanshiro. He became internationally famous with his 1950 film Rashomon which won the Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival. Although he is most remembered for his films of the 1950s and 1960s, he continued to direct and write films until his death.

Characteristics

Kurosawa is most well-known for his period pieces (called jidaigeki 時代劇 "period play" in Japanese) like Seven Samurai and Ran, but several of his films dealt with contemporary Japan: for exampleStray Dog, which looks at the criminal underworld just after the end of the war, and Ikiru, which deals with a Japanese bureaucrat and his struggles against bureacratic inertia.

Kurosawa had a distinctive cinematic technique, which he had developed by the 1950's, and which gave his films a unique look. He liked using telephoto lenses for the the way it flattened the frame and also because he believed that placing cameras further away from his actors produced better perfomances. He also liked using multiple cameras, which allowed him to shoot the same take from different angles.

Influences

A notable feature of Kurosawa's films is the breadth of his influences. Some of his plots are adaptations of William Shakespeare's works: The Bad Sleep Well, based on Hamlet; Ran, based on King Lear; and Throne of Blood, based on Macbeth. Kurosawa also directed film adaptations of Russian novels, including The Idiot by Dostoevsky and The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky. High and Low was based on a novel by American crime writer Ed McBain. Stray Dog was inspired by the detective novels of Georges Simenon. The American film director John Ford also had a large influence on his work. Despite criticism by some Japanese critics that Kurosawa was "too Western", he was deeply influenced by Japanese culture as well including the Kabuki and Noh theaters and the jidai-geki (period drama) genre of Japanese cinema.

Legacy

In turn Kurosawa's films had a huge influence on world cinema. Most explicitly The Seven Samurai was later remade as the western The Magnificent Seven and science fiction movie Battle Beyond the Stars. It also inspired two Hindi films, Ramesh Sippy's Sholay and Rajkumar Santhoshi's China Gate with similar plots. The story has also inspired novels, among them Stephen King's fifth Dark Tower novel, Wolves of the Calla.

Yojimbo was the basis for the Clint Eastwood western A Fistful of Dollars and the Bruce Willis prohibition-era Last Man Standing.

The Hidden Fortress had an influence on George Lucas's earliest Star Wars film: especially in the characters of R2-D2 and C3PO.

The film Rashomon not only helped open Japanese cinema to the world but virtually entered the English language as a term for fractured, inconsistent narratives as well as influencing other works, including episodes of television series and many motion pictures.

Collaboration

During his most productive period from the late 40's to the mid- 60's, Kurosawa often worked with the same group of collaborators. Fumio Hayasaka composed music for seven of his films; notably Rashomon, Ikiru and Seven Samurai. Many of Kurosawa's scripts, including Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai and Ran were co-written with Hideo Oguni. Yoshiro Muraki was Kurosawa's production designer or art director for most of his films after Stray Dog in 1949 and Asakazu Naki was his cinematographer on 11 films including Ikiru, Seven Samurai and Ran. Kurosawa also liked recycling the same group of actors, especially Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune. His collaboration with the latter is one of the greatest director-actor combinations in cinema history. It began with 1948's Drunken Angel and ended with 1964's Red Beard.

Later films

Red Beard marked a turning point in Kurosawa's career in more ways than one. In addition to being his last film with Mifune, it was his last in black-and-white. It was also his last as a major director within the Japanese studio system making roughly a film a year. Kurosawa was signed to direct a Hollywood project, Tora! Tora! Tora!; but 20th Century Fox replaced him with Kinji Fukasaku before it was completed. His next few films were a lot harder to finance and made at intervals of five years. The first: Dodesukaden about a group of poor people living around a rubbish dump, was not a success.

After an attempted suicide, Kurosawa went on to make several more films although arranging domestic financing was highly difficult despite his international reputation: Dersu Uzala, made in the USSR and set in Siberia in the early 20th century, won an Oscar; Kagemusha, (financed with the help of the director's most famous admirers, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola) the story of a man who is the double of a medieval Japanese lord and takes over his identity; and Ran, which was a phenomenal international success and is generally considered Kurosawa's last masterpiece.

Kurosawa made three more films during the 1990s which were more personal than his earlier works. Dreams is a series of vignettes based on his own dreams. Rhapsody in August is about memories of the Nagasaki atom bomb and his final film: Madadayo is about a retired teacher and his former students. Kurosawa died September 6, 1998, in Setagaya, Tokyo.

Filmography

Further reading

  • Akira Kurosawa. Something Like An Autobiography. Vintage Books USA, 1983. ISBN 0394714393
  • Stephen Prince. The Warrior's Camera. Princeton University Press, 1999. ISBN 0691010463
  • Donald Richie, Joan Mellen. The Films of Akira Kurosawa. University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 0520220374
  • Stuart Galbraith IV. The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Faber & Faber, 2002. ISBN 0571199828

See also

External links

da:Akira Kurosawa de:Akira Kurosawa es:Akira Kurosawa eo:KUROSAWA Akira fr:Akira Kurosawa id:Akira Kurosawa it:Akira Kurosawa hu:Kuroszava Akira nl:Akira Kurosawa ja:黒澤明 kn:ಅಕಿರಾ ಕುರೋಸಾವಾ no:Akira Kurosawa pl:Akira Kurosawa pt:Akira Kurosawa ro:Akira Kurosawa fi:Akira Kurosawa sv:Akira Kurosawa tr:Akira Kurosawa uk:Акіро Куросава zh:黑澤明

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