Akira Kurosawa

Director, Screenwriter, Cartoonist
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" ... Read more »
Born: 03/22/1910 in Japan

Filmography

Writer (42)

The Last Princess 2008 (Movie)

(original characters) (Source Material)

Tsubaki Sanjuro 2007 (Movie)

(from screenplay: "Tsubaki Sanjuro") (Source Material)

The Sea is Watching 2003 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Dora-Heita 2000 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Kurosawa 2000 (Movie)

excerpts from book("Something Like an Autobiography") (Book as Source Material)

After the Rain 1999 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Sugata Sanshiro 1999 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Madadayo 1998 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Last Man Standing 1996 (Movie)

(From Story)

Rhapsody in August 1991 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams 1990 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Ran 1985 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Runaway Train 1985 (Movie)

from screenplay (From Story)

Kagemusha 1980 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Battle Beyond the Stars 1979 (Movie)

from screenplay (From Story)

Dersu Uzala 1975 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Dodeskaden 1970 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

The Savage Seven 1968 (Movie)

from screenplay (From Story)

Record of a Living Being 1966 (Movie)

(From Story)

Record of a Living Being 1966 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Red Beard 1965 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

A Fistful of Dollars 1964 (Movie)

from screenplay (From Story)

High and Low 1963 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

The Outrage 1963 (Movie)

from screenplay (From Story)

Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru 1963 (Movie)

(From Story)

Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru 1963 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Sanjuro 1962 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Yojimbo 1961 (Movie)

(From Story)

Yojimbo 1961 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

The Magnificent Seven 1960 (Movie)

from screenplay (From Story)

Sengoku gunto den 1959 (Movie)

adaptation (Writer (adaptation))

The Hidden Fortress 1958 (Movie)

(From Story)

The Hidden Fortress 1958 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

The Lower Depths 1957 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Throne of Blood 1957 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Ikiru 1956 (Movie)

(Story By)

Ikiru 1956 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Seven Samurai 1955 (Movie)

(From Story)

Seven Samurai 1955 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Hakuchi 1951 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Rashomon 1950 (Movie)

(Screenplay)

Drunken Angel 1948 (Movie)

(Screenplay)
Director (21)

Madadayo 1998 (Movie)

(Director)

Rhapsody in August 1991 (Movie)

(Director)

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams 1990 (Movie)

(Director)

Ran 1985 (Movie)

(Director)

Kagemusha 1980 (Movie)

(Director)

Dersu Uzala 1975 (Movie)

(Director)

Dodeskaden 1970 (Movie)

(Director)

Record of a Living Being 1966 (Movie)

(Director)

Red Beard 1965 (Movie)

(Director)

High and Low 1963 (Movie)

(Director)

Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru 1963 (Movie)

(Director)

Sanjuro 1962 (Movie)

(Director)

Yojimbo 1961 (Movie)

(Director)

The Hidden Fortress 1958 (Movie)

(Director)

The Lower Depths 1957 (Movie)

(Director)

Throne of Blood 1957 (Movie)

(Director)

Ikiru 1956 (Movie)

(Director)

Seven Samurai 1955 (Movie)

(Director)

Hakuchi 1951 (Movie)

(Director)

Rashomon 1950 (Movie)

(Director)

Drunken Angel 1948 (Movie)

(Director)
Producer (7)

Sugata Sanshiro 1999 (Movie)

(Producer)

Kagemusha 1980 (Movie)

(Executive Producer)

Dodeskaden 1970 (Movie)

(Producer)

Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru 1963 (Movie)

(Producer)

The Hidden Fortress 1958 (Movie)

(Producer)

The Lower Depths 1957 (Movie)

(Producer)

Throne of Blood 1957 (Movie)

(Producer)
Actor (5)

Kurosawa 2000 (Movie)

Himself (Actor)

The Pacific Century 1992 - 1993 (TV Show)

Actor

The 62nd Annual Academy Awards 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

The 58th Annual Academy Awards Presentation 1985 - 1986 (TV Show)

Actor

75 Years of Cinema Museum 1971 (Movie)

Himself (Actor)
Editor (1)

Ran 1985 (Movie)

(Editor)

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.

Relationships

Isamu Kurosawa

Father
born in Akita Prefecture, Japan of samurai descent died on February 8, 1948 graduated from Toyama Imperial Military Academy

Shima Kurosawa

Mother
from family of merchants had eight children - four sons and four daughters (Akira was the youngest) died November 4, 1952

Kazuko Kurosawa

Daughter
born on April 29, 1954 worked on several of her father's films

Hisao Kurosawa

Son
born on December 20, 1945 produced several of his father's films

Heigo Kurosawa

Brother
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"

Masayasu Kurosawa

Brother
eldest brother

Momoyo Kurosawa

Sister
youngest sister died in 1920 at age 16

Yoko Yaguchi

Wife
married in 1945 at Meiji shrine (Tokyo) shrine was bombed by US fighters the following morning died February 1, 1985 at age 63, during production on "Ran" (1985) appeared in his film "The Most Beautiful" (1944)

EDUCATION

Kuroda

primary school; class president; introduced to fine arts by school principal, Seiji Tachikawa

Doshusha School of Western Painting

Morimura Gakuen

primary school

Keika Middle School

1922 - 1927
graduated; failed course in compulsory military training

Milestones

1993

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

1991

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

1990

Wrote and directed "Akira Kurosawa's Dreams"

1989

Awarded honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement

1986

Made Fellow of British Film institute

1985

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

1985

Scripted "Runaway Train", directed by Andrei Konchalovsky

1985

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

1978

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

1975

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

1970

Hospitalized in ill health, attempted suicide on December 22

1969

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

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

1959

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

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

1948

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

1942

Film directing debut with "Sugata Sanshiro/Sanshiro Sugata"

1940

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

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

1936

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

1932

Left Artists' League

1929

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

1928

Painting accepted by Nitten exhibition

Wrote seven scripts that won awards but were not filmed and were often censored

Co-founded independent production company, "Yonki no Kai/The Four Musketeers" in the late 1960s

Co-founded Film Art Association/Eiga Geijutsu Kyokai

Bonus Trivia

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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.

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"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)

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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.

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

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

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

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