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Akira Kurosawa

...because he may or may not be the most “western” of Japan’s great directors, but he’s undoubtedly had the most influence on American and European cinema. Best known for his samurai films, Kurosawa often used his action narratives to reflect on the theme of heroism in the face of moral dilemma. His storytelling offers some of the earliest examples of cinematic fusion, often reflecting an appreciation for American film genres such as westerns and film noir, as well as featuring adaptations of works by Shakespeare. In turn, Kurosawa’s films have inspired directors such as George Lucas, Sergio Leone, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino – to name just a few.



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As a director, Kurosawa pioneered the use of action sequences in film to the point where he is often credited as the founder of the modern genre. In films such as "Yojimbo" and "Seven Samurai," fast-paced action scenes function as a means to thrill the audience while also developing the story and characters. His other trademarks include heightening mood through atmosphere and changes in weather, as well as editing techniques such as wipe effects. And perhaps no other director besides Hitchcock has paid such meticulous attention to shot composition. A trained artist, Kurosawa turned his storyboards into detailed paintings. In his films, the camera makes full use of the frame to convey as much information as possible within the bounds of Kurosawa’s aesthetic style.

For Kurosawa, a film’s quality depended almost entirely on its script. Good storytelling is essential to every one of his films, though he was also innovative in employing different narrative techniques and devices. "Rashomon," for example, famously featured the same central event retold as stories from four different perspectives, each one differing from the rest in terms of the crucial action. A film such as "Seven Samurai" does not feature a central character, instead exploring how each of the seven heroes presents a characteristic of human behavior. Even when he ventured outside the samurai genre, Kurosawa continued to find new ways to tell his stories. In "High and Low," the narrative divides into two distinct halves, focusing on two different characters within the same plot. And if further proof were needed of Kurosawa’s skill as a storyteller, his films have been remade and reinterpreted by countless other directors.

Before Japanese fusion was a restaurant trend, Kurosawa was applying the same principles to his films. His work often combined American and European narrative styles with Japanese traditions and culture. In doing so, he made his films into a reflection on his society’s evolution in the aftermath of World War II. While he is best known for his samurai films, these demonstrated Kurosawa’s fascination with the American western genre. As such, the samurai film transforms into a dialogue between the samurai’s code of honor and more modern ideals of heroism and masculinity. He also adapted Shakespeare’s "Macbeth" and "King Lear," transferring their stories settings from the medieval Britain to Japanese feudal society, as well as works by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. For "Yojimbo," arguably his most influential film, Kurosawa drew inspiration from Dashiell Hammett’s crime novel "Red Harvest." In addition to the samurai films, Kurosawa also tried working in other genres such as noir, thrillers and even comedies. While this has caused many to label Kurosawa as a “westernized” director, a more positive view reveals him as opening a discussion between Japanese culture and the European tradition, or even as one of the first truly global filmmakers.

Kurosawa studied art before joining the film industry and often painted in the Western style. He also studied literature and political philosophy. He entered the film industry in 1936 as an assistant director to Yamamoto Kajirō, one of Japan's major directors of World War II films. He was promoted to director in 1943 and made his debut film "Sanshiro Sugata" to great popular success.

Kurosawa often collaborated with actors Toshirō Mifune and Takashi Shimura, casting the former in 16 films and the latter in 21 films. He also worked often with cinematographer Asakazu Nakai and composer Fumio Hayasaka.

Kurosawa's breakthrough film "Rashomon" (1950) won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival and an honorary Academy Award for most outstanding foreign language film. It was the first time a Japanese film found worldwide distribution through a Hollywood studio, and the international acclaim for "Rashomon" opened up western audiences to Japanese films.

Was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1990 for cinematic accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained worldwide audiences, and has influenced filmmakers throughout the world including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who presented Kurosawa with his honorary Oscar.

Kurosawa's films often explore the idea of heroism. His characters are faced with moral and social dilemmas and for them the choice is to act for the greater good of humanity. He is able to portray this theme in various ways, from samurai epics to contemporary stories about the working class and police procedurals. Kurosawa's early films also dealt with Japanese culture during and directly after World War II, and showcased pro-war motifs from militaristic Japan as well as influences from the introduction of democracy and the American occupation of Japan.

Kurosawa's attraction to western literature has had a direct influence on many of his films. "Throne of Blood" and "Ran" are based off of William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and "King Lear," respectively, and the novels "Red Harvest" and "King's Ransom" were adapted into the films "Yojimbo" and "High and Low."

Experimented with and helped pioneer the use of long lenses and multiple cameras in the famous battle scenes of his films. Introduced the first use of widescreen in Japan with his 1958 samurai film "Hidden Fortress." Also pioneered the use of Panavision and multi-track Dolby sound in Japan with his film "Kagemusha." Brought a realistic portrayal of sword-fighting and violence to the samurai genre.

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Everything I Know About Filmmaking I Learned Watching Seven Samurai

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Seven Samurai (BFI Film Classics)

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Seven Samurai: The Ultimate Film Guide

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The Master: The Art of Akira Kurosawa

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Akira Kurosawa: From Samurais to Shakespeare

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Interview with Akira Kurosawa

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Comparing Akira Kurosawa’s Early and Late Films

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Akira Kurosawa Focused on Individual, Ethical Dilemmas

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Akira Kurosawa > Quotes

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The Brush and the Lens – Kurosawa As Painter and Filmmaker

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A Giant Shadow – The Continuing Influence of Akira Kurosawa on World Cinema

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Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well: Analysis, Drawings and Diagrams

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Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema

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Akira Kurosawa Drawings: Image

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Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema (Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society)

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The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune

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Rashomon: Akira Kurosawa, Director (Rutgers Films in Print series)

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Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema

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The Warrior’s Camera

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The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Third Edition, Expanded and Updated

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Something Like An Autobiography

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