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Akira Kurosawa

The Much-Acclaimed Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa (born March 23, 1910, died September 6, 1998) is undoubtedly one of the most acclaimed Japanese filmmakers in the world. Recognized as a “modern” filmmaker, he used techniques combining ancient traditions with a distinctly contemporary twist.

Younger years

After leaving secondary school, Kurosawa attended art school and began painting using Western techniques. He moved on to becoming an assistant director in the PCL cinema studio in 1936. In 1943, he became an assistant to one of Japan’s prominent directors of WW II films, Yamamoto Kajirō. It was during this time that Kurosawa was recognized as a gifted screenwriter.

In 1943, Kurosawa was given the opportunity to direct and made his first feature film Sanshiro Sugata, where a Japanese judo master of 1880’s became highly successful. This was followed by Ichiban utsukushiku (The Most Beautiful), a story of girls working in an arsenal.  After WW II, the Allied occupation forces prohibited the release of most films dealing with Japan’s feudal past.

The cementing of international acclaim for Kurosawa was in 1951 during the Venice Film Festival when his film “Rashomom” was awarded the Grand Prix. The film also garnered an Academy Award for best foreign language film, the first instance where a Japanese film won international acclaim.

Daio Wasabi Farm in Kurosawa's "Dreams"

Daio Wasabi Farm in Kurosawa’s “Dreams”.

Artistic style

Kurosawa had a dynamic and bold style when creating his films that came from a strong influence from Western cinema, but with his own flair. He involved himself in all aspects of film production and worked closely with co-writers of the project to make sure it met his standards as he firmly believed that the script is the foundation of a good film.

Kurosawa’s artistic style can be defined by a number of techniques. His films from the 1940’s and 50’s often used the ”axial cut” ( the camera suddenly moves closer to or further away from its subject), “cut on motion” ( which displays the motion on the screen in two or more shots instead of one uninterrupted move), and the “wipe” (a type of film transition where one shot replaces another by travelling from one side of the frame to another).

Kurosawa was often the editor of his own films. His team, fondly known as the Kurosawa-gumi” (黒澤組, Kurosawa group), usually included Asakazu Nakai (cinematographer), Teruyo Nogami (production assistant), and Takashi Shimura (actor). They were all loyal to Kurosawa and collaborated in multiple projects.

Influence of other notable film makers

Several notable filmmakers were influenced by Kurosawa’s works. George Lucas, credits him  for enhancing his creative juices while working on Star Wars.  Federico Fellini considered Kurosawa to be “the greatest living example of all that an author of the cinema should be”.  Bernardo Bertolucci is quoted as saying “Kurosawa’s movies and La Dolce Vita of Fellini are the things that pushed me, sucked me into being a film director.”

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Read all about Japanese immersion learning and studying abroad. Check out our eZasshi archives for more articles!