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Akira Kurosawa Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trade Mark (9) | Trivia (39) | Personal Quotes (25)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 23 March 1910Tokyo, Japan
Date of Death 6 September 1998Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan  (stroke)
Nicknames The Emperor
Wind Man
Height 5' 11½" (1.82 m)

Mini Bio (1)

After training as a painter (he storyboards his films as full-scale paintings), Kurosawa entered the film industry in 1936 as an assistant director, eventually making his directorial debut with Sanshiro Sugata (1943). Within a few years, Kurosawa had achieved sufficient stature to allow him greater creative freedom. Drunken Angel (1948)--"Drunken Angel"--was the first film he made without extensive studio interference, and marked his first collaboration with Toshirô Mifune. In the coming decades, the two would make 16 movies together, and Mifune became as closely associated with Kurosawa's films as was John Wayne with the films of Kurosawa's idol, John Ford. After working in a wide range of genres, Kurosawa made his international breakthrough film Rashomon (1950) in 1950. It won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, and first revealed the richness of Japanese cinema to the West. The next few years saw the low-key, touching Ikiru (1952) (Living), the epic Seven Samurai (1954), the barbaric, riveting Shakespeare adaptation Throne of Blood (1957), and a fun pair of samurai comedies Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962). After a lean period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, though, Kurosawa attempted suicide. He survived, and made a small, personal, low-budget picture with Dodes'ka-den (1970), a larger-scale Russian co-production Dersu Uzala (1975) and, with the help of admirers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, the samurai tale Kagemusha (1980), which Kurosawa described as a dry run for Ran (1985), an epic adaptation of Shakespeare's "King Lear." He continued to work into his eighties with the more personal Dreams (1990), Rhapsody in August (1991) and Madadayo (1993). Kurosawa's films have always been more popular in the West than in his native Japan, where critics have viewed his adaptations of Western genres and authors (William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Maxim Gorky and Evan Hunter) with suspicion - but he's revered by American and European film-makers, who remade Rashomon (1950) as The Outrage (1964), Seven Samurai (1954), as The Magnificent Seven (1960), Yojimbo (1961), as Fistful of Dollars (1964) and The Hidden Fortress (1958), as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Michael Brooke <michael@everyman.demon.co.uk>

Spouse (1)

Yôko Yaguchi (21 May 1945 - 1 February 1985) (her death) (2 children)

Trade Mark (9)

Frequently uses the "wipe effect" to fade from one scene to another. This effect later became famous due to its usage in the Star Wars trilogy.
Likes to do Shakespearan plays in Feudal Japanese settings
Painterly compositions
Use of weather to heighten mood, most obviously rain
Female characters that are usually either sweet but weak and submissive or are deceitful, evil and conniving
Driven characters who frequently end up failing in the goals but ultimately learn hard won life lessons
His signature look on set: dark clothes, floppy hat and sunglasses
Revolutionary action sequences

Trivia (39)

His films are frequently copied and remade by American and European filmmakers.
In December 1971, after a period of suffering from mental fatigue and frustrated with a run of unsatisfying and sub par directing work, Kurosawa attempted suicide by slashing his wrist thirty times with a razor. Fortunately, the wounds were not fatal and he made a full recovery.
Because he could not get film financing for a period of time in his career, he directed and even appeared in Japanese television commercials.
At over 6' feet tall, he was extremely large by Japanese standards, having stood a head taller than any of his colleagues.
Although the Japanese press tried to paint him as a tyrant, almost all of his casts and crews agreed he was a much more cool and detached presence on sets. Many also described him as "intense".
He was voted the 6th greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly, making him one among only two Asians along with Satyajit Ray (who is ranked in 25th position) on a list of 50 directors and the highest ranking non-American.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890- 1945". Pages 583-605. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Kurosawa worshipped legendary American director John Ford, his primary influence as a filmmaker. When the two met, Ford was uncommonly pleasant to the younger Japanese filmmaker and after wards Kurosawa dressed in a similar fashion to Ford when on film sets.
Unbeknownst to many people, Kurosawa had always wanted to make a Godzilla film of his own, but the executives at Toho Co., Ltd. (the Japanese studio that produces all the Godzilla films) wouldn't let him because they feared it would cost too much.
According to his family, he rarely thought about anything other than films. Even when at home, he would sit around silently, apparently composing shots in his head.
Although he received an Honorary Award in 1990 "For cinematic accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained worldwide audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world," he was only nominated once for a Best Director Oscar for Ran (1985). Also, his only film to have ever received the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar was for Dersu Uzala (1975), which was also his only film not done in Japanese (it was in Russian).
He had a son Hisao (b. 20-Dec-1945), and a daughter, award-winning film costume designer Kazuko (b. 29-Apr-1954).
His Dodes'ka-den (1970), Dersu Uzala (1975) and Kagemusha (1980) were Oscar-nominated for "Best Foreign Language Film". "Dersu Uzala" won. Rashomon (1950) won an Honorary Award as the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1951.
Ranked #6 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Greatest directors ever!" [2005]
In the 1990s he referred to Kagemusha (1980), which some have considered a great film on its own, as a mere "dress rehearsal" for Ran (1985) (both are epics about failing emperors set roughly in the same historical era), with the latter film having been his passion for roughly a decade before he made it.
His two favorite actors to work with were apparently Takashi Shimura and, more famously, Toshirô Mifune. Kurosawa made 16 films with Mifune (almost always in a leading role) and 21 films with Shimura (in either a leading or supporting role).
He worked with most of his cast and crew members repeatedly, similarly to the way his idol John Ford used the same people again and again. When Kurosawa was at his working peak, it was widely thought that if he didn't work with an actor or crew member again, the implication was that he did not like them.
He was born the youngest of four children for Isamu and Shima Kurosawa. As a child, he revered his elder brother Heigo. While young Akira was mainly into painting, Heigo was a film-lover and worked as a "benshi", a narrator/ commentator for foreign silent films. Akira's love for film was handed down from his brother. Unfortunately, Heigo suffered from depression and committed suicide. Short thereafter, both Akira's eldest brother and only sister died from illnesses, leaving Akira the only remaining child. His siblings' deaths (particularly that of Heigo) was a traumatic experience for Akira and is thought to have considerably darkened his world view.
He was a fan of the films of Satyajit Ray.
Several of his films have been remade in America as westerns. Seven Samurai (1954) ("The Seven Samurai") was remade as The Magnificent Seven (1960), and Yojimbo (1961) ("The Bodyguard") was remade as Fistful of Dollars (1964). In addition, The Hidden Fortress (1958) ("The Hidden Fortress") was a major inspiration for the "Star Wars" saga, which takes many inspirations from westerns and is often referred to as a space western. Common story elements include Gen. Makabe, who became Obi-Wan Kenobi; Princess Yuki, who became Princess Leia and whose trick of disguising herself as a handmaiden would later be used by Queen Amidala; and the farmers from whose viewpoint the film is told, Matashichi and Tahei, whose constant bickering inspired C-3PO and R2-D2.
One his closest friends was Ishirô Honda, the writer-director behind Godzilla (1954).
He was infamous for his perfectionism. Among the related tales are his insisting a stream be made to run in the opposite direction in order to get a better visual effect, and having the roof of a house removed, later to be replaced, because he felt the roof's presence to be unattractive in a short sequence filmed from a train. He also required that all the actors in his period films had to wear their costumes for several weeks, daily, before filming so that they would look lived in.
Although his "samurai" films are considered the archetypal samurai films over the rest of the world, they were actually considered atypical in Japan. Most Japanese samurai films had been set in the 18th & 19th centuries, when a peaceful Japan was at the peak of its nationalism, with the largest number of bushido code-adhering samurai. Kurosawa's films typically feature individualistic "ronin" (masterless samurai) rather than true "samurai" and a majority are set in the far more chaotic feudal periods (16th-17th centuries) when the Japanese were engaged in civil war.
His favorite Japanese director was Kenji Mizoguchi.
He named the film that made him want to work in cinema as Abel Gance's film The Wheel (1923), particularly certain kinetic shots of trains.
He was a fan of the work of Sergei M. Eisenstein, who, like Kurosawa, edited his own films.
He believed his years as an assistant director were invaluable. In Japanese cinema at that time, assistant directors dabbled in virtually every aspect of film production and Kurosawa, among other things, learned all about editing, set-decorating, costume-design and working with actors. Almost all of the assistant directors in Kurosawa's day were aspiring to become full-fledged directors. He felt that it was a shame that, in more modern Japanese cinema and in America, the assistant director doesn't accrue as much experience and usually permanently stays as an assistant director throughout his career and that there would be a great number of excellent directors had they had his training.
Many of the characters in his period films were loosely based on historical figures.
He was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film culture.
Is not related to Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
His mentor was 'Kajiro Yamamoto'.
Awarded the French Legion of Honor, 1984.
Awarded the Kyoto Prize, 1994.
Father of Hisao Kurosawa.
Father of Kazuko Kurosawa.
Interviewed in "World Directors in Dialogue" by Bert Cardullo (Scarecrow Press, 2011).
A theoretical interpretation of his work can be found in "Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema" by James Goodwin, published by Johns Hopkins in 1994.
Like his fellow World Cinema masters, Ingmar Bergman (who started in live theater) and Federico Fellini (who started in journalism) he came to cinema via circumvention after working as a painter.
His family, when traced back a few generations, were samurais from the Akita Prefecture. Kurosawa said later that his father, who was tall, with a commanding presence and worked as a fitness instructor, had a bearing he thought was samurai-like. Unlike his father, Kurosawa himself was never athletically inclined.

Personal Quotes (25)

For me, film-making combines everything. That's the reason I've made cinema my life's work. In films painting and literature, theatre and music come together. But a film is still a film.
Human beings share the same common problems. A film can only be understood if it depicts these properly.
The characters in my films try to live honestly and make the most of the lives they've been given. I believe you must live honestly and develop your abilities to the full. People who do this are the real heros.
With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can't possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this.
In all my films, there's three or maybe four minutes of real cinema.
So long as my pictures are hits I can afford to be unreasonable. Of course, if they start losing money then I've made some enemies.
It is quite enough if a human being has but one field where he is strong. If a human being were strong in every field it wouldn't be nice for other people, would it?
Good Westerns are liked by everyone. Since humans are weak, they want to see good people and great heroes. Westerns have been done over and over again, and in the process a kind of grammar has evolved. I have learned much from this grammar of the Western.
I like unformed characters. This may be because, no matter how old I get, I am still unformed myself.
When I start on a film I always have a number of ideas about my project. Then one of them begins to germinate, to sprout, and it is this which I take and work with. My films come from my need to say a particular thing at a particular time. The beginning of any film for me is this need to express something. It is to make it nurture and grow that I write my script- it is directing it that makes my tree blossom and bear fruit.
Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing.
To have not seen the films of Ray is to have lived in the world without ever having seen the moon and the sun.
Being an artist means not having to avert one's eyes.
[on Mikio Naruse] Naruse's Method consists of staging one very brief shot after another; but when we look at them placed end-to-end in the finished film, they give the impression of one long single take. The fluidity is so perfect that the cuts are invisible . . . A flow of shots that looks calm and ordinary at first glance reveals itself to be like a deep river with a quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current.
I believe that what pertains only to myself is not interesting enough to record and leave behind me. More important is my conviction that if I were to write anything at all, it would turn out to be nothing but talk about movies. In other words, take 'myself', subtract 'movies', and the result is zero.
{on witnessing the aftermath of the 1923 Tokyo earthquake, and the ensuing riots] Amid the expanse of nauseating redness lay every kind of corpse imaginable. I saw corpses charred black, half-burned corpses, corpses in gutters, corpses floating in rivers, corpses piled up on bridges, corpses blocking off a whole street at an intersection, and every manner of death possible to human beings displayed by corpses. When I involuntarily looked away, my brother scolded me, "Akira, look carefully now". Looking back on that excursion now, I realize that it must have been horrifying for my brother, too. It had been an expedition to conquer fear.
[on Toshirô Mifune] Mifune had a kind of talent I had never encountered before in the Japanese film world. It was, above all, the speed with which he expressed himself that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet of film to get across an impression; Mifune needed only three. The speed of his movements was such that he said in a single action what took ordinary actors three separate movements to express. He put forth everything directly and boldly, and his sense of timing was the keenest I had ever seen in a Japanese actor. And yet with all his quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities.
[on his discovery of Toshirô Mifune during casting of Drunken Angel (1948)] I am a person who is rarely impressed by actors, but in the case of Mifune, I was completely overwhelmed.
[on Kenji Mizoguchi] Of all Japanese directors I have the greatest respect for him. . . . With the death of Mizoguchi, Japanese film lost its truest creator.
I begin rehearsals in the actors' dressing room. First I have them repeat their lines, and gradually proceed to the movements. But this is done with costumes and makeup on from the beginning; then we repeat everything on the set. The thoroughness of the rehearsals makes the actual shooting every time very short. We don't rehearse just the actors, but every part of every scene - the camera movements, the lightning, everything.
The role of a director encompasses the coaching of the actors, the cinematography, the sound recording, the art direction, the music, the editing and the dubbing and sound-mixing. Altough these can be thought of as separate occupations, I do not regard them as independent. I see them all melting together under the heading of direction
Unless you know every aspect and phase of the film-production process, you can't be a movie director. A movie director is like a front-line commanding officer. He needs a thorough knowledge of every branch of the service, and if he doesn't command each division, he cannot command the whole.
A film director has to convince a great number of people to follow him and work with him. I often say, although I am certainly not a militarist, that if you compare the production unit to an army, the script is the battle flag and the director is the commander of the front line. From the moment production begins to the moment it ends, there is no telling what will happen. The director must be able to respond to any situation, and he must have the leadership ability to make the whole unit go along with his responses.
Movie directors, or should I say people who create things, are very greedy and they can never be satisfied... That's why they can keep on working. I've been able to work for so long because I think next time, I'll make something good.
A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.

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