At some point in the last year or so, I’ve come to view Kurosawa as the best director in the world. He’s not necessarily my favorite (hello, Ingmar Bergman) but in the pure terms of the artistic value of his films, combined with entertainment value, I don’t think you can top Kurosawa. Why do I say this?XX
1. He was a rebel
Themes of rebellion are all over the place in his movies. High and Low, The Lower Depths, Ikiru, and The Bad Sleep Well have very poignant, very sharp critiques of greed and monopoly capitalism. Protagonists in films like Yojimbo/Sanjuro and Seven Samurai are badass outsiders.
2. His films translate well in the west
In fact, his films translate so well in the west that critics in Japan broke his chops for not making traditional Japanese films. But consider- Kurosawa was making films in post-World War II Japan and had to mold whatever message he had in an acceptable way for American censors. And he still managed to get through critiques of greed and capitalism.
Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven. Yojimbo became A Fistful of Dollars. His brilliant conflicting-story epic, Rashomon, was re-made as the very underrated, unknown The Outrage. And let’s not forget that Star Wars owes a good deal to The Hidden Fortress.
3. His films were technical masterpieces
This is one of those fun little things I’ve learned from commentary (thank you, Criterion). Watch the way so many of his shots work. There’s a beautiful choreography that goes on between foreground and background. Or watch some of the breathtaking exterior scenes he captures, particularly the way shadow and light play with one another. Watch the astounding close-ups that he uses to milk every last drop of humanity out of the character. He was a master behind the camera.
4. Kurosawa had a proper appreciation for classical literature
Literature Kurosawa tackled at various times:
- Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot
- King Lear
5. Few directors, if any, capture humanity the way Kurosawa did
The two best examples that come to my mind are Dodes’ka-Den and Stray Dog. Both films give you powerful insight in to the slums, into the characters in the slums. Ikiru is another beautiful example. As much as that film is about one man’s character arc from cold bureaucrat to philanthropist, it’s also about the way people respond to him at various points along the arc. Or check out High and Low, which takes a very dramatic situation- a kidnapped child- and gives you deep insight into the reason/cold calculation of the police, the father’s debate over the various options to get the child back (and the vengeance that boils underneath the surface), the employee whose behavior led to the kidnapping, etc.
6. The dude simply didn’t make a bad movie
I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Lower Depths, at least the story in the film. Even then, the pure art of filmmaking is tighter than a frog’s asshole. And we’re not talking about, say, PT Anderson, who has made some fantastic films but only has 5 or so to his credit. Through Netflix alone, you can watch 20+ films by Kurosawa. I’ve banged out 16 and not one has been a dud. Not one has even been so much as average.
You get the point. Kurosawa was a master filmmaker. If you ever see a list of top directors and he’s not on that list, you should immediately wipe your ass with that list.
6 responses to “Akira Kurosawa, how do I heart thee? Let me count the ways”
Good points all.
Mr. Kurosawa was pretty amazing, it’s true.
Yesterday would’ve been his 100th birthday.
Hey, I’m a Netflix refugee. I’m also on Facebook: Elisabeth Fies
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“If you ever see a list of top directors and he’s not on that list, you should immediately wipe your ass with that list.”
I concur, good sir, I concur.