For my blog post on Japanese popular culture, I decided to write about one of the most influential figures in Japanese cinema: Akira Kurosawa. Why is he considered one of Japan’s greatest directors? Basically, he is well known for his movies, many considered masterpieces such as Rashomon, and High and Low. If those do not immediately sound fmailiar, you’ll probably now him for Seven Samurai, the film that was remade in the United States as The Magnificent Seven.
Kurosawa was born in 1910 in Tokyo. Though he initially tried his hand at a painter, he decided to enter the Japanese film industry intstead during the 1930′s. His first film as a director, released during World War II was Sanshiro Sugata, or Judo Saga. This, and his other films made during the this time, tended to avoid the war as subject matter and focus on more timeless themes instead. Because of this, the Japanese government tried to censor parts of his works for being to western. Ironically, when the United States began its occupation of Japan, his films made during this era were again censored for being too entrenched in feudalism.
In the 1950′s, he released his most well-known movies. Rashomon, a crime story that portrayed the same series of events from multiple perspectives, was released in 1950 and was so well received in earned an honorary Academy Award, as there was no award for foreign language film. Seven Samurai, another one of his best known movies, gave us the story about a band of fighters that come together to defend a small town from injustice. Not only did this film give us another classic in The Magnificent Seven, but other more recent movies like The Three Amigos and A Bug’s Life are also based on the formula that Kurosawa gave us.
What is interesting though, is that as much as the North America and Europe have come to embrace his work, in Japan itself, his films are not as popular. While still generally respected, his movies have been regarded as being too elitist and produced to cater to Western tastes. However, that does not mean he hasn’t greatly influenced other Japanese film makers. For example, the revered Japanese director (and creator of the game show Takeshi’s Castle, which was brought to the US as MXC) Takeshi Kitano has been known to use what can be described as Kurosawa-esque film techniques. In fact, most prominent Japanese film makers- and American film makers for that matter- have all been influenced by Kurosawa in some way.
All in all, I think it might be safe to say that Akira Kurosawa may be one of the most important figures in Japanese cinema. Plus, Michael Cera likes him, so you know he’s got to be a good director.