Akira Kurosawa

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Producers, directors and media figures

In this Japanese name, the family name is Kurosawa.
Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa on set
Born March 23, 1910(1910-03-23)
Shinagawa, Tokyo, Japan
Died September 6, 1998 (aged 88) (stroke)
Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan
Occupation director, producer & screenwriter
Spouse(s) Yôko Yaguchi (1945-1985)

Akira Kurosawa ( Kyūjitai: 黒澤 明, Shinjitai: 黒沢 明 Kurosawa Akira ?, 23 March 1910 6 September 1998) was a prominent Japanese filmmaker, film producer, and screenwriter. His first credited film ( Sanshiro Sugata) was released in 1943; his last ( Madadayo) in 1993. His many awards include the Légion d'Honneur and an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement.

Early life

Akira Kurosawa was born to Isamu and Shima Kurosawa on March 23, 1910. He was the youngest of eight children born to the Kurosawas in a suburb of Tokyo. Shima Kurosawa was forty years old at the time of Akira's birth and his father Isamu was forty-five. Akira Kurosawa grew up in a household with three older brothers and four older sisters. Of his three older brothers, one died before Akira was born and one was already grown and out of the household. One of his four older sisters had also left the home to begin her own family before Kurosawa was born. Kurosawa's next-oldest sibling, a sister he called "Little Big Sister," also died suddenly after a short illness when he was ten years old.

Kurosawa's father worked as the director of a junior high school operated by the Japanese military and the Kurosawas descended from a line of former samurai. Financially, the family was above average. Isamu Kurosawa embraced western culture both in the athletic programs that he directed and by taking the family to see films, which were then just beginning to appear in Japanese theaters. Later, when Japanese culture turned away from western films, Isamu Kurosawa continued to believe that films were a positive educational experience.

In primary school, Akira Kurosawa was encouraged to draw by a teacher who took an interest in mentoring his talents. His older brother, Heigo, had a profound impact on him. Heigo was very intelligent and won several academic competitions, but also had what was later called a cynical or dark side. In 1923, the Great Kantō earthquake destroyed Tokyo and left 100,000 people dead. In the wake of this event, Heigo, 17, and Akira, 13, made a walking tour of the devastation. Corpses of humans and animals were piled everywhere. When Akira would attempt to turn his head away, Heigo urged him not to. According to Akira, this experience would later instruct him that to look at a frightening thing head-on is to defeat its ability to cause fear.

Heigo eventually began a career as a benshi in Tokyo film theaters. Benshi narrated silent films for the audience and were a uniquely Japanese addition to the theatre experience. However, with the impact of talking pictures on the rise, benshi were losing work all over Japan. Heigo organized a benshi strike that failed. Akira was likewise involved in labor-management struggles, writing several articles for a radical newspaper while improving and expanding his skills as a painter and reading literature. Akira never considered himself a Communist, despite his activities that he later would describe as reckless.

When Akira Kurosawa was in his early 20s, his older brother Heigo committed suicide. Four months later, the oldest of Kurosawa's brothers also died, leaving Akira as the only surviving son of an original four at age 23.

Early career

Rashomon poster
Rashomon poster

In 1936, Kurosawa learned of an apprenticeship program for directors through a major film studio, PCL (which later became Toho). He was hired and worked as an assistant director to Kajiro Yamamoto. After his directorial debut with Sanshiro Sugata, his next few films were made under the watchful eye of the wartime Japanese government and sometimes contained nationalistic themes. For instance, The Most Beautiful is a propaganda film about Japanese women working in a military optics factory. Judo Saga 2 portrays Japanese judo as superior to western (American) boxing.

His first post-war film No Regrets for Our Youth, by contrast, is critical of the old Japanese regime and is about the wife of a left-wing dissident who is arrested for his political leanings. Kurosawa made several more films dealing with contemporary Japan, most notably Drunken Angel and Stray Dog. However, it was his period film Rashomon that made him internationally famous and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Directorial approach

Kurosawa had a distinctive cinematic technique, which he had developed by the 1950s, and which gave his films a unique look. He liked using telephoto lenses for the way they flattened the frame and also because he believed that placing cameras farther away from his actors produced better performances. He also liked using multiple cameras, which allowed him to shoot an action scene from different angles. Another Kurosawa trademark was the use of weather elements to heighten mood: for example the heavy rain in the opening scene of Rashomon, and the final battle in Seven Samurai, the intense heat in Stray Dog, the cold wind in Yojimbo, the snow in Ikiru, and the fog in Throne of Blood. Kurosawa also liked using frame wipes, sometimes cleverly hidden by motion within the frame, as a transition device.

He was known as "Tenno", literally "Emperor", for his dictatorial directing style. He was a perfectionist who spent enormous amounts of time and effort to achieve the desired visual effects. In Rashomon, he dyed the rain water black with calligraphy ink in order to achieve the effect of heavy rain, and ended up using up the entire local water supply of the location area in creating the rainstorm. In the final scene of Throne of Blood, in which Mifune is shot by arrows, Kurosawa used real arrows shot by expert archers from a short range, landing within centimetres of Mifune's body. In Ran, an entire castle set was constructed on the slopes of Mt. Fuji only to be burned to the ground in a climactic scene.

Other stories include demanding 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.

His perfectionism also showed in his approach to costumes: he felt that giving an actor a brand new costume made the character look less than authentic. To resolve this, he often gave his cast their costumes weeks before shooting was to begin and required them to wear them on a daily basis and "bond with them." In some cases, such as with Seven Samurai, where most of the cast portrayed poor farmers, the actors were told to make sure the costumes were worn down and tattered by the time shooting started.

Kurosawa did not believe that "finished" music went well with film. When choosing a musical piece to accompany his scenes, he usually had it stripped down to one element (e.g., trumpets only). Only towards the end of his films are more finished pieces heard.


A notable feature of Kurosawa's films is the breadth of his artistic influences. Some of his plots are based on William Shakespeare's works: "Ran" is loosely based on King Lear, Throne of Blood is based on Macbeth, while The Bad Sleep Well parallels Hamlet, but is not affirmed to be based on it. Kurosawa also directed film adaptations of Russian literary works, including The Idiot by Dostoevsky and The Lower Depths, a play by Maxim Gorky. Ikiru was inspired by Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and also has several resonances with Goethe's Faust. Dersu Uzala was based on the 1923 memoir of the same title by Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev. Story lines in Red Beard can be found in The Insulted and Humiliated by Dostoevsky.

High and Low was based on King's Ransom by American crime writer Ed McBain, Yojimbo may have been based on Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest and also borrows from American Westerns, and Stray Dog was inspired by the detective novels of Georges Simenon. When Kurosawa got to meet John Ford, an American film director commonly said to be the most influential to Kurosawa, Ford simply said, "You really like rain." Kurosawa responded, "You've really been paying attention to my films."

Despite criticism by some Japanese critics that Kurosawa was "too Western", he was deeply influenced by Japanese culture as well, including the Kabuki and Noh theaters and the Jidaigeki (period drama) genre of Japanese cinema.

His influence

Kurosawa's films have had a major influence on world cinema and continue to inspire filmmakers, and others, around the globe.

Seven Samurai

Western Film

Seven Samurai has been remade several times in assorted cinema genres, including Westerns, Science Fiction, and Chinese Martial Arts. The main versions, all of which directly use the same plot structure, comprise:

  • The Magnificent Seven (1960, Dir. John Sturges)
  • Beach of the War Gods (1973, Prod. Run Run Shaw)
  • Battle Beyond the Stars (1980, Prod. Roger Corman)
  • World Gone Wild (1988, Dir. Lee Katzin)

Indian movies

The film has inspired Indian films which feature similar plots:

  • Andha Naal
  • Khotay Sikkay
  • Rajkumar Santoshi's China Gate
  • Kamal Hassan's Virumaandi
  • Sholay (1975, Dir. Ramesh Sippy. )


The story was also used as inspiration in numerous novels, among them Stephen King's 5th Dark Tower novel, Wolves of the Calla.


Rashomon was also remade by Martin Ritt in 1964's The Outrage. The Tamil films Andha Naal (1954) and Virumaandi (2004), starring Kamal Hassan, employ a storytelling method similar to the one Kurosawa uses in Rashomon. In a more recent incarnation, the film " Hero" starring Jet Li, Ziyi Zhang, Tony Leung, and Maggie Cheung also features a 'Rashomon' style story. The 2005 animated film " Hoodwinked" applies the narrative structure of "Rashomon" to the story of " Little Red Riding Hood."

Rashomon not only helped open Japanese cinema to the world, but also entered the English language as a term for fractured, inconsistent narratives (see rashomon effect).


Yojimbo was the basis for the Sergio Leone western A Fistful of Dollars and two Bruce Willis films, prohibition-era Last Man Standing, and modern day Lucky Number Slevin.

The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress is an acknowledged influence on George Lucas's Star Wars films, in particular Episodes IV and VI and most notably in the characters of R2-D2 and C-3PO. Lucas also used a modified version of Kurosawa's wipe transition effect throughout the Star Wars saga.


During his most productive period, from the late 40s to the mid-60s, Kurosawa often worked with the same group of collaborators. Fumio Hayasaka composed music for seven of his films — notably Rashomon, Ikiru and Seven Samurai. Many of Kurosawa's scripts, including Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai and Ran were co-written with Hideo Oguni. Yoshiro Muraki was Kurosawa's production designer or art director for most of his films after Stray Dog in 1949, and Asakazu Nakai was his cinematographer on 11 films including Ikiru, Seven Samurai and Ran. Kurosawa also liked working with the same group of actors, especially Takashi Shimura, Tatsuya Nakadai, and Toshirō Mifune. His collaboration with the latter, which began with 1948's Drunken Angel and ended with 1965's Red Beard, is one of the most famous director-actor combinations in cinema history.

Later films

The film Red Beard marked a turning point in Kurosawa's career in more ways than one. In addition to being his last film with Mifune, it was his last in black-and-white. It was also his last as a major director within the Japanese studio system making roughly a film a year. Kurosawa was signed to direct a Hollywood project, Tora! Tora! Tora!; but 20th Century Fox replaced him with Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku before it was completed. His next few films were a lot harder to finance and were made at intervals of five years. The first, Dodesukaden, about a group of poor people living around a rubbish dump, was not a success.

After an attempted suicide, Kurosawa went on to make several more films, although he had great difficulty in obtaining domestic financing despite his international reputation. Dersu Uzala, made in the Soviet Union and set in Siberia in the early 20th century, was the only Kurosawa film made outside of Japan and not in the Japanese language. It is about the friendship of a Russian explorer and a nomadic hunter, and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Kagemusha, financed with the help of the director's most famous admirers, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, is the story of a man who is the body double of a medieval Japanese lord and takes over his identity after the lord's death. The film was awarded by the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival (which was shared this year with Bob Fosse's All That Jazz). Ran was the director's version of Shakespeare's King Lear, set in medieval Japan. It was by far the largest project of Kurosawa's late career, and he spent a decade planning it and trying to obtain funding, which he was finally able to do with the help of the French producer Serge Silberman. The film was an international success and is generally considered Kurosawa's last masterpiece. In an interview, Kurosawa said that he considered it to be the best film he ever made.

Kurosawa made three more films during the 1990s which were more personal than his earlier works. Dreams is a series of vignettes based on his own dreams. Rhapsody in August is about memories of the Nagasaki atomic bomb and his final film, Madadayo, is about a retired teacher and his former students. Kurosawa died of a stroke in Setagaya, Tokyo, at age 88.

After the Rain (雨あがる Ame Agaru ?) is a 1998 posthumous film directed by Kurosawa's closest collaborator, Takashi Koizumi, co-produced by Kurosawa Production (Hisao Kurosawa) and starring Tatsuya Nakadai and Shiro Mifune, son of Toshirō Mifune. Screenplay, script and dialogues were both written by Kurosawa himself. The story is based on a short novel by Shugoro Yamamoto, Ame Agaru.

Personal life

Kurosawa's wife was actress Yoko Yaguchi. He had two children with her: a son named Hisao and a daughter named Kazuko.

Kurosawa was a notoriously lavish gourmet, and spent huge quantities of money on film sets providing an incredibly large quantity of fine delicacies, especially meat, for the cast and crew, although the meat was sometimes left over from recording sound effects of the sound of blades cutting flesh in the many swordfight scenes.

He was a close friend of director Ishiro Honda, who directed the kaiju classic " Gojira."


  • 1951 – Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Rashomon
  • 1951 – Academy Honorary Award (from 1956 on Best Foreign Language Film) for Rashomon
  • 1954 – Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Seven Samurai
  • 1965 – Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts
  • 1975 – Academy Award: Best Foreign Language Film for Dersu Uzala
  • 1980 – Palme D'or at the Cannes Film Festival for Kagemusha
  • 1982 - Japan Foundation: Japan Foundation Award.
  • 1982 – Career Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival
  • 1984 – Légion d'honneur
  • 1990 – Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize
  • 1990 – Honorary Academy Award
  • 2006 – 10th Iran Cinema Celebration, Special honour


Year Title Japanese Romanization
1943 Sanshiro Sugata
aka Judo Saga
姿三四郎 Sugata Sanshirō
1944 The Most Beautiful 一番美しく Ichiban utsukushiku
1945 Sanshiro Sugata Part II
aka Judo Saga 2
續姿三四郎 Zoku Sugata Sanshirô
The Men Who Tread On the Tiger's Tail 虎の尾を踏む男達 Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi
1946 No Regrets for Our Youth わが青春に悔なし Waga seishun ni kuinashi
One Wonderful Sunday 素晴らしき日曜日 Subarashiki nichiyōbi
1948 Drunken Angel 酔いどれ天使 Yoidore tenshi
1949 The Quiet Duel 静かなる決闘 Shizukanaru ketto
Stray Dog 野良犬 Nora inu
1950 Scandal 醜聞 Sukyandaru
aka Shūbun
Rashomon 羅生門 Rashōmon
1951 The Idiot 白痴 Hakuchi
1952 Ikiru
aka To Live
生きる Ikiru
1954 Seven Samurai 七人の侍 Shichinin no samurai
1955 I Live in Fear
aka Record of a Living Being
生きものの記録 Ikimono no kiroku
1957 Throne of Blood
aka Spider Web Castle
蜘蛛巣城 Kumonosu-jō
The Lower Depths どん底 Donzoko
1958 The Hidden Fortress 隠し砦の三悪人 Kakushi toride no san akunin
1960 The Bad Sleep Well 悪い奴ほどよく眠る Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru
1961 Yojimbo
aka The Bodyguard
用心棒 Yōjinbō
1962 Sanjuro 椿三十郎 Tsubaki Sanjūrō
1963 High and Low
aka Heaven and Hell
天国と地獄 Tengoku to jigoku
1965 Red Beard 赤ひげ Akahige
1970 Dodesukaden どですかでん Dodesukaden
1975 Dersu Uzala デルス・ウザーラ Derusu Uzāra
1980 Kagemusha 影武者 Kagemusha
1985 Ran Ran
1990 Dreams
aka Akira Kurosawa's Dreams
1991 Rhapsody in August 八月の狂詩曲 Hachigatsu no rapusodī
aka Hachigatsu no kyōshikyoku
1993 Madadayo
aka Not Yet
まあだだよ Mādadayo

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