Awesome Men Throughout History: Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa is a name that we all hear a lot, usually without much in the way of context. For a lot of people, I think he’s just someone who their friends suddenly can’t shut about after a semester or two in film school, and that’s a damn shame. Kurosawa, I think you’ll find, was a pretty Awesome Dude in the world of film making.
Born in Tokyo, Kurosawa was introduced to film, including Western film, by his parents, and his older brother Heigo (who committed suicide in 1933) made silent films. After a brief career as a painter, Kurosawa took an assistant director job with PCL (which later became Toho Studios) and learned how to make movies. Kurosawa’s hands-on approach to making movies was developed at PCL, where he was tasked with stage construction, film development, location scouting, script polishing, dubbing, and second-unit directing.
Kurosawa also learned the benefits of good screenwriting at PCL, and went on to either write or co-write his own films, as well as screenplays for other directors.
Since Kurosawa made a ton of movies, more than a few of which are considered classics, we’ll focus on Seven Samurai, which is widely considered to be one of the best movies ever made, as well as the first modern action film that spawned a lot of now-familiar modern film tropes.
The film’s plot is simple—a farming village in 16th century Japan hires seven roaming samurai to protect their crops from bandits—but Kurosawa complicated it with story elements that had never been combined into one movie before, such as recruiting a scattered team of misfit heroes to accomplish a specific goal (later seen in movies like Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job), and introducing a main hero with a task unrelated to the rest of the film’s plot.
Seven Samurai was a landmark achievement in film production, as well. Despite the Phoenix Wright-esque objections of the studio, Kurosawa had a set built on the Izu Peninsula so he could shoot on location, figuring that a realistic set would be a good influence on the actors (a theory he’d put to use for an earlier film, The Most Beautiful). Kurosawa also used several cameras during his action scenes, so he could capture them from multiple angles, a trick that is now synonymous with action films.
Not only was Seven Samurai a huge success in Japan, it made its way over to America, where it set a whole new standard for film. John Sturges flat-out remade it as a western with The Magnificent Seven, and directors like Martin Scorcese, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas (who made Star Wars partly as an homage to Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress) hailed Kurosawa as a mentor and an unparalleled master of film making. They also helped finance his later films and get international distribution for his work, hence his enduring reputation in the States.
If nothing else, we all have Akira Kurosawa to thank for a lot of the more badass characters and action sequences we’ve enjoyed in Hollywood blockbusters over the years, but he really did contribute a lot more to modern film. Here’s a 99th birthday tribute to him, featuring George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and weirdly enough, Pat Sajak.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.