A beginner’s guide to Kurosawa’s best films
A man known to be somewhat of an introvert in his growing up days, he was best known for his exquisite storytelling techniques!
Japanese cinema would have never reached the heights it has achieved today without a master filmmaker like Akira Kurosawa (1910-98).
Some of his best works include:
Drunken Angel (1948)
This post-war drama, made during the American occupation of Japan, and marked the first in a long series of collaborations between Kurosawa and the actor Toshiro Mifune. Here Mifune plays a gangster who contracts tuberculosis and develops a bond with the hard-drinking doctor who diagnosed him.
Rashomon is the film that marked the beginning of Kurosawa’s international fame, as well as serving as an introduction to Japanese film for a foreign audience after it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and an honorary Oscar in 1951 and 1952 respectively. The plot revolves around four characters giving different accounts of the same occurrence, leading the audience to question the nature of truth, motivation, interpretation and recollection.
The main character of Ikiru (which means ‘to live’), played by Takashi Shimura, is a terminally ill bureaucrat who attempts to find a meaning and purpose to life before he passes away. It is very loosely inspired by Tolstoy’sThe Death of Ivan Ilyich.
Seven Samurai (1954)
The film is about a village under attack from a group of bandits. The villagers decide to hire seven wandering samurai to defeat the thugs before they can steal their crops. With a running time of over 200 minutes, Kurosawa’s first samurai film is a quintessential action film, and that influenced Japanese cinema and Hollywood.
Throne of Blood (1957)
In Kurosawa’s version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the chief is introduced to the audience as living in feudal Japan. It is best remembered for the striking scene in which Mifune’s character, Macbeth’s equivalent, meets his death in a hail of arrows.
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
The story stars two humorous bumbling peasants who find themselves caught up in a major conflict involving a princess and rival warring factions, which makes you think of how R2-D2 and C-3PO got unwittingly mixed up in an epic battle between good and evil.
High and Low (1963)
This tense police procedural drama focuses on the kidnapping of a successful businessman’s son, all within the broader context of a society that was rapidly becoming more affluent and seeing an increasingly pronounced wealth gap.
Red Beard (1965)
Set in the 19th century, the story concerns a young doctor who is being trained by an older physician, and their various interactions with patients and each other. Kurosawa demonstrates the care and compassion that should be shown to all humans, regardless of status or wealth.
Based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, Ran was the most complex and expensive film of Kurosawa’s career. This is all the more impressive when one considers that Kurosawa was 75 years old during the making of the film.