May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
October 11, 2010
Over the next couple of weeks, PopMatters will be focusing on the life and work of Akira Kurosawa, including essays on every one of his films. And here’s how they’re kicking things off, with “A Giant Shadow: The Continuing Influence of Akira Kurosawa on World Cinema”:
To most outside of Japan, Kurosawa is synonymous with Japanese cinema. He was the first Japanese director whose films were remade in Hollywood and elsewhere, The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars finding their roots in Seven Samurai and Yojimbo respectively. George Lucas has stated that the narrative structure of the first Star Wars film was borrowed from Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress. It was an artistic debt Lucas later repaid his debt by—along with fellow self-proclaimed Kurosawa disciple Francis Ford Coppola—helping Kurosawa get funding for Kagemusha when no Japanese studio would provide financing).
But Kurosawa’s influence is much deeper than on this rather superficial level. Like Sergei Eisenstein and Alfred Hitchcock, Kurosawa originated film techniques that are still being used today. It is today commonplace for movies and, thanks to lighter, less expensive cameras, television series to be filmed with two or three cameras, a technique Kurosawa initiated in the battle scenes of Seven Samurai and continued in all films afterwards. Although not the first director to employ telephoto lenses for most principal photography, he was perhaps the most influential and certainly the most successful. He was the first director to use slow motion in action sequences, while Sam Peckinpah and other action directors credited scenes like the end of Throne of Blood, in which Toshiro Mifune’s character is assassinated by having hundreds of (live) arrows, many of which were embedded in his heavily padded armor, others landing only inches from him. Without Kurosawa, the end of The Wild Bunch or Bonnie and Clyde is inconceivable.
Like Hitchcock, he has managed to impress critics and influence directors while simultaneously delighting moviegoers. One of the truisms about today’s movie viewers is that they resist watching movies in black & white and actively avoid movies that are subtitled. Yet as this piece is being written,Seven Samurai is the 13th highest rated film by viewers on IMDB.com, easily the highest-rated subtitled film on IMDB’s Top 250 and the second highest black & white film (topped only by Schindler’s List and two spots ahead of Casablanca).