Jean-Luc Godard, John Milius, and Werner Herzog visiting Akira Kurosawa at the New York’s Plaza Hotel in the early 80’.
After Kagemusha won the [Palme d’Or at the 1980] Cannes International Film Festival, until 1982, Kurosawa traveled extensively in Europe and the United States, meeting filmmakers everywhere he went and being warmly welcomed. While he was staying in New York’s Plaza Hotel, he received many surprise visitors, including film greats Jean-Luc Godard, John Milius, Werner Herzog, and Martin Scorsese. The combination of Godard and Kurosawa was unusual. Probably he was invited along by Milius and went out of curiosity. Producer Tom Luddy might have come with them as well. We had heard that Milius was a Kurosawa fan, and Kurosawa also had good things to say about his The Wind and the Lion. Milius asked Kurosawa to teach him the martial art of kendo, or Japanese fencing, and did Mifune impersonations, but Godard only sat looking on, smiling, and never spoke to Kurosawa.
Another unusual visitor was the German director Werner Herzog, whose name was then unfamiliar to Kurosawa. There was a book he wanted to give Kurosawa, said Herzog, but he hadn’t been able to find it in the book store and he had a plane to catch, so he had just dropped by to pay his respects. Then the next day, I think it was, he made a special trip to hand-deliver the book—having gone to the trouble of altering his flight reservations to do so. I believe it was a book of drawings. In any case, Kurosawa found this gesture deeply moving. Later, in Japan, Kurosawa took the first opportunity to go see Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and was overwhelmed by its tenacious energy. —Teruyo Nogami, Waiting on the Weather: Making Movies with Akira Kurosawa
All in all, Waiting on the Weather is a marvellous source of information about Kurosawa’s life and working methods, and also the most personal of all Kurosawa publications currently available in English. It may not be quite as extensive as some of the other volumes listed here, but it certainly gives one a behind-the-scenes look in a way that no other book available in English has given. It is also a delightful and light read, which should definitely find its place on every Kurosawa fan’s bookshelf. —Books on Akira Kurosawa
‘Movie Masterclass’ series was based on a format that I devised as Head of Direction at UK’s National Film & Television School. Initially it was called ‘Steenbeck Analysis’ because the film was put on a Steenbeck editing machine. In an 8-hour day we would scrutinise some 20 minutes of the film - it was a living entity, the more we examined it, the more it revealed. It was an exhilarating experience. Students couldn’t have enough of it. The analysis of Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI was the students’ favourite.
Kurosawa Productions later bought the programme and it was aired on NHK TV.
For more information about Mamoun, his work and Masterclasses, visit http://moviemasterclass.wordpress.com/
The making of Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (1960).
Suntory Whiskey commercials with Akira Kurosawa and Francis Ford Coppola.
The Movie King. The Emperor. Even at their height, words fail to capture the towering legacy of a master like Akira Kurosawa. Growing up with a movie fanatic father, the writer/director was educated with thousands of silent films, and he would go on to make perhaps more masterpieces than any other singular filmmaking force.
Previously on Cinephilia & Beyond:
More: Akira Kurosawa
“Before he discovered filmmaking, a young Akira Kurosawa dreamed of the life of a painter. Kurosawa harbored aspirations of being a painter throughout his youth, but unlike Fellini, a professional cartoonist turned master director was mostly self-trained. And when he made the turn toward a career in filmmaking, it was a dream that he refused to leave behind.
Instead, Kurosawa brought the talents and techniques of a painter to his filmmaking. With a phenomenal eye for framing remarkable shots, a fine understanding of contrast and, in his later works, an ability to manipulate vivid color to outstanding emotional effect that only a handful of filmmakers could aspire to, Kurosawa cemented his legacy as not only a powerful storyteller, but a director whose raw visual power is nearly unmatched.
Kurosawa hand painted the storyboards and character studies for his films for some time, committing to paper images that would later spring to life on the screen. As a painter and filmmaker, Kurosawa stuck to his own style, informed heavily by traditional Japanese painting as well as European impressionists and expressionists, another arena of art where he answered to both eastern and western influences. These painstakingly crafted paintings formed the visual backbone of some of Kurosawa’s most lasting achievements.”
The essential documentaries on Akira Kurosawa, including Chris Marker’s AK: Akira Kurosawa (A.K. ドキュメント黒澤明, 1985), Akira Kurosawa: My Life in Cinema (1993), and Kurosawa: The Last Emperor (1999).
Chris Marker’s documentary is an epic — a portrait of Kurosawa during the making of his most ambitious and expensive picture. You see the Sensei director in front of JCBs, great earth-moving machines… You see massive sets, hundreds of extras, the Plains of Gotenba…
In a long dialogue, Nagisa Oshima interviews Akira Kurosawa, leading him to share his thoughts about filmmaking, his life and works, and numerous anecdotes relating to his films and his various film activities (Akira Kurosawa: My Life in Cinema, 1993).
Ours (Kurosawa: The Last Emperor, 1999), though it has a rather grand title, is more about the personal. There’s a selection of directors who talk about Kurosawa’s influence on their work — John Woo, Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Coppola, Paul Verhoeven, Arturo Ripstein, Andrei Konchalovsky… plus the inimitable Mike Hodges, who was young Kurosawa’s fencing teacher in turn-of-the-century Japan. And there are sections on TORA TORA TORA, the film he didn’t make; on the making of AME AGARU (one of his last screenplays) by his former collaborators; and on MADADAYO - his last film, the story of an intensely tedious and sentimental old schoolteacher.
Paul Verhoeven does a mini-lecture about RASHOMON, Ms. Nogami shows how they did the final “Arrows” scene in THRONE OF BLOOD, the actors talk about SEVEN SAMURAI and RAN, Nakadai-san discusses the creation of his character in YOJIMBO, there’s IKIRU, KAGEMUSHA, RED BEARD, RAN… I realize there’s a preponderance of samurai and period films, but that’s the way it is. I would have liked to include THE BAD SLEEP WELL and more of the early films, and a scene from SANSHIRO SUGATA. — Alex Cox
Kurosawa on Screenwriting:
‘With a good script a good director can produce a masterpiece; with the same script a mediocre director can make a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. That is what makes a real movie. The script must be something that has the power to do this.’
‘In order to write scripts, you must first study the great novels and dramas of the world. You must consider why they are great. Where does the emotion come from that you feel as you read them? What degree of passion did the author have to have, what level of meticulousness did he have to command, in order to portray the characters and events as he did? You must read thoroughly, to the point where you can grasp all these things. You must also see the great films. You must read the great screenplays and study the film theories of the great directors. If your goal is to become a film director, you must master screenwriting.’
‘A good structure for a screenplay is that of the symphony, with its three or four movements and differing tempos. Or one can use the Noh play with its three-part structure: jo (introduction), ha (destruction) and kyu (haste). If you devote yourself fully to Noh and gain something good from this, it will emerge naturally in your films. The Noh is a truly unique art form that exists nowhere else in the world. I think the Kabuki, which imitates it, is a sterile flower. But in a screenplay, I think the symphonic structure is the easiest for the people of today to understand.’
‘Something that you should take particular notice of is the fact that the best scripts have very few explanatory passages. Adding explanation to the descriptive passages of a screenplay is the most dangerous trap you can fall into. It’s easy to explain the psychological state of a character at a particular moment, but it’s very difficult to describe it through the delicate nuances of action and dialogue. Yet it is not impossible. A great deal about this can be learned from the study of the great plays, and I believe the “hard-boiled” detective novels can also be very instructive.’
‘I began writing scripts with two other people around 1940. Up until then I wrote alone, and found that I had no difficulties. But in writing alone there is a danger that your interpretation of another human being will suffer from one-sidedness. If you write with two other people about that human being, you get at least three different viewpoints on him, and you can discuss the points on which you disagree. Also, the director has a natural tendency to nudge the hero and the plot along into a pattern that is the easiest one for him to direct. By writing with about two other people, you can avoid this danger also.’
‘I‘ve forgotten who it was that said creation is memory. My own experiences and the various things I have read remain in my memory and become the basis upon which I create something new. I couldn’t do it out of nothing. For this reason, since the time I was a young man I have always kept a notebook handy when I read a book. I write down my reactions and what particularly moves me. I have stacks and stacks of these college notebooks, and when I go off to write a script, these are what I read. Somewhere they always provide me with a point of breakthourgh. Even for single lines of dialogue I have taken hints from these notebooks. So what I want to say is, don’t read books while lying down in bed.’
‘A novel and a screenplay are entirely different things. The freedom for psychological description one has in writing a novel is particularly difficult to adapt to a screenplay without using narration.’
‘Characters in a film have their own existence. The filmmaker has no freedom. If he insists on his authority and is allowed to manipulate his characters like puppets, the film loses its vitality.’
‘At some point in the writing of every script I feel like giving the whole thing up. From my many experiences of writing screenplays, however, I have learned something: If I hold fast in the face of this blankness and despair, adopting the tactic of Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect, who glared at the wall that stood in his way until his legs became useless, a path will open up.’
‘Those who say an assistant director’s job doesn’t allow him any free time for writing are just cowards. Perhaps you can write only one page a day, but if you do it every day, at the end of the year you’ll have 365 pages of script. I began in this spirit, with a target of one page a day. There was nothing I could do about the nights I had to work till dawn, but when I had time to sleep, even after crawling into bed I would turn out two or three pages. Oddly enough, when I put my mind to writing, it came more easily than I had thought it would, and I wrote quite a few scripts.’