Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Rashomon

Great Directors: Akira Kurosawa

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Essential films: Seven Samurai, Ikiru, Throne of Blood, Rashomon, and many more.

By the end of his career, Kurosawa, as his detractors are quick to point out, was much less popular in Japan than he was in the West, and there’s a good case to be made that his mainstream success among American audiences—as opposed to the art house appeal of Ozu and Mizoguchi—was at least partially due to a sort of orientalist fascination with swords and samurais. “If an American director proved so content to film nothing but battles and their context,” David Thomson notes, “there would be eyebrows raised.” Perhaps. But Kurosawa’s very exoticism—in terms of subject matter, not filmmaking, which is as accessible as that of any director who ever lived—is what allowed Western audiences to embrace a kind of pure, exuberant storytelling that might have seemed unfashionable in their own language.

Because Kurosawa is the greatest storyteller in cinema, and no other director—not even Spielberg—has displayed such mastery of all elements of filmmaking in the service of unforgettable stories. The finest Kurosawa films are so simple in their broad outlines, and so complex in their particulars, that they appeal to the child in us while speaking to us directly as adults. Seven Samurai, as I’ve said elsewhere, has the best story in all of movies, a setup so classic and elegant that it’s startling to realize that it had never been done before, and yet its complexities are endless. The farmers, we find, may not be worthy of being saved, and there is more at stake here, in the lives of the seven men we come to know so well, than the fate of a single village. Striking action giving way to boundless depth: it’s in all of Kurosawa’s best movies, and it’s why they continue to speak to us on so many levels.

Tomorrow: Alfred Hitchcock and the supremacy of suspense.

Written by nevalalee

February 10, 2011 at 7:28 am

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