One of the most emblematic and influential film directors of all time: well known for his film 'Seven Samurai', but there is so much more to his genius which receives global acclaim.
Akira Kurosawa (1910 - 1998), the youngest of 8 children, was born in Tokyo. His career spans 57 years, entering the film world in 1936 after a period in which he trained as a painter. After working as an assistant director and scriptwriter, he makes his debut with Sanshiro Sugata (1943).
Drunken Angel (1948)
The reason you have to watch Drunken Angel (1948) is that it's the first movie he made without extensive studio interference - which means he really felt he could express himself freely - and thus is instructive on everything he did after. It's here that he starts to engage with contemporary Japanese society and the stories within it. The influence of his painting background can be seen in each of Kurosawa's films: he storyboarded his films as full scale paintings. The story tells of a doctor who tries to save a gangster with tubercolosis and won him his first Kinema Junpo "Best Film" award.
It is not only because this film won - surprising everyone - the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, 1951, that you need to watch this movie. This work brought him and other Japanese directors international recognition and opened the yes of the Western world to the richness and complexity of Japanese cinema. It turned preconceptions of traditional narrative upside-down, (it will have a similar effect on your world too) and instead gave space to moving, beautiful photography. The movie tells of a bandit's ambush of a couple in a forest.
This film got rave reviews and thanks to it Kurosawa won his second Kinema Junpo "Best Film" award, and enormous success in movie theaters followed. It's a must see because it succeeds in describing with dignity the last phase of a middle-aged man with terminal cancer who initially alienates himself in desperation and then finds redemption. Ranked in 2010 Empire magazine's “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” in 2010, it is one of those movies where tragedy is a prism through which we view the constant struggle of human existence and is not the core of the film laden with sentimentality.
Seven Samurai (1954)
Kurosawa directed many movies in his life, and this is the one that people know best in the West (won Silver Lion at he Venice Film Festival, 1954). His first samurai film, a genre that would make him famous, it is the story of a poor farming village in Japan that hires a group of Samurai to protect them from attack by bandits. At the time it was the biggest ever production, with a huge cast, it had a profound influence on the Western cinema - you need to see it because it was a pioneer production that set a new standard for his next films, it was also one of the first films to employ the narrative technique many heroes coming together to fight a common enemy, copied in countless films). It was so acclaimed an American version was made, 'The Magnificent Seven'.
One of his last movies, this is also considered one of his finest (even by himself, who would usually instead answer to which one he would pick as his favorite, "the next one"). At the time, the most expensive Japanese movie ever produced, it features stunning use of colour and amazing imagery. It is based on King Lear and Kurosawa loved to do Shakespeare in Feudal Japanese settings. A must-see because considered the last epic movie of Kurosawa, it shows the changing and the most beautiful characteristics of his work.
Written by: Elisa della Barba