• We were so impressed with the thoughtful, articulate answers supplied by so many Criterion fans in response to yesterday’s giveaway question that we felt we couldn’t pick just one favorite. We decided on seven winners (reproduced below). Congratulations to all of them!

    Rob made the case for the Coen brothers as heirs to Kurosawa’s legacy:

    Kurosawa, throughout all of his films, explored one thing: human nature.

    What makes us do the things we do to each other. Why do we love, dream, hate, kill, kidnap, heal, avenge, lie to, protect, pursue, flee, betray, honor, rebel against one another. Sometimes he looks at man optimistically as in Ikiru or Red Beard, other times pessimistically (Rashomon, The Bad Sleep Well). These ideas he dramatized arguably better than any filmmaker before or since.

    Having said that, the current filmmakers that come to mind as “heirs” (even though there cannot be such a thing) are the Coen brothers. Just as Kurosawa worked with westerns and noirs, the Coen brothers also tend to gravitate to the same genres. Stray Dog had a man looking for his gun, The Big Lebowski, a man searches for his rug. Ikiru, a man searches for meaning in life. A Serious Man, a man searches for meaning in his life. High and Low, a search for a kidnapper. Fargo, the same. The Bad Sleep Well, a man jumps out a skyrise window. The Hudsucker Proxy, the same. As the Coen brothers release their version of True Grit (a western), we can only expect to add to the similarities.

    Even with those congruences, the biggest reason why the Coens are most like Kurosawa is simply because they are the best storytellers we have today. At the end of the day, AK told the best stories, which is what film is, after all. Both combine comedy with drama masterfully. Both have the actors they use, the genres they use, the styles they use, etc. But beyond that, the Coens’ mastering of filmmaking sets them apart from their contemporaries, just as AK’s set him apart from his.

    We also liked Charles’s piece on Steven Soderbergh:

    In my opinion, I would have to say Steven Soderbergh. Looking at both Kurosawa’s and Soderbergh’s body of work, I can’t help but see how similarly they overlap. Both Kurosawa and Soderbergh’s use of elliptical storytelling have become practical boilerplates for style and form with Rashomon and The Limey, (and to a lesser extent Soderbergh’s Out of Sight and his HD films). Kurosawa and Soderbergh have played in many genres and every film showed a measured confidence as well as playfulness with the genre constructs. I also think that Steven Soderbergh, even when playing in lesser substantive genres and films (Oceans, etc.), he still manages to infuse a core of humanity within his characters and is always curious about them. His passion and love for his characters show in every slightly lilting camera frame. Soderbergh is, has always been, concerned with finding the core of his characters and thier motivations. And I think Kurosawa did too.

    And A_Bord on Martin Scorsese:

    Scorsese’s oeuvre shares a remarkable number of traits with Kurosawa’s. The most significant is each filmmaker’s ability to refashion a genre in order to study the intricacies of a respective culture and leave a powerful, unique stamp on those that followed.

    Kurosawa didn’t invent the samurai genre, nor did Scorsese author the tropes of the gangster film. Significantly, each artist was able to mine the characteristics of a genre they admired and infuse their films with themes, characters, and ideas that both modernize and transcend the rubric they were working under. There is no question that Scorsese’s Goodfellas or Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai were both inimitable reflections of the artist, their influences, and the culture in which the films were made. So much so that there are entire generations of filmmakers that have co-opted that auteur spirit as their own.

    How many non-Kurosawa Kurosawa films have you sat through? How many non-Scorsese Scorsese films saturate the market? And yet with all the imitation, there is no mistaking the originals.

    And Stuart Collier on Werner Herzog:

    Werner Herzog. A strange choice, but one which has yet to be said. Both filmmakers have a profound interest in the individual, be it in his ruination or his triumph. Kurosawa either celebrates the individual (Ikiru, The Idiot, Seven Samurai) or detachedly surveys his downfall (Throne of Blood, Ran). Herzog is also interested in the sociological dynamics between individual and society (Woyzeck, Stroszek, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser), but like Kurosawa, is also attracted to ambitious men, be it the monster whose egoism seals his demise (Aguirre) or the businessman whose audacious plans fail after much effort. Both directors place their individuals in confrontation with larger forces; for Kurosawa it is bureaucratic politics or rigid social norms, and for Herzog it is the savage wilderness or exclusionary village society. Both directors are attracted to ambitious on-location shoots and narratives of epic scale, but they allot just as much care on smaller, more obscure and personal projects. While each director is associated with different modes of filmmaking—Kurosawa is more classical and marketable, while Herzog is an offbeat art-house director—each one has an almost romantic fascination for their individual protagonists, be they hero, villain, or oddball.

    Billy Ritchie on Quentin Tarantino:

    Quentin Tarantino. The name first came to me because their music choices are identical (I watched Yojimbo yesterday and realized his theme would be right at home in one of the Kill Bills). But the more I think about it, the more it fits. First, there’s the obvious fact that Tarantino loves to do throwback tributes, not the least of which were the Kill Bill movies, love letters to the samurai films of the 50s and 60s. But what’s more, as Tarantino has come into his own, and his pulpy ultraviolent entertaining romps have developed into more well-rounded excellent movies, the thematic range he is able to cover is approaching that of Kurosawa. Take Inglourious Basterds. He’s able to combine period war epic, hilarious dialogue, intensely personal moral quests, and beautifully tragic romance, all with his trademark style. Is this really so far from Seven Samurai? Are the Kill Bill movies really that far off from the Yojimbo movies? Sure, the plots are completely different, but they both are still hilarious adventures about a lone swordsman overcoming tremendous odds, with surprising bits of brilliant emotionality thrown in when you least expect it. Tarantino. The next Kurosawa.

    Green Rahman on some of Kurosawa’s many heirs:

    I don’t think that to carry a legacy one has to be just like that. So I don’t think Brian De Palma is carrying Hitchcock’s legacy just because he makes“Hitchcockian” movies or Terry Gilliam is carrying Fellini’s legacy just because his films are “Felliniesque.” It goes much deeper than that. To be an heir to a legacy is to digest the “ideas” of the filmmaker that he so densely packs into his films from whose DNA strand an entire dinosaur can be made. Films are the ambers that carries“ideas.” Ingmar Bergman said that he makes utilitarian products that, just like tables and chairs, should be useful to people. So Satyajit Ray was carrying Renoir’s legacy and Abbas Kiarostami is carrying Satyajit Ray’s. But there were many others whom Renoir inspired, including Kurosawa. So there are several filmmakers that are heir to Kurosawa’s legacy but talent like that is very very rare. Steven Spielberg and Hayao Miyazaki (whom Donald Richie calls“that cartoonist fellow”) come to mind. Kurosawa would be proud of them.

    And Chris Martin on why Kurosawa has no heirs:

    Let’s draw some parallels . . . The next Jimi Hendrix? Beatles? Stanley Kubrick? Alfred Hitchcock? Of the greatest artists that question always seems to be asked, yet the answer remains the same. No one. Whomever is named in this thread as an heir by thematic, technical, or narrative comparison is simply someone who has borrowed elements of Kurosawa’s filmmaking and deserves no such title. One who is named due to their ability to create film to a degree so powerful and unique as Kurosawa would deserve to have the same question asked of themselves. Such an artist would be worthy enough not stand in the shadow of another. To say that Kurosawa has an heir is to diminish and belittle his artistry. He deserves more respect than that from us, his fans.

    March is Akira Kurosawa month at Criterion. On the twenty-third, the great Japanese filmmaker would have been one hundred years old. For this centennial celebration, we will be posting trivia questions and other contests all month, and giving away a different prize every weekday.

    Today’s prompt:

    What’s your favorite behind-the-scenes fact about the making of a Kurosawa film?

    Please respond by commenting below, and we’ll choose a winner tomorrow. You must leave a valid e-mail address to be eligible for the prize (a Red Beard DVD).

87 comments

  • By Kevin Linke
    March 12, 2010
    01:25 AM

    I honestly love how Kurosawa had to shoot those commercials for that whiskey brand on the set of Kagemusha. I like it because it shows how an artist will do what they have to do to get their art made and out there. It means a lot more to me to know that Kurosawa did everything he possibly could, including getting Coppola and Lucas in there to make sure the people got to see the film.
    Reply
  • By Andy Johnson
    March 12, 2010
    01:33 AM

    In 1950's Rashomon, Kurosawa is credited as the first director to point the camera directly at the sun. Up until then it was believed that the sun being magnified though a camera lens would melt the plastic film inside the camera, but apparently no one had tried it. Kurosawa however, being always the innovator, tried it and got the desired effect. It was only a minor element, and only a second or two long, but this tiny detail, just like all the other millions of small tweeks and ideas, helped make this and all of Kurosawa's movies that much better. The point it was used just felt right, too. It's a good example of innovation, attention to detail, and originality, all major Kurosawa traits.
    Reply
  • By Andrew Strauss
    March 12, 2010
    02:48 AM

    I like how during the filming of Seven Samurai Akira Kurosawa personally fought with the studio execs and producers to get the film made. Many directors would abandon a project, but Kurosawa knew he was right and was able to make one of the greatest films ever made. Kurosawa could have been fired by Toho as the director, but his artistic vision and balls made him great. We need somebody like Kurosawa who will fight for their vision against the board of directors when they try to make decisions.
    Reply
  • By Timo B
    March 12, 2010
    05:19 AM

    Definately RAN; Because of Kurosawa's poor eyesight, he only had his drawings, which he painted over the last 10 years, to properly communicate with the cinematographer. Nietzsche went mad, Beethoven went deaf, and Kurosawa went blind.
    Reply
  • By Patrick
    March 12, 2010
    05:50 AM

    My favorite "behind-the-scenes" tidbit from a Kurosawa film is discussed in an interview with Keiko Awaji featured on the Criterion edition of "Stray Dog." She talks about how she didn't particularly want to be involved with the film, but was, more or less, forced into the role by her dance instructor. She wanted to be a dancer, not an actress, and she didn't consider herself to be an actress. She (and others interviewed) talk about the great patience that Kurosawa showed while dealing with her, taking her pouty and disagreeable nature during the filming and using it to strengthen her character. It is such a fantastic performance that I never would have guessed that she was reluctant to participate. The way in which Awaji details her difficult tone while shooting the film is such a relatable and natural show of a fully-matured sense of humility that it is hard not to be moved by it. Just a great, natural dialog that allows you to see her performance in a new light. Stray Dog was already one of my favorite films, but it became an even more enjoyable watch every time I have seen it since viewing the interviews. Also, I have a huge crush on her, so that probably affected its impact on me.
    Reply
  • By toshi fujiwara
    March 12, 2010
    06:12 AM

    the fact that Toshiro Mifune never had a chair for him on the set (because he never sat down, and during the take he was eager to help props men et all).
    Reply
  • By Carlos
    March 12, 2010
    06:23 AM

    I couldn't believe that in Seven Samurai they threw real arrows at actors! They used thick wood plates behind their clothes, so the arrows would get stick to them. Very dangerous! I also was impressed by Ran when they actually burned the whole castle, so they had just ONE chance to shot that scene! and the poor actor (Nakadai?) was all alone by himself inside the burning castle when they started shooting the scene.
    Reply
  • By Kara Kardozi
    March 12, 2010
    06:24 AM

    There is a scene in Drunken Angel (1948), in which Toshiro Mifune walks a lonely road among a mass crowd, lost to himself. On a loud speaker a nostalgic music is playing (A Jazz recording of The Cuckoo Waltz). Kurosawa picked a version of it that he had heard when he was a young man, down and broke just like the Mifune character in the film. According to Donald Richie, it took a long and exhausting search to find the exact recording. Kurosawa would listen to records after records to find the exact one that ended up in the film.
    Reply
  • By Eugene Golbin
    March 12, 2010
    09:10 AM

    I like a fact from the castle burning scene in Ran. During the scene inside the castle when Lord Ichimonji is losing his mind, Tatsuya Nakadai stayed in the burning room a bit too long during the early takes for this scene and suffered significant burns on his face! I call that going above and beyond to "get the shot."
    Reply
  • By Russ Brown
    March 12, 2010
    10:28 AM

    My favorite behind the scenes story is from his autobiography. While shooting a film once (I cant remember the specific film) Kurosawa saw an american man wearing walking around with a bunch of US Army men inspecting the production. It was John Ford. The meeting of titans!
    Reply
  • By Justin Morgan
    March 12, 2010
    10:45 AM

    All of the facts I previously knew and found interesting about any behind-the-scenes information on Kurosawa films has been used, so I went looking for new ones, and discovered Kurosawa pulled a Howard Hughes will Seven Samurai and used a vast amount of cameras, so not to interrupt the flow of the scenes and allowing him to edit the film together as he pleased in post-production. The simultaneous production of this film and Gojira nearly forced Toho Kabushiki Kaisha into bankruptcy.
    Reply
  • By Thomas Lansdale
    March 12, 2010
    11:18 AM

    I just watched Throne of Blood on TCM and Robert Osborne talked about how Kurosawa was not pleased with a castle set, but had to have it built on the side of a mountain. Luckily, there were American military to help build it in a very isolated region where workers were not readily available.
    Reply
  • By Andrew Bacon
    March 12, 2010
    12:07 PM

    My favorite behind-the-scenes fact is from Seven Samurai. I was listening to the commentary, and the scene was when the Watermill is being burned down, and Toshiro Mifune is in the stream holding the baby. What surprised me was when Donald Ritchie commented that the Mill House had to be rebuilt two or three times to get the final scene right. Apparently, they would light the building on fire by wrapping it in felt, so that it would burn faster, and then after they were finished shooting for the day, they would put the fire out with water. But when they came back the next day, the wood was wet and wouldn't light, so Kurosawa had them rebuild the Mill over, and over, until he finally got everything he needed.
    Reply
  • By John Baldwin
    March 12, 2010
    02:52 PM

    The most endearing story I have ever read or heard about the making of a Kurosawa film involves the shooting of Rashomon, as told by his assistant Teruyo Nagami. She said that the cast and crew were all so inspired by the wild setting of the Forest at Nara that sometimes they would be moved to climb up Mt. Wakakusa during the night and get in a circle to sing Tankobushi -- The Coal Miner's Song -- while dancing with a digging motion. (Ms. Nagami provides a cartoon illustration on page 72 of her book, Waiting on the Weather; the figure in the cap is presumably Kurosawa.) Why is this relevant? Everything I've read about the film (including AK's own testimony) indicates that the general camaraderie of cast and crew during shooting contributed rather than detracted from the film's extraordinary power. The anecdote also proves that the master really knew how to have fun. "Everyone was young," Ms. Nagami writes, "Kurosawa himself was barely forty."
    Reply
  • By tenderfoot
    March 12, 2010
    03:20 PM

    The eight minuet extra ‘Lucas on Kurosawa’ interview on The Hidden Fortress contains the most probing insight into Akira’s mind that I’ve seen. During the last minuet Lucas describes how Kurosawa was once asked “What are your movies about?” and answered “My movies are always trying to answer the question, why can’t people be happier, and why can’t they be happier together?” to me this is a gem of an extra, because it is such an insight not only into all AK’s catalogue but into the man himself. And being conveniently packed in one sentence makes it that much heavier.
    Reply
  • By Andrew Connell
    March 12, 2010
    03:44 PM

    That Kurosawa would often know the names of all the extras in his films because he felt they were just as important an aspect of the film as the lead roles. Oh and the millions times that damn wind wouldnt blow the way he told it to.
    Reply
  • By s.a.
    March 12, 2010
    04:22 PM

    I watched Throne of Blood and only afterward did I find out about how the ending with the arrows aimed for Mifune had been real arrows and it was all choreographed so to show his real fear. Thought it was brilliant.
    Reply
  • By Patrick Bull
    March 12, 2010
    04:27 PM

    Watching and studying Kurosawa movies, one always finds characters to latch on to and (beautifully constructed) stories to entertain. But it is with increasing interest that I look for the man behind the camera (no, not Donald Richie, a few feet out of frame in 'Throne of Blood's' climax). To learn that the wielder of the Warrior's Camera cried as he shouted 'Action!' on the first day of filming 'Dodes'ka-den' added such pathos to my own constructed tale of this little Japanese boy, whose singular vision -- inspired by an older brother whose life was tragically cut short -- brought him both fame and unwanted solitude from those he loved most. With Mifune gone this was a sign of things to come. I am as happy he survived his suicide attempt as I am that Sanshiro Sugata got the girl, that Kingo Gondo found his son, that Roku-chan returned home to his mother.
    Reply
  • By Martin
    March 12, 2010
    04:37 PM

    After seein Seven Samurai, I was shocked that Kurosawa was Japanese. Yet it really enriched my thoughts on Seven Samurai's merits. Who knew?
    Reply
  • By Lucas Kollauf
    March 12, 2010
    05:50 PM

    Love that Kurosowa directed and starred in Whiskey commercials to help get funding for Kagemusha.
    Reply

Or using your Criterion.com account.

You are logged in to your Criterion.com account as . Log out.