Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Akira Kurosawa

Born 100 years ago, the highly influential Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa is remembered today for a long legacy of great films.

I first saw Seven Samurai at one of those university student film group shows in Ann Arbor, but I saw in a big lecture hall presented on a full-size screen, sitting in the second row center. To say that the movie was overwhelming and left a permanent impression on me is an understatement. I've been interested in, and have studied, Japanese arts and culture for many years, and Kurosawa has been one of my guides. Sanjuro is one of my all-time favorite films, in any language. Ran, which is Kurosawa's feudal-era samurai version of King Lear is one of the shortest three-hour movies I've ever sat through: I was so drawn in to the tragedy, the beauty and power of the acting and cinematography, that I had no sense of the passing of time.

Dreams is a film about art, as much as it is about life. In some ways, it's Kurosawa's ars poetica, his poem about making poems; in his case, poetic films. To call this film a linear narrative is wrong, since dreams themselves are non-linear and only appear to be narrative. To call it "magic realism" is also wrong, because that label, which is a descendent of Surrealism really, cannot contain the way dreams free-associate: they make complete sense while we are immersed in them, and proceed by their own internal logic.

Last year I found a copy of Kurosawa's only memoir, Something Like An Autobiography (1983), which contains many insights into the history of Japanese film. He doesn't talk about his own art much, except to tell stories about the making of many of his early films, but when he does it's compelling reading.

A lasting legacy, not only in film, but on culture and the arts in general. Arigato, Kurosawa-domo.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Someone I've always intended to watch more of but never quite got round to. I finally saw Dreams about a year ago. I enjoyed some parts more than others but it was quite beautiful overall.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I'd recommend his whole body of work, honestly. There are few moments that are less than compelling, by they're balanced out by many more moments that completely riveting.

9:53 AM  

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