Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Akira Kurosuwa and film making

Some how in the early 60's most of the cinemas expecially the Rex, in Sibu, showed a lot of Japanese movies. One horror movie series was about a little man who was a serial killer and I used to hide behind the chair whenever he appeared. The music was terrifying. And then there was the Flying Space Man, who was so handsome and strong that many young girls fell in love with him. A little like Superman,he fired the imagination of many children to do good and to save people.And many young female students went to see his movies just to swoon when he appeared in his white flying man's tight fitting suit. But the adults would watch some of the more mature films and also9 Akira Kurosawa's movies even though they were few and far apart.

You see in the 1960's even though many had hated the evil treatment of the Japanese army, some of the remnant elders would still remember a little of the Japanese they learned in school during the war. But what was important was the fact that the Japanese movies were very good entertainment and very well made for the discerning audience. The Toho company was far ahead of Shaw Brothers.

I saw Kurosuwa's Rashomon twice in Sibu. The first time I did not understand as it appeared to be a lot of talking and talking from a child's view point.

But later I saw the film once again when I was about to go to university. And at that time I felt that the film was very appealing as we had already studied about critical thinking and film review in sixth form. What I cannot understand to this day was that after the early 70's the Sibu cinemas did not show any Japanese movies until lately. I therefore feel sorry that a whole generation had missed out the philosophy, art and cinematographic art of Akira Kurosuwa and other Japanese film makers. If I ask any of my young friends today, they would only say that the Japanese make very good horror movies and the Koreans on the other hand make romantic tv dramas and movies.

But on the other, as far as I know,the West took Akira Kurosuwa and others like him very seriously and many famous Western directors claimed Akira Kurusowa as their mentor. In fact many of the famous films like the Magnificient Seven, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and others were based on Akira Kurosuwa's philosophy and art of film making. The Look East Policy in cinematography was already on its way in the 1960's.

"Rashomon" in film history is as important and entertaining as a film as Citizen Kane.

It's beginning scene is a huge Japanese Gate under which four different people spoke and discussed the case of rape and murder in the woods.

Akira Kurusowa's great success in the making of Rashomon " is that the recollections given to the courts by the woman, the bandit, the as well as the four in discussion, is that their emotions reveal their humanity, even if their details reveal nothing, or everything."

Actually the actors are speaking to the audience and as we listen we begin to form our own opinion. The characters also develop . And then as the film proceeds, the fears, the pride, the shame, and the search for judgment and/or truth in the situation are revealed to us.

This was the first time I came across the fear- inflcting and terrifying bandit Toshiro Mifume or San Sung Ming Long (Foochow Pin Yin) who was a fantastic actor in this movie. After Rashomon,I went on to see every film he was in. Literally I spent a lot of my pocket money going to the movies. Mifune later went to Hollywood and made many films alongside famous Hollywood stars.

Akira Kurosuwa ,as a semi autography of his revealed ,had a very deep insight on man's nature. Personally I feel that he made films which get stuck in our mind and even help us shape our character. He was himself an intense artistic man who believed in his art. And he believed strongly that what he did had an impact on others. And in later years, when western directors and producers recognised his art and skills, I was really amazed by their tributes and how much an Eastern man could influence and impact westerners.

In fact fifteen years and eleven films later, after he made Rashomon, Kurosuwa was both a critical and commercial god, a title which could make any film maker proud.

Besides Rashomon, Seven Samurai was another international hit. And to this day, it is still recognised as a great classic.

He also made Red Beard (1965) with Toshiro Mifune,Dersu Uzala (1974) with Soviet Union and with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, longtime Kurosawa fans, the film Kagemusha (1980) An unusual film, Ran was made with French support. It was
" his ultimate statement as an artist, the dauntingly grave transposition of Shakespeare’s King Lear to medieval Japan. This film stands in Kurosawa’s work as Otello stands in Verdi’s – a final, magnificent statement of his philosophy and one of the most stirringly grand films in recent memory".

Kurosawa earned his Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in 1989.

In his old age he made Dreams, Rhapsody in August (1991), and Madadayo (1993) – the last having never been released theatrically in the U.S. – were personal, meditative films, artistically free but controlled, somehow chastened.

There were other films by film and they are worth seeing. And if one could, one should collect all the DVDs of Akira Kurosuwa's movies. Few directors today or even in the future would be as great as AK.

Kurosuwa's own life could read like a novel. And Sibu movie lovers have perhaps benefitted from his craft. And to me this is quite remarkable .

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