Western films have an indigenous style of filming. Whenever a director takes inspiration from western films, it becomes almost impossible to find a signature style of the director, because the style remains almost similar and the only differentiating factor is the story and narrative. However, when it comes to Akira Kurosawa films, even though he takes inspiration from the Western films, he leaves a distinctive signature of himself on them. His films came with innovations like the use of axial cuts and screen wipe. These techniques became methods in world cinema.
Akira Kurosawa used to work as a painter in Japanese Film Industry. Soon after, he started getting work as a scriptwriter and assistant director. During that era, the world was oblivious to Japanese cinema. It was so only until Akira Kurosawa rose to fame with Rashomon that released in 1948.
Here is the list of 5 must watch films by Akira Kurosawa –
1. Rashomon  –
It is Akira Kurosawa’s first film that audiences, critics, and Academy recognized. Rashomon is one of the most inventive films in the history of world cinema, especially because of Kurosawa’s idiosyncratic use of flashbacks. The flashbacks used were in contradiction with the action they were flashing back to. It’s something we call – “incongruous flashbacks”. The events in the flashback often show a point of view, which seem a lie in most of the cases. Moreover, there are elements of ambiguity with those flashbacks because the POVs seem both true and false.
What’s the best thing about Rashomon is how Akira Kurosawa has shown emotions, which are an integral part of any film by him owing to his impeccable understanding of human psychology. Cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa stands out as an important character in the film itself because the way he has juxtaposed light and shadow unmistakably evokes the aura of heat, light, and shade of the tropical forest. Its oddly written screenplay and a confusing end make this film a must watch. The film also won an honorary Academy Award for the best foreign language film.
2. Ikiru  –
It is a poignant story of a bureaucrat who learns that he has terminal cancer and then tries to make a meaning from his life. The concept of having a man suffering from cancer is a repertoire method. Many filmmakers from world cinema have made such films. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Anand’, Rob Reiner’s ‘The Bucket List’ and Bollywood’s Vinay Pathak starer ‘Dasvidaniya’ are some examples of it. However, Ikiru happens to be the best among them, because the story and characterization of the protagonist is more appealing to the bourgeois.
Sadly, the film did not release worldwide until 1960, because it was what critics called “very Japanese” in its context. However, the film is universal and timeless. What’s best about Ikiru is that the main character (Mr. Watanabe) is an Everyman whom everyone can relate to and there is a scene in a bar wherein the character realizes the futility of his life and achievements and decides to do something meaningful. The sequence ends with people singing a birthday song for someone else, but to the audience, it is more like a rebirth of Mr. Watanabe. Ikiru’s emotional impact and how it inspires the audience makes it a must-watch film.
3. Seven Samurai  –
Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is not just a film, it’s a legacy. It was the first film in which a team masochistically assembles to carry out a mission at the cost of their lives. In later years, it became a genre that followed with classics like John Sturges’ ‘Magnificent Seven’, J. Lee Thompson’s ‘The Guns of Navarone’ and Robert Aldrich’s ‘The Dirty Dozen’. Seven Samurai shows incongruence when it comes to its period. The film has roots in the 1600s’. However, the humanistic values of the film are meant for the coeval audience of the 1950s’. That completely works in the context of the story. A subplot seems to work against the traditional culture of Japan.
Seven Samurai showcases Kurosawa’s talent as a filmmaker. It justifies the fact that no other director can shoot men in action better than Kurosawa. Moreover, the action scenes have a thrilling sweep. Constant use of deep focus and moving camera shots (often for comparison) are characteristic features of Seven Samurai. What’s best about Seven Samurai is every character is indelible. The film is over 200 minutes in length, but still manages to grab audiences at the edge of their seat.
4. Throne of Blood  –
It is a story of a war-hardened general who works to fulfill a prophecy that he would become of Spider’s Web Castle. The film is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. It was a film in which Kurosawa took his discovery of visual communication to another level and this time he was into the plot regarding Japanese Warrior’s myth in the backdrop of civil war in medieval Japan. So, the visuals needed more opulence. It diverts from Shakespeare’s play in terms of characterization as it is less subtle in the film.
Kurosawa has shot the film in such a way that it looks more like a rearrangement of Macbeth rather than an uninflected adaptation. The beautiful dialogues are not there in the film and there is a lot of theatres but none of it matches to that of Shakespeare’s. That’s the paradox about the film which makes it radical. The film has another interesting element which is the pictorial and spiritual emptiness in the form of the skies and the fog that covers the mountain. Apparently, these elements seem to be against vanity, ambition, and violence. What makes Throne of Blood a must watch is it offers an alternative cultural perspective of Macbeth.
5. Dersu Uzala  –
It is a story of an explorer who goes on an expedition in the snowy Siberian wilderness by The Russian Army. He befriends a local hunter over there. The film was released after the dismal debacle of Dodeskaden, which made Kurosawa question his creative abilities and subsequently led to an attempted suicide. Dersu Uzala impeccably showcases Kurosawa’s unarguable forte of showing emotions with discernible humanism. His skill in shooting men in action is evident in this film. However, the difference in this one is the men aren’t fighting. They are rather struggling.
The location which here is the wilderness of Siberian jungles offered a new canvas for Kurosawa to showcase his skills. What remains the best thing about Dersu Uzala is that it displays a very unusual friendship between the explorer and local hunter. Akira Kurosawa’s convictional direction makes it even more interesting.
It is also interesting to note that Kurosawa was an expert in editing and has edited most of his films, which tells a lot about him as an auteur. Akira Kurosawa had a career spanning more than 55 years. He has a long list of highly acclaimed films to his name. However, the five films introduced in this list are the most essential ones and define Akira Kurosawa as a filmmaker and his legacy.