Akira Kurosawa’s painted storyboards — Dreams (1990)
"On Drunken Angel I worked for the first time with composer Fumio Hayasaka. Following this collaboration, Hayasaka would do all of the music for my films up until the time of his death. He would also become one of my closest friends…
"Hayasaka understood that film music is different from regular music. He firmly believed that film music is in a special category by itself. That’s why our collaboration was so successful… Musicians demand that a piece of music be able to stand on its own. But it’s different with film music. Even if something is lacking, it works together with images on the screen to form an expression. But musicians have difficulty grasping that. They insist that a piece of music [stand in its own right]. I understand where they’re coming from as musicians, but Hayasaka was different. When music accompanies an image on the screen, it may work better if it’s lacking a certain something. It may be more effective that way…
"We worked so well together because one’s weakness was the other’s strength. It was as though he—with his glasses—were blind; and as though I were deaf. We had been together ten years and then he died. It was not only my loss. It was music’s loss as well. You don’t meet a person life that twice in your life."
— Akira Kurosawa on Fumio Hayasaka (8/19/14 — 10/15/55), one of Japan’s most respected and influential composers. Largely self-taught and composing by his teens, he won the Weingartner Prize at age 24 for his work Ancient Dance, and was soon hired by Toho studios to compose for their films. He cemented himself as one of the greatest composers in film history through his partnership with Kurosawa, writing the scores for Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Scandal, Rashomon, The Idiot, Ikiru, and Seven Samurai (whose catchy main theme a drunken Andrei Tarkovsky once loudly serenaded Kurosawa with in a Moscow restaurant). Hayasaka also composed the scores for a number of Kenji Mizoguchi’s best-known films, including Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff. In 1955, during the production of Kurosawa’s I Live in Fear, a film inspired by a conversation he’d had with the director, Fumio Hayasaka died of tuberculosis. He was just 41.
By Akira Kurosawa (ca. 1980)
Some twenty-odd years ago, I saw a picture, titled Shadows, in Paris at the recommendation of Mr. Henri Langlois, Miss Mary Meerson and Miss Lotte Eisner of Cinemateque.
In the screening room, I was told that the young man who made the picture was present, but when I said I wish to meet him because I was so impressed with the quality of the picture, he ran away through the corridor without a word. I was puzzled of his action, and Mr. Langlois told me that he was being shy.
I know then that the wonderful talent which I saw in Shadows will be displayed in the motion picture industries of the world someday, and waited to hear about him. I have been mystified as I hadn’t recalled ever hearing about him until today.
I was all wrong. It was just my being in Japan that I didn’t hear about him. I was not aware that talents of Mr. Cassavetes have been highly acclaimed in the U.S. for sometime. That’s all there was to it.
When I learned that Gloria was made by the man who made Shadows, I was so happy and excited that I found myself clapping my hands. I wasn’t happy only because I felt that my judgement of him was proved right, but also because I thought that my long belief, that truly great talents will never stay buried, was proved right.
That young man I saw in the screening room of Cinemateque must now be over 50 years of age. However, the young and fresh film-making senses I saw in Shadows are still there in Gloria.
I think the beauty in the way sequences are executed and how they are put together is a natural thing—that the man was born with it.
I have seen many good movies and I have been impressed and moved many times before. But the excitement I felt in the screening room of Columbia where I saw Gloria was something special. Perhaps, it was because I felt the same kind of excitement over twenty-odd years ago in the screening room of Cinemateque, and because I could feel the same sort of excitement after such a long interval.
Japanese posters for Akira Kurosawa’s Ran.
In October 1957, Akira Kurosawa made his first trip abroad for a screening of Throne of Blood at the opening of London’s National Film Theatre (NFT, now BFI Southbank). There he met the likes of René Clair, Vittorio De Sica, Laurence Olivier, Gina Lollobrigida, and one of his greatest inspirations as a filmmaker, John Ford. Kurosawa’s longtime assistant and collaborator, Teruyo Nogami, describes the event as recounted to her many times by Kurosawa:
It was the day of the award presentation at NFT. In his anteroom, Kurosawa waited nervously. One reason for his nervousness was his getup—for the first time in his life he was wearing formal Japanese attire: crested kimono, baggy pleated trousers known as hakama, zori sandals. What added to his nervousness was that no interpreters were allowed in the room…
John Ford came up, thumped him on the back, said, “John Ford,” and shook hands, then jerked his thumb as if to say, come this way. In broken Japanese, Ford invited Kurosawa to have a drink. Before the award ceremony, Ford made gestures to indicate his heart was pounding with nervousness, and then did warm-up stretches until De Sica teasingly threw a handkerchief at him from the side. Thanks to Ford, Kurosawa was able to relax a bit even though he knew no English…
The following day he went to call on Ford, who was then filming Gideon’s Day in the MGM studios. On stage, Ford seated Kurosawa in a chair that he had brought out and placed next to the camera. When the take was finished, he told Kurosawa "Arigato" (Thank You) and bowed. Then he turned to the cast and crew and introduced Kurosawa in a loud voice. Everyone saw him off with thunderous applause. Kurosawa told us that the tribute had moved him to tears.
Kurosawa himself recalled the meeting in a 1991 interview:
Ford treated me with affection; he used to call me Akira. I first met him decades ago when I was in Britain to receive an award for Throne of Blood at the London International Film Festival. Ford was in England shooting a picture, and I went to see him on location. He saw me, and straight off he said, in heavily accented Japanese, ‘I need a drink!’ Ford could speak a little Japanese… Once when I was having a quiet drink, he came up to me and asked what the heck I was drinking. ‘Wine,’ I told him, to which he said, ‘No, no! You’ve got to drink scotch!’ and brought me a bottle. Seriously, though, he was really good to me.
Newsreel footage from the evening can be seen here courtesy of British Pathé.
Akira Kurosawa and Ishiro Honda (director of Mothra, Rodan, and the original Godzilla along with many of its sequels) became lifelong friends and collaborators after cutting their teeth as assistant directors at PCL—Photo Chemical Laboratory—a precursor to Toho Studios.
"My mother was a typical woman of the Meiji era, Japan’s age of swift modernization, during which women were still expected to make extreme sacrifices so that their fathers, husbands, brothers or sons could advance. Beyond that, she was the wife of a military man. (Years later when I read the historical novelist Shugoro Yamamoto’s An Account of the Duties of Japanese Women, I recognized my mother in these impossibly heroic creatures, and I was deeply moved.) In such a way as to escape my father’s notice, she would listen to all my complaints. Writing about her like this makes it sound as if I am trying to set her up as a model for some moral tale. But this is not the case. She simply had such a gentle soul that she did these things naturally…
"During the war there was a popular song called ‘Father, You Were Strong,’ but I want to say ‘Mother, You Were Strong.’ My mother’s strength lay particularly in her endurance. I remember an amazing example. It happened when she was deep-frying tempura in the kitchen one day. The oil in the pot caught fire. Before it could ignite anything else, she proceeded to pick up the pot with both hands—while her eyebrows and eyelashes were singed to crinkled wisps—walk calmly across the tatami-mat room, properly put on her clogs at the garden door and carry the flaming pot out to the center of the garden to set it down.
"Afterward the doctor arrived, used pincers to peel away the blackened skin and applied medication to her charred hands. I could hardly bear to watch. But my mother’s facial expression never betrayed the slightest tremor. Nearly a month passed before she was able to grasp something in her bandaged hands. Holding them in front of her chest, she never uttered a word about pain; she just sat quietly. No matter how I might try, I could never do the same."
Seven Samurai turns 60 —
Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece premiered April 26, 1954.
"Japanese films all tend to be rather bland in flavor, like green tea over rice, but I think we ought to have richer foods, richer films. So I thought I would make this kind of film, entertaining enough to eat… We all suffered making that film! But it was wonderful work, too. My own staff, those people who always work with me—well, there are no better people in the world to work with. And I don’t mean only the actors, or the writers, or art directors—I mean the carpenters, electricians, the grips and lightmen. Even without my telling them much, they knew just what I would have wanted. It is thanks to all of them that I’ve been able to make films like this one."
— Akira Kurosawa
"It was awfully cold when we shot that final battle in the rain. At first, I thought we’d be done shooting by the end of summer, but New Year’s had passed and it was February, the coldest time of the year, when we reached that point. I was naked but for a single plate of what looks like armor, with straw sandals on my bare feet, running around on mud that was frozen as hard as ice. It was cold, let me tell you, felt like way below zero, and still they kept showering us with that damned rain. I would run and fall, run and fall, my whole body shivering. I sure couldn’t do that anymore. I get a lot of fan mail from abroad saying they like the way that I die in the film, with my bare ass exposed. I sure didn’t have time to think about that sort of thing then! How old was I, thirty-three? So young."
— Toshiro Mifune
On the set of Sanjuro.