Akira Kurosawa, Takashi Shimura, and Miki Odagiri on the set of Ikiru.
Akira Kurosawa with his honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement at the 62nd Academy Awards in 1990.
Sitting in his hotel room armchair, Kurosawa wondered aloud whether he really deserves his Oscar. “I have the feeling that I’m getting it partly because I’ve turned 80 and that it is an expression of warm feeling toward me.” The truth, of course, is that it is long overdue.
[Akira Kurosawa Earns Oscar for Life’s Work | L.A. Times]
On October 9, 1981, the Directors Guild of America, located in New York City, held a reception for Kurosawa. The afternoon garden party was attended by many famous directors, the sun sparkled, and it was a wonderful day.
William Wyler, George Cukor, Samuel Fuller, Rouben Mamoulian and other towering figures from the world of cinema were all gathered in Kurosawa’s honor, and naturally he was thrilled. When I indicated that I didn’t know who Rouben Mamoulian was, Kurosawa told me, “Oh, he’s the one who made that masterpiece of cinema, Applause .” He quickly went over to Mamoulian and greeted him.
On that day, Kurosawa was as excited as any young movie fan. The excitement of that day became an unforgettable, lifelong memory. In his later years, he would frequently reminisce: “It was a wonderful party. They all were gathered there on my account—such wonderful directors. Japanese film directors should do that, too. Get together with other directors all the time, and talk about films. If we did, more good films would be made.”
— Teruyo Nogami, Waiting on the Weather
Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa with the cast and crew of Dersu Uzala at Mosfilm in 1975. A decade since last working together on Red Beard, Mifune visited Kurosawa during post-production on Dersu Uzala to interview him for a Japanese TV show. According to Kurosawa’s long-time assistant Teruyo Nogami, Mosfilm executives originally suggested Mifune for the role of Gold tribe hunter/guide Dersu, but Kurosawa did not believe Mifune was right for the part. The role eventually went to Tuvan theatre actor Maxim Munzuk.
Akira Kurosawa working as an assistant director to Mikio Naruse (right) on his 1937 film Avalanche.
When I reached a certain level of achievement in scriptwriting, Yama-san (Kajiro Yamamoto) told me to start editing. I already knew that you can’t be a film director if you can’t edit. Film editing involves putting on the finishing touches. More than this, it is a process of breathing life into the work…
I learned a mountain of things about editing from Yama-san, but I think the most vital among them is the fact that when you are editing you must have the intelligence to look at your own work objectively… no matter how much work the director, the assistant director, the cameraman or the lighting technicians put into a film, the audience never knows. What is necessary is to show them something that is complete and has no excess. When you are shooting, of course, you film only what you believe is necessary. But very often you realize only after having shot it that you didn’t need it after all. You don’t need what you don’t need. Yet human nature wants to place value on things in direct proportion to the amount of labor that went into making them. In film editing, this natural inclination is the most dangerous of all attitudes. The art of the cinema has been called an art of time, but time used to no purpose cannot be called anything but wasted time. Among all the teachings of Yama-san on film editing, this was the greatest lesson.
— Akira Kurosawa | Something Like an Autobiography
Kagemusha — dir. Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa’s painted storyboards — Kagemusha (1980)
A letter from Akira Kurosawa to Ingmar Bergman in honor of the latter’s 70th birthday. Originally published in Chaplin film magazine, 1988.
Red Beard — dir. Akira Kurosawa