Who can define Akira Kurosawa’s role in the world cinema landscape? His filmography defies categorization. His movies are very complex, both from the point of view of the craftsmanship, visual poetry and passion that went into their making and of the way they managed to preserve the national identity while conveying a universal appeal. He handled with the same ease action themes and humanistic elements, and his Shakespeare adaptations – Ran (1985) after King Lear and Throne of Blood (1957) after Macbeth – are some of the most original in the history of cinema. Starting up as a painter and later becoming a scriptwriter and an assistant director before making his directorial debut with Sanshiro Sugata (1943), Kurosawa was a complete film-maker, one who produced one of the most consistent and impressive bodies of work in the cinematic world.
There are many words of wisdom about cinema and life lessons in Akira Kurosawa’s autobiography, Something Like An Autobiography, but the part where he recounts his childhood (he confessed he was a slow child whose intelligence did not bloom until in his third grade of primary school), particularly of the way his father and his art teacher fostered his interest in the arts, sports and school, had a profound effect on me and can serve as guidance for every parent and teacher.
“My father’s attitude toward films reinforced my own inclinations
and encouraged me to become what I am today. He was a
strict man of military background, but at a time when the idea of
watching movies was hardly well received in educators’ circles,
he took his whole family to the movies regularly. Later, in more
reactionary times, he steadfastly maintained his conviction that
going to the movies had an educational value.”
“Another aspect of my father’s thinking that had an important effect on me was his attitude towards sports. After he left the army academy, he took a position at a gymnastics school, where he set up facilities not only for traditional Japanese martial arts such as judo and kendō swordfighting, but for all kinds of athletics. He built Japan’s first swimming pool, and he worked to make baseball popular. He persevered in the promotion of all sports, and his ideas stayed with me.”
Drawing by Akira Kurosawa
“In the old days – in my day, that is – art education was terribly haphazard. Some tasteless picture would be the model, and it was simply a matter of copying it. The student drawings that most closely resembled the original would get the highest marks.
But Mr. Tachikawa did nothing so foolish.
He just said, ‘Draw whatever you like.’
Everyone took out drawing paper and colored pencils and began. I too started to draw – I don’t remember what it was I attempted to draw, but I drew with all my might. I pressed so hard the pencils broke, and then I put saliva on my fingertips and smeared the colors around, eventually ending up with my hands a variety of hues.
When we finished, Mr. Tachikawa took each student’s picture and put it up on the blackboard. He asked the class to express opinions freely on each in turn, and when it came to mine, the only response was raucous laughter. But Mr. Tachikawa turned a stern gaze on the laughing multitude and proceeded to praise my picture to the skies. […] Then he took my picture and put three big concentric circles on it in bright red ink: the highest mark.
From that moment on, even though I still hated school, I somehow found myself hurrying to school in anticipation on the days when we had art classes. That grade of three circles had led me to enjoy drawing pictures. I drew everything. And I became really good at drawing. At the same time my marks in other subjects suddenly began to improve. By the time Mr. Tachikawa left Kuroda, I was the president of my class.”
Storyboard for Ran, drawn by Akira Kurosawa
“In the early Taishō era (1912-1926), when I started school,
the word ‘teacher’ was synonymous with ‘scary person’.
The fact that at such a time I encountered such free and
innovative education with such creative impulse behind it,
I cherish among the rarest blessings.”
Drawing by Akira Kurosawa