PBS Special Examines Life Of Legendary Japanese Filmmaker
He is unquestionably among the towering filmmakers of the 20th century, directing a string of masterpieces unrivaled in Japanese cinema. Such films as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Ran stunned the world and left an unforgettable imprint on directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Indeed, Spielberg called him "one of the few true visionaries ever to work in our medium."
He is Akira Kurosawa, (1910-1998) descendent of samurais, who, much against his family’s wishes, studied to be a painter, then became a filmmaker at the outbreak of World War II, cutting his creative teeth with obligatory pro-government propaganda films and going on to create a body of work that would inscribe him in the cinematic history books. That story, spanning more than 85 years, is told in pictures and interviews in Kurosawa, premiering March 21 at 9 p.m. on Thirteen./WNET New York’s GREAT PERFORMANCES. Sam Shepard narrates the compelling two-hour special, with readings from Kurosawa’s autobiography by Paul Scofield.
Among the interviewees are Clint Eastwood and James Coburn, who achieved stardom in Western remakes of Kurosawa samurai classics; namely Sergio Leone’s 1966 A Fistful of Dollars, based on Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), and John Sturges’ 1960 The Magnificent Seven, a remake of Seven Samurai (1956), respectively.
Hisao Kurosawa and Kazuko Kurosawa discuss their father’s battles with the studio system, his constant shifting of genres (film noire as well as historical), failed suicide attempt, and his begrudging but ultimate acceptance of old age. Particularly moving is Teruyo Nogami, Kurosawa’s longtime production manager since Rashomon, who recalls the glories and gambles of her boss’s remarkable career.
Donald Richie, author of "The Films of Akira Kurosawa," explains Kurosawa’s extraordinary symbiosis with his greatest star, Toshiro Mifune, who appeared in - half of the director’s films, and stresses the director’s single-minded passion for his art. "The man had absolutely no small talk. He wasn’t interested in talking about the weather. When he wanted to talk with you, he wanted to pick your brain about the new project. That’s all he ever talked about with anybody, his project. His favorite film was always his next film."
Or as Kurosawa himself puts it in Paul Scofield’s eloquent telecast reading: "People have suggested that I write an autobiography, but I have never felt favorably disposed towards the idea. This is partly because I believe that if I were to write anything at all, it would turn out to be nothing but talk about movies. In other words, take ‘myself,’...I am a maker of films," he said. "Films are my true medium."