AKIRA KUROSAWA Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: Akira Kurosawa                                                                                                 
Born: 23 March 1910 Ota, Tokyo, Japan                                                                               
Died: 6 September 1998 Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan                                                                       
Akira Kurosawa (23 March 1910 – 6 September 1998) was a prominent Japanese film director, film producer, and       
screenwriter. His first credited film (Sanshiro Sugata) was released in 1943;                                       
his last (Madadayo) in 1993. His many awards include the Légion d'Honneur and an                                   
Oscar for Lifetime Achievement.                                                                                     
Akira Kurosawa was born to Isamu and Shima Kurosawa on March 23, 1910. He was                                       
the youngest of eight children born to the Kurosawas in a suburb of Tokyo. Shima                                     
Kurosawa was forty years old at the time of Akira's birth and his father Isamu                                       
was forty-five. Akira Kurosawa grew up in a household with three older brothers                                     
and four older sisters. Of his three older brothers, one died before Akira was                                       
born and one was already grown and out of the household. One of his four older                                       
sisters had also left the home to begin her own family before Kurosawa was born.                                     
Kurosawa's next-oldest sibling, a sister he called "Little Big Sister," also                                         
died suddenly after a short illness when he was ten years old.                                                       
Kurosawa's father worked as the director of a junior high school operated by the                                     
Japanese military and the Kurosawas descended from a line of former samurai.                                         
Financially, the family was above average. Isamu Kurosawa embraced western                                           
culture both in the athletic programs that he directed and by taking the family                                     
to see films, which were then just beginning to appear in Japanese theaters.                                         
Later, when Japanese culture turned away from western films, Isamu Kurosawa                                         
continued to believe that films were a positive educational experience.                                             
In primary school, Akira Kurosawa was encouraged to draw by a teacher who took                                       
an interest in mentoring his talents. His older brother, Heigo, had a profound                                       
impact on him. Heigo was very intelligent and won several academic competitions,                                     
but also had what was later called a cynical or dark side. In 1923, the Great                                       
Kantō earthquake destroyed Tokyo and left 100,000 people dead. In the wake of                                       
this event, Heigo, 17, and Akira, 13, made a walking tour of the devastation.                                       
Corpses of humans and animals were piled everywhere. When Akira would attempt to                                     
turn his head away, Heigo urged him not to. According to Akira, this experience                                     
would later instruct him that to look at a frightening thing head-on is to                                           
defeat its ability to cause fear.                                                                                   
Heigo eventually began a career as a benshi in Tokyo film theaters. Benshi                                           
narrated silent films for the audience and were a uniquely Japanese addition to                                     
the theater experience. However, with the impact of talking pictures on the rise,                                   
benshi were losing work all over Japan. Heigo organized a benshi strike that                                         
failed. Akira was likewise involved in labor-management struggles, writing                                           
several articles for a radical newspaper while improving and expanding his                                           
skills as a painter and reading literature. Akira never considered himself a                                         
Communist, despite his activities that he later would describe as reckless.                                         
When Akira Kurosawa was in his early 20s, his older brother Heigo committed                                         
suicide. Four months later, the oldest of Kurosawa's brothers also died, leaving                                     
Akira as the only surviving son of an original four at age 23.                                                       
In 1936, Kurosawa learned of an apprenticeship program for directors through a                                       
major film studio, PCL (which later became Toho). He was hired and worked as an                                     
assistant director to Kajiro Yamamoto. After his directorial debut with Sanshiro                                     
Sugata, his next few films were made under the watchful eye of the wartime                                           
Japanese government and sometimes contained nationalistic themes. For instance,                                     
The Most Beautiful is a propaganda film about Japanese women working in a                                           
military optics factory. Judo Saga 2 portrays Japanese judo as superior to                                           
western (American) boxing.                                                                                           
His first post-war film No Regrets for Our Youth, by contrast, is critical of                                       
the old Japanese regime and is about the wife of a left-wing dissident who is                                       
arrested for his political leanings. Kurosawa made several more films dealing                                       
with contemporary Japan, most notably Drunken Angel and Stray Dog. However, it                                       
was his period film Rashomon that made him internationally famous and won the                                       
Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.                                                                             
Kurosawa had a distinctive cinematic technique, which he had developed by the                                       
1950s, and which gave his films a unique look. He liked using telephoto lenses                                       
for the way they flattened the frame and also because he believed that placing                                       
cameras farther away from his actors produced better performances. He also liked                                     
using multiple cameras, which allowed him to shoot an action scene from                                             
different angles. Another Kurosawa trademark was the use of weather elements to                                     
heighten mood: for example the heavy rain in the opening scene of Rashomon, and                                     
the final battle in Seven Samurai, the intense heat in Stray Dog, the cold wind                                     
in Yojimbo, the snow in Ikiru, and the fog in Throne of Blood. Kurosawa also                                         
liked using frame wipes, sometimes cleverly hidden by motion within the frame,                                       
as a transition device.                                                                                             
He was known as "Tenno", literally "Emperor", for his dictatorial directing                                         
style. He was a perfectionist who spent enormous amounts of time and effort to                                       
achieve the desired visual effects. In Rashomon, he dyed the rain water black                                       
with calligraphy ink in order to achieve the effect of heavy rain, and ended up                                     
using up the entire local water supply of the location area in creating the                                         
rainstorm. In the final scene of Throne of Blood, in which Mifune is shot by                                         
arrows, Kurosawa used real arrows shot by expert archers from a short range,                                         
landing within centimetres of Mifune's body. In Ran, an entire castle set was                                       
constructed on the slopes of Mt. Fuji only to be burned to the ground in a                                           
climactic scene.                                                                                                     
Other stories include demanding a stream be made to run in the opposite                                             
direction in order to get a better visual effect, and having the roof of a house                                     
removed, later to be replaced, because he felt the roof's presence to be                                             
unattractive in a short sequence filmed from a train.                                                               
His perfectionism also showed in his approach to costumes: he felt that giving                                       
an actor a brand new costume made the character look less than authentic. To                                         
resolve this, he often gave his cast their costumes weeks before shooting was to                                     
begin and required them to wear them on a daily basis and "bond with them." In                                       
some cases, such as with Seven Samurai, where most of the cast portrayed poor                                       
farmers, the actors were told to make sure the costumes were worn down and                                           
tattered by the time shooting started.                                                                               
Kurosawa did not believe that "finished" music went well with film. When                                             
choosing a musical piece to accompany his scenes, he usually had it stripped                                         
down to one element (e.g., trumpets only). Only towards the end of his films are                                     
more finished pieces heard.