Akira Kurosawa and His Influence on Film
Academic Paper by Kelvin Matthews.
Akira Kurosawa was influenced a great deal by Classic Hollywood filmmaking and the structure of Classic Hollywood films which are chronological, seamless and linear, but Kurosawa’s was also influenced by Art Cinema and incorporated this style into his films as well. His films could therefore take on the direction of being disruptive in its use of screen space by using multiple cameras that were set at different angles, to a narrative that did not reflect Classic Hollywood such as in his film “Rashomon” in which the narrative was more art cinema and at times took on the feel and form of a dream as the character’s recounted their accounts of an upsetting event that they had witnessed.
Kurosawa’s treatment of narrative time could become spatialized with very fluid camera movements that at times replaced the aspects of more traditional editing as he would sometimes disregard the conventional 180 degree axis that traditional Hollywood scenes would normally be built upon.
Like Hitchcock, Kurosawa was very hand’s on and often served as a producer, writer and director. One of Kurosawa’s favorite techniques that became distinct to his form of filmmaking was his use of a long lens, which can especially be seen in the battles scenes of the film “Seven Samurai” and “Ran.”
This style was also very effective in more intimate and more emotional moments as well. In his film “Ikiru” the character Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is sitting at his desk contemplating his life and how he should live it with the time he has left. Kurosawa’s use of the long lens transformed what was once a man thinking he should just die now, to a man with hope and aspiration to live his life to the fullest. The use of the long lens in this scene helps to magnify the character Watanabe and make him look larger then life, and a hero to the audience because of what he has discovered about the joy of living.
Another innovation and style of Kurosawa was his use of multiple cameras, in which all cameras were set at different angles so they therefore captured each scene differently. By using the long lens, and the different cameras the actors could act more naturally and not be conscious of the lens, or camera filming them.
This was especially popular and Kurosawa used this method extensively in Rashomon, but especially in battle scenes such as in the film “Seven Samurai.” Kurosawa later said that both of these techniques not only benefited him as a director and filmmaker, but also helped the actor to act more naturally in a scene because he is not sure which camera or shot will be filming him, or used in the final cut.
While the use of multiple camera’s were very effective in all of his films and especially the numerous battle scene’s in his films, there is one very emotional and dramatic scene in the film “Rashoman” shows an especially moving example of how effective this style was. As the wife (Machiko Kyo) is holding a knife to the samurai warriors (Toshiro Mifune) throat and the warrior is staring up at her, the camera moves extensively and fluently around her, as multiple cameras also capture her from different angles as well. In this scene Kurosawa’s use of the camera going around her and the multiple camera’s were very precise as the camera movements helped to emphasize and reveal the women’s character and psychological state, and therefore translate that view and feeling with extreme effectiveness to the audience.
Kurosawa was also a man that realized that human beings had many shortcomings and accepted that. He always cared about people such as his own personal feelings and beliefs that could be seen in the film “Ikiru” when Watanabe literally tells the man he has no time to be angry. This scene is also a reflection of the director Kurosawa and his feelings about life, as the film showed how an ordinary man could become a hero and bigger then life, which was a recurring theme in Kurosawa’s films and who the character Watanabe was in this film.
Another method Kurosawa implanted was his use of natural light in Rashomon as well as other films like Seven Samurai. This method was preferred by Kurosawa whenever possible and he would sometimes wait for days for the perfect weather for a scene, such as Hitchcock did in some of his films as well
Kurosawa often used the sun which some critics say was meant to represent evil such as in the film Rashomon when the wife decides to no longer resist the bandit and gives in to what he desires when she see’s the sun. Other critics say the sun represented good and reason, while darkness was the symbol for evil. Other methods Kurosawa developed and used in Rashomon which has continued to influence directors and the film industry today was his use of mirrors that would be used to reflect the sunlight onto the actors face during a scene.
By using a technique that was unique to Kurosawa which involved filming directly into the sun such as his film Rashomon, Kurosawa’s use of light plays a major role as the partial light at times helped to set a scene of uncertainty, or ambiguity amongst the characters as they told their stories.
Another important factor that I thought was important and stood out in Rashomon was Kurosawa’s influence from the silent era of Hollywood as his set for this film was small and the non diegetic sound small as well. This method helped the audience to focus more on the character’s and their stories and stopped the narrative from being to complex, or hard to follow. Kurosawa’s own personal cultural influence can also be seen in Rashomon in much the same way as Hitchcock’s personal life and influence can be seen in some of his films, as the samurai tells the story of falling on his blade and killing himself, which in Japanese culture and tradition was a honorable thing to do.
Kurosawa’s love for silent films also played a major and distinguishable role in his style as in the first battle scene of “Ran” the warriors fight in complete silence with non diegetic or diegetic sound being heard. By using this method the audience could easily focus on the scene and action taking place and seemingly enthralled in the action and the story taking place.
Kurosawa’s style could also be seen in that same narrative, as Kurosawa explored multiple realities from the view point of four different characters as they all had their own perception of reality that was different from the other. This form of narrative made the audience a participant in the film, as the audience was left with the character’s perception of reality was the truth in Rashomon. A similar form of psychological reasoning, mystery and audience participation could also be seen in the Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Vertigo” as each scene kept you guessing what would happen next, especially after Madeleine’s death when Scotty saw a women who he thought looked like Madeleine and he begin to stalk her to see who she was. This left the audience perplexed and unsure of what reality was and questioned what we had seen in the previous scenes when we thought we saw Madeleine fall to her death.
Other similarities between Hitchcock and Kurosawa can be seen in their uses of multiple camera’s, as well s the use of light in a symbolic form and to set the mood in a scene. This use of small amounts of light and shadows was used to set a mood of uncertainty in Rashomon as the characters told their stories, and the use of small amounts of light and shadows were used in the final scene in the film “Vertigo” to create uncertainty as well, as Madeleine could vaguely see the nun and was unsure who it was when she was surprised and plummeted to her death.
Perhaps one of the most important and recognizable style’s that Kurosawa introduced and continued to use throughout his career was his use of multiple camera’s that he first introduced in his film “Seven Samurai.” This technique became popular with filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock as one can see in the shower scene in Hitchcock’s film “Psycho” as multiple camera’s were used to capture Marion in the shower as she fought for her life.
Other ways in which Hitchcock and Kurosawa were similar can be seen in their love for silent films and that era of filmmaking as saw them both favor scenes over too much non diegetic sound and both favor scenes in which their was complete silence and no non diegetic and no diegetic sound as well as in Vertigo when Scotty follows Madeleine in complete silence or in the Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and the scene at the theater which is in complete silence except for the music of the choir and orchestra playing right before the gunshot rings out and Josephine Mc Kenna (Doris Day) screams.
Kurosawa also introduced a new style of theme, or plot element in “Seven Samurai” that was different from those elements previously seen in films. This was the recruitment and bringing together of men, or women who were often perceived to be the best in their fields and seen as heroes, in a mission to accomplish a particular goal. This plot element has since been seen in a number of films such as the U.S. films “The Magnificent Seven,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and one of my favorite’s “The Dirty Dozen.” This film also introduced several plot elements into one film, such as the romance between local women and the youngest of the hero’s, as well as the shy, or hero who is reluctant to be a hero.
Both Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa contributed so much to film in their lifetimes and continue to do so today. Through their visions, creativity and achievements they have made filmmaking what it is today. They have given directors, actors, educators and all of those in the film industry an understanding of the filmmaking process and how to expand their visions and creativity, while teaching us what it takes to make a good and great films that not only tell a story, but a story that can touch one’s heart and mind and reflect an artists personal beliefs, experiences, feelings and aspirations.
They have both helped to develop and lay the foundation for a medium that not only entertains, but educates and helps us all to become better as human being’s and realize our own place and mission in this world as human beings.