Heralded by Steven Spielberg as “The pictorial Shakespeare of our time” Akira Kurosawa is considered one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. Beginning his career as a painter before turning to filmmaking in the 1940s, his work has had a profound influence on world cinema, developing the samurai film and inspiring countless films in the Western genre. Coinciding with the BFI’s Kurosawa season, we’re offering price markdowns across the board, with DVD from £5 and Blu-ray from £6. To celebrate this offer, let’s take a look at 5 of our favourite Kurosawa films.
Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a is widely considered a masterpiece of world cinema and has had a significant influence on Western film, specifically in the Western genre. The film tells the story of a small village that hires seven ronin (master less samurai) to defend them against a group of bandits who plan to raid their village. The ronin, led by the skilled and honourable Kambei Shimada, train the village’s men to defend themselves and ultimately defeat the bandits. Along the way, the samurai also must deal with internal conflicts and challenges to their bushido (code of honour). Kurosawa eloquently explores the individualism versus collectivism paradigm as the samurai must learn to work together as a team and put aside their personal agendas for the good of the village.
Ikiru tells the story of Kanji Watanabe, a middle-aged bureaucrat who learns he has stomach cancer and has less than a year to live. He elects to make the most of the fleeting moments he has left, ultimately failing and falling into a deep existential despair. He does however; find another way to make the most of the time he has left. The film is a powerful investigation of the search for meaning and purpose in life, and is considered one of Kurosawa’s greatest works.
Ran is a retelling of William Shakespeare’s play King Lear, set in feudal Japan. It stars Tatsuya Nakadai as Hidetora Ichimonji, a powerful warlord who decides to divide his kingdom among his three sons. However, Hidetora’s decision leads to betrayal, war, and ultimately his downfall. Ran is characterised by stunning cinematography, powerful performances, and its commentary on the destructive nature of power and ambition (Hidetora’s decision to divide his kingdom among his sons leads to war), filial duty (when Hidetora’s sons fail to live up to their responsibilities and obligations to their father) and the idea that fate is not always predetermined, but can be shaped by one’s actions and decisions.
Rashomon film tells the story of a crime that occurred in the forest of Rashomon, where a bandit (Toshiro Mifune) is accused of raping a woman (Machiko Kyo) and murdering her husband (Masayuki Mori). The story is told through four different perspectives: the bandit’s, the woman’s, the husband’s and a woodcutter’s. Each perspective offers a different version of the events, leaving the audience to question the truth and the reliability of each account. The film explores themes of subjectivity, truth, and the nature of the human condition, it was was a major influence on the development of non-linear storytelling in film.
The Hidden Fortress
the hidden fortress tells the story of two poor peasants, tahei and matashichi, who are taken in by a group of warriors fighting against a ruthless warlord. along the way, they help a princess and a general escape from the warlord’s army. Known for its influence on george lucas’ star wars franchise, particularly in its use of the “hidden fortress” as a narrative device, and the characters of r2-d2 and c-3po were inspired by tahei and matashichi. Investigating the class distinctions between the poor peasants and the wealthy lords and generals, Kurosawa highlights the power imbalance between them which will resonate with any viewer watching in 2023.