Lecture 6

Kurosawa Akira
Film Style
“Movie directors, or should I say people who
create things, are very greedy and they can never
be satisfied. That’s why they can keep on working.
I’ve been able to work for so long because I think
next time I’ll make something Good.”
“The role of a director
encompasses the coaching
of the actors, the cinematography, the sound
recording, the art direction, the music, the editing
and the dubbing and sound-mixing. Although these
can be thought of as separate occupations, I do not
regard them as independent. I see them all melting
together under the heading of direction.”
Total control over his film –
‘I am my film … nothing
more and nothing less.’
Kurosawa Akira
• Screenwriter, director and
• He expected the same
enthusiasm and dedication
from his staff and coworkers.
• Nickname: Emperor
• The director who made
something impossible
• 20 tons of water was used
for the opening scene of
Rashomon and the local area
ran out of water.
• The water was coloured
with calligraphy ink.
• He demanded all furniture
had to be antique and they
had to be filled with antique
clothes and materials.
• Kurosawa got the roof of a house removed to
film a short scene from a train in High and Low.
• Kurosawa demanded to change the direction of
river flow for better visual effects, but couldn’t.
• Kurosawa asked actors call each other by the
names of the characters that they played and
wore their costumes before, during and after
“I begin rehearsals in the actors’ dressing room. First I have
them repeat their lines, and gradually proceed to the
movements. But this is done with costumes and makeup on
from the beginning; then we repeat everything on the set.
The thoroughness of the rehearsals makes the actual shooting
every time very short. We don't rehearse just the actors, but
every part of every scene - the camera movements, the
lightning, everything.”
• The pace of filming was deliberately slowed down
and it went over one year in the Toho studio. All
actors had to wear their costume all the time. ‘I
wanted to create lived-in feel in studio.’
• The medicine cabinet was filled with medicine
thought it was never opened.
• Kurosawa used real arrows for the concluding
scenes of Throne of Blood. Master archers aimed
at the targets only inches away from Washizu’s
• Thorough historical research
• Gritty realism - costume designs, set designs,
befitting the living conditions of characters
• Even samurai look extremely shabby and
hopelessly poor, when their fortune declines or
become ronin, masterless samurai.
• More realistic rendition of the Medieval time in
Japan than in other conventional genre films.
• Unconventional realism
• Historical details are exaggerated
• Wealth made to look more wealthy and poverty
made to look more poor; harshness harsher and
mildness milder
• Kurosawa’s gendai geki (contemporary drama) are
(dramatized) records of the immediate post-war
period Japan - poverty, desolation and recovery.
• Now you can take them as historical documents.
• Wonderful Sunday: Though it was shot mainly in
studio sets, it can be treated as a documentary film.
For the landscape, townscape, clothes worn, and
behaviours of people that time are so accurately
observed and meticulously reconstructed.
• Realism enhanced – HYPEREALISM
• (Hyper-) real fighting rather than theatrical
display of chanbara (sword play)
• Performance to show a fight for life rather than
showy swordsmanship
• Daibosatsu Toge
• Are Kurosawa’s films realist? - No.
• The ‘reality’ in his films is modified and
exaggerated – realist effects heightened and
• Traits of film characters exaggerated
• Generosity and broadmindedness of an alcoholic
doctor and innocence and tenderness of a punk
turned the characters into types.
Heightened Stylism
• Film style to appeal to the emotion rather than
intellect of the spectator
• Heightening psychological tension and suspense
and releasing them
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• The emotional effects are enhanced by dynamic
visual images and sound effects being brought
• Tension and suspense are created by expressive
mise-en-scène (acting, lighting, camera work, and
• Contrast between stillness and movement;
quietness and excitement
• On the spur of the moment, a quiet scene is cut to
a scene full of movements and excitement
• A static middle shot of a village chief with
monotonous sound of a watermill cut to a frenetic
scene full of movements and excitement.
• Dynamism of movement enhanced by swish pan,
graphically matched and quick editing.
• Sudden movement of samurai in response to a
false alarm in Seven Samurai
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• Suspense created by trick photography –
telephoto lens shortens depth, Red Beard
• The film was shot almost entirely in telephoto
Telephoto lens eliminate depth, therefore the
impression of physical proximity between the
doctor and the female patient in the first shot is
corrected in the next shot.
• Visual dynamism and kineticism - epic scale
movement of the subjects on the screen shot by
multiple camera and edited in frantic paces.
• The final battle scenes in Seven Samurai were
shot with eight cameras.
• Battle scenes in Yojinbo were shot with three
• Impression is as if we were watching a sports
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• Dynamic
unusual in
Japanese cinema
against expansive
landscape and
large horizon
• Throne of Blood
and a Western
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
Cinematic sound is that which does not simply
add to, but multiplies, two or three times, the
effect of the image.
Kurosawa Akira
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• The final battle sequence of Seven Samurai
• Sound effects of beating rain, running horses, their
cries, splashing water, men’s yelling which are
mixed together to create dynamic sound track in
Seven Samurai.
• Emotional appeal and psychological suspense are
enhanced by lighting and camera work.
• Rashomon - shot by Miyagawa Kazuo, the
photographer of Mizoguchi Kenji using reflecting
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• Geometrical and painterly compositions enhance
psychological effects on the audience - two police
detectives pursuing the murderer who has killed
people using the gun that he stole from them vertical shadows of grills create create
psychological suspense (photo, Stray Dog)
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• The bed of flowers on which the young couple lie
or sit - creating lyrical effects in No Regrets for
Our Youth and Seven Samurai
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• The futon hang to dry in Red Beard was shot
with a telephoto lens. Depth disappeared and
two dimensional quality created interesting
patterns in the frame.
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• Natural phenomenon visually and aurally
emphasizes the atmosphere of a scene.
• Howling wind and fierce rain
• Strong wind churning up sand - bleak townscape
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• The opening scene of Rashomon, a ruined gate in
a great storm.
• Natural phenomenon reveals the smallness and
weakness of the human being and its rational
power and moral strength.
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• Snow in the park whose creation Watanabe
contributed and where he dies. Ikiru
• Loneliness and ephemerality
• A lonely figure in thick fog emphasizes the
isolation of a man in Ran
• Intense heat in Stray Dog heightens the
suspense: also heat is a metaphor for corruption,
social impoverishment, and criminality
Hyper-stylistic Filmmaking
• Dense fog and mist - hinting the existence of
super-natural being and super-human power.
• Throne of Blood, Ran and Dreams