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Kurosawa (2001) – DVD Review

Kurosawa documentary DVD


Directed by Adam Low
Cinematography by Dewald Aukema
Readings by Paul Scofield
Narrated by Sam Shepard


  • Kurosawa filmography
  • weblinks
  • Easter eggs
  • extensive bonus interview footage
  • English and Japanese audio
  • English subtitles

Released by: Wellspring
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: 1.85:1 letterboxed

My Advice: Buy it.

Kurosawa is ostensibly a documentary telling a bit about the life and creativity behind one of the greatest directors to have ever lived; but in truth, the film is much, much more. It is a pæan to a director whose work touched thousands of lives and set the standard for cinematography and directorial greatness for generations to come. One of the first directors, and still one of the only, to have surmounted the language and culture barriers, Kurosawa’s work remains unparalleled in cinematic history.

[ad#longpost]Kurosawa is loosely organized chronologically, beginning with his childhood and early influences, and then proceeding along the timeline of his filmography. Beginning with his directorial debut, Sanshiro Sugata, Kurosawa also includes excerpts and discussions of his major films, such as Seven Samurai, Ran, Rashomon, and Throne of Blood. Besides the film theory information and the biographical tidbits, we also hear a bit about Kurosawa the man, from his son and daughter, as well as the actors, script supervisors, and so on who worked with him. As much as the creators may have had to repress their desire to create a simple love-fest, Kurosawa is deeper than that. It looks at the man’s real achievements, the lasting impact of his many films, and the life that gave birth to such artistry. It even looks at his suicide attempt in 1971, and how the following films were subsequently darker. It does skip over a few of the more controversial elements of his career, such as the problems with the Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars lawsuit, but such matters are comparatively minor enough to be excusable, especially given what is not overlooked.

A highlight of the documentary is the inclusion of snippets from the fifty-year reunion of surviving crew members from the filming of Rashomon. They provide anecdotes and insight into the process of creating a film with a man like Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa also includes interviews with James Coburn, star of The Magnificent Seven, an American adaptation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and Clint Eastwood, star of A Fistful of Dollars, a film which bears an uncanny (and quite controversial) resemblance to Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. Other interviewees include Machiko Kyo, whose noh-perfect part in Throne of Blood was splendid, Isuzu Yamada of Rashomon fame, actor Tatsuya Nakadai, critics Donald Richie and Tadao Sato, and the script supervisor from Rashomon and long-time friend of Kurosawa, Teruya Nogami.

The production values are simply incredible. Low and Aukema worked together to produce a documentary that approaches the visual effect of a truly fine art film; attention is devoted to staging, lighting, framing, and even the passage of an interviewee from one scene to another. Truly, Low must have been showing off how much he had learned from watching Kurosawa’s films, and I cannot think of a better memorial. The sense of grief and loss is almost palpable, but so is the sheer honour the creators of Kurosawa seemed to feel at working on this project and finding a way to honor the man himself. The scenes at Kurosawa’s grave are touching and respectful, a fitting denouement to the documentary as a whole.

Kurosawa DVD

The features are all that you could rationally hope for in such a project. The interviews interspersed throughout the disc are complimented by the extra interviews included as features. Topics covered in these interviews include “Light and Shadow,” “Actors and Mifune,” “Team Scriptwriting,” and “Western Samurais.” The filmography of course serves as a list of films you must see, and the weblinks are the perfect springboard into further studies. Some of the Easter eggs include whiskey commercials made by Kurosawa.

On a personal note, I would have loved to have seen more on Kurosawa’s use of color–a field in which Kurosawa again demonstrates his cinematographic genius–particularly in the film Dreams, a kind of hymn to color and light. But a single documentary, even one over 200 minutes long, can’t hope to encompass all that Kurosawa was, nor show every facet of his greatness.

Kurosawa DVD

Any lover of film, even one woefully under-educated about Kurosawa, will love this piece and should have it. Anyone simply interested in art, which should be everyone, will also find much in this documentary. Watch Kurosawa when you need inspiration, or when you fear that your entire species is devoid of artistry and soul. Early in the documentary, a quote from Kurosawa states the way that only in portraying someone else do we really reveal ourselves–if this is so, Kurosawa showed himself to be a man of singular vision, quiet heroism, depth of passion, and vast compassion, if also occasional despair. It doesn’t matter how much glory he gave us during his long life; we aren’t ready to be without him. Only Kurosawa’s own work could surpass this brilliant documentary. Watch it (over and over) and see for yourself.

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