Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What do you see...

"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." - Akira Kurosawa

I openly admit deep down, especially when it comes to Kurosawa, I tend to romanticize things. I like to think that somehow Kurosawa saw something behind the camera nobody else could, though to be frank we all know that isn't true. Perhaps that's why the above quote appeals to me so very much. That last line, "next time, I'll make something good." Can you imagine working your entire career with that thought?

And let's be honest this isn't coming from a man whose made one or two good movies. Kurosawa's films have graced more top 10 lists than just about any foreign director, and definitely more than any Japanese director. Heck even as recently as 2008 screenplay's he wrote but never produced still get made into feature films in Japan. There's little more this guy could have done to influence the shape of the world of cinema.

Rashomon won him special recognition at the Oscars, opened the world to Japanese cinema, and is well agreed upon to be one of the key catalysts in creating the best foreign film category. Yet still throughout his career he still sought out to making something better. I somehow wonder if he was such an overbearing perfectionist he never saw perfection even in his own work. But with so many amazing films, how could anyone not find perfect in at least one?

"I once asked Akira Kurosawa why he had chosen to frame a shot in Ran in a particular way. His answer was that if he he'd panned the camera one inch to the left, the Sony factory would be sitting there exposed, and if he he'd panned an inch to the right, we would see the airport - neither of which belonged in a period movie. Only the person who's made the movie knows what goes into the decisions that result in any piece of work." - Sidney Lumet (Making Movies)

Though I wonder at times at what cost did this perfection come? Take Red Beard for instance. A period drama about government doctors working in a poor village, and a personal favorite. The film took Kurosawa 2 years to make. Nearly bankrupted himself, the studio, and star Toshiro Mifune. After it, it would be 5 years before Kurosawa returned to cinema. His relationship with Mifune never recovered, and the two ended their 16 year working partnership. The man who was cranking out a classic just about every year struggled to get financing for his final 7 films. And only that was from the generosity of the likes of Spielberg and George Lucas whose careers he so heavily influenced.

It's a difficult thing to constantly want to make your next film "good." With quotes such as "In all my films, there's three or maybe four minutes of real cinema." It makes you wonder what kind of man he really was. What did he truly see when he looked into the camera? Perhaps it was as melancholy as those quotes would suggest. Yet, then again perhaps it's not so different after all. When discussing Indian writer/director Satyajit Ray Kurosawa simply stated: "To have not seen the films of Ray is to have lived in the world without ever having seen the moon and the sun."

I think perhaps what Kurosawa most sought was a sort of beauty in cinema. Something as shattering and pure as the moon and the sun. Outer worldly and yet somehow divine. I kind of wish I could go back in time and watch him simply direct a scene. If only to ask him: "What do you see...?"

....Then again, I do romanticize things a bit too much perhaps. :)

1 better thoughts:

Michele Emrath said...

It's your romanticizing that keeps your blog interesting and unique. And I think we all feel that way about our favorites--not to cheapen your thoughts on Kurosawa. The truth is, they are all human and flawed. Did his art survive even the toughness of reality? Or did it persevere despite his exacting nature (at times)? I am sure there are entire theses written on the topic.


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