Imitation and inspiration seem to be the core value of movie making where one filmmaker creates a revolutionary idea another will be in turn inspired to create a similar movie using the same structure or even plot. The circle goes on as more movie makers are inspired and employ these techniques so they become a fixed plot echoed in other films. The first movie that inspired it all is rendered as a cliche to those who return to the original movie last. This pattern is seen in the Seven Samurai, written and directed by the award-winning Akira Kurosawa a Japanese writer and director.
Kurosawa was a famous filmmaker who produced some of the most loved and influential movies in film history.
The thing I am drawn to when studying Kurosawa, is his childhood, the bond he and his older brother, Heigo shared and the way he became such a revolutionary filmmaker. It is always fascinating and moving to see or discover the reason behind a particular movie or scene or even character. In writing, many authors draw their characters from the people around them and the more you read of Kurosawa’s childhood and family relationships you begin to see the effects of his memories and experiences echoed in the movies he produces.
His brother Heigo was four years older than him but the two were inseparable. Heigo didn’t get on well with Kurosawa’s father and moved out pretty soon. Unbeknown to his father Kurosawa spent a great deal of his time with his brother watching movies together and discussing them all day. Heigo introduced the young Kurosawa to literature and his special interest kodan – comic storytelling encompassing samurais and intricate sword fighting. Heigo was a beshi providing live narrative to silent movies but when sound arrived on the scene Heigo lost his living. Soon after he said goodbye to his younger brother, walked off into the mountains and committed suicide. Kurosawa wrote ” ”I clearly remember the day before he committed suicide,” Mr. Kurosawa wrote. ”He had taken me to a movie in the Yamate district and afterward said that that was all for today, that I should go home. We parted at Shin Okubo station. He started up the stairs and I had started to walk off, then he stopped and called me back. He looked at me, looked into my eyes, and then we parted. I know now what he must have been feeling.” Only a few weeks later his other brother died suddenly leaving Kurosawa the only surviving son in the family.
The fact that his brothers career as a benshi was for Japanese and Western films this seems especially poignant as Kurosawa was a great lover of Western movies and indeed in his movies such as Seven Samurai, the structure is set out as a Western (the movie was recreated in Hollywood style by Kurosawa as the Western, The Magnificent Seven which encompasses the same plot and cinematographic structures.) It has even recently been echoed in Kung Fu Panda three.
Kurosawa won many awards for his art yet chose the path of filmmaking and became an assistant director in 1936 to the PCL cinema studio. He won awards for his scenarios which were not published but instead featured in notebooks.
In 1943 he became a director and produced his own film, Sanshiro Sugata which became an instant success.
Kurosawa started working on another film, his first plan was to tell the story of a Samurai’s day from when he woke up and ending tragically with the samurai taking his own life (perhaps made in memory of his brother’s suicide) He felt the story didn’t work however and changed it into the famous and revolutionary Samurai epic Shichinin no samurai or ‘The Seven Samurai. Despite being one of the most famous movies of all time the movie had many fall backs, mostly to do with exceeding the budget several times and the production was shut down more than once. The final budget rose to $500,000 mostly due to the fact that Kurosawa wanted to shoot the entire movie on location. The finale battle scene looks to be shot in Summer and that was the original idea but they ended up shooting half was through February (due to a lack of horses), a bitter time and Mifune said it was the coldest he’d ever felt in his life. Despite all this, the Seven Samurai was announced as the most popular movie in the country’s history. I feel I should include my analysis of the movie at this point.
I feel Kurosawa’s works are very emotive, they focus on human nature, love, fighting to achieve their goals encountering many sub plots against the thrilling background of danger, fights and death. Seven Samurai is a very powerful movie. I was curious whether I would enjoy it as the only subtitle movies I generally watch are Studio Ghibli and I assumed the movie would contain constant fighting due to what I had heard about it. However the moment the movie started I found myself drawn into the story, rooting for the characters. Whilst I didn’t watch it in one sitting, the extended running time ensured you felt you had lived through the days with the Samurai and farmers and feel the emotion and trepidation as the day grew closer when the Bandits did attack.
The effect of having such a long running time also ensured that Kurosawa allowed time for all of the characters back stories and character to shine through so by the end of the movie they are not just one Samurai, you know who they are. This is unsurprising as Kurosawa apparently created entire biographies of each character. This is such dedication and along with his stunning hand painted storyboards the movie was alive in his mind before they even began to film. Seven Samurai feels especially real as it was all filmed on location, Kurosawa does seem to have been a very expensive director causing the production to be shut down several times but it does bring a reality and emotive feeling having everything seen as it would have been in the past from the mud-filled villages to the abundance of flowers on the hills. If this had been created on a set I don’t think it would have been as effective.
The plot is a tense one and Kurosawa kept up the tension so you were never sure who was going to live and die. He let you emphasise with and the woman he loves. Obviously, hierarchies were especially revered back then and the son of a samurai family could never marry the daughter of a farmer. This plot structure can be seen throughout the movie industry as two lovers of different hierarchies fall in love against their parents wishes, they fight for the right to be together and often succeed. However in Seven Samurai after her father beats her it is not sure whether they will end up together.
The story is told so well that the plot structure Kurosawa employed has become one of the many plot devices used in movies and books. The story of an unlikely hero gathering together several other people to help protect them or fulfil a task. Other notable cinematic devices Kurosawa used was the wipe transition most associated with the legend George Lucas. Kurosawa also favoured the weather, using it to increase tension, create atmosphere or show emotion.
Kurosawa’s legendary career spanned 57 years and by the time of his death on the 6th of September 1998 he had directed over 30 movies working on many others and writing scripts. He died of a stroke age 88 at his home. On his death the New York times wrote perfectly that he was, ” an autocratic perfectionist with a painter’s eye for composition, a dancer’s sense of movement and a humanist’s quiet sensibility.
He was am unprecedented and infamous director who brought Japanese movies into the the Western world and the hearts of viewers, mixing them with the fast paced energy of Westerns and the emotional and narrative stories of Japanese culture he truly changed the world of movies.