on November 28, 2003
Puts under the magnifying lens the life of a man with the single-mindedness and honesty to derive perfection out of a single art--the art of directing. Akira Kurosawa presents a candid side of himself and of the personal events that helped shape his career, from early on when he begins an appreciation for the arts & literature, to the point when he finally gets his "break" and starts film-making.
This is NOT a book about film-making, however, nor is it a collective analysis of the films he makes throughout his career, although there are many references to his early work. What is key to this work is Kurosawa's stream of consciousness. His book is a study in introspection and the different factors that weigh on a director's mind as he makes a film. For a would-be director, or an aspiring one, this is an inside-look at how a legendary director produces masterful work, and it is told with such simplicity, such attention to detail and personal sincerity that it equates to the feeling of reading someone's diary or personal memoirs reflecting on the times he felt were deeply affecting.
Through his work, Kurosawa proves himself a man of human insight, of penetrating power into what drives actors and assistant directors alike and bringing out the best of each to produce works of perfection. In the end, Kurosawa defines exactly what it means to direct; to have "insight" into each of the elements that produce a film, from the script-making, to the lighting crews, to the acting, to the camerawork, to the shooting and editing itself, the director is actively involved and the ability to command such forces is likened very appropriately to that of an army general. At the heart of it all, the director is a general, whose ability to bring out the very best out of each of his "soldiers" is what leads his army on to victory. Kurosawa's legendary track-record has proven him a first-rate general of the highest class. This was a real treat to read--Thank You, Kurosawa.
on October 23, 2003
True, this book covers only the period up to Rashomon, the film which made Kurosawa a world-famous director and made the rest of the world aware finally of Japanese films, but, as Kurosawa himself says, after Rashomon it is the films not his life which is important. That, of course, is not completely true, and readers anxious for more should also read the excellent joint biography of Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, "The Emperor and the Wolf" by Stuart Galbraith IV (Faber and Faber, 2001). But Kurosawa's "autobiography," despite its truncated nature, is fascinating.
This book is practically the only source of information on Kurosawa's early life, and it is, in fact, the principal source for that period of his life in Galbraith's book. Readers will also appreciate the list of films which Kurosawa watched early in life and which influenced him as a film maker.
Kurosawa's "autobiography" has a light touch which is very ingratiating, and when he recounts some of the more distressing events of his childhood and adolescence, especially the suicide of his older brother, he simply breaks our hearts.
There are (at least) two excellent critical studies of Kurosawa's films: (1) "The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa" by Stephen Price, Princeton University Press, 1999; and (2) "The Films of Akira Kurosawa" by Donald Ritchie, University of California Press, 1998. Ritchie has also written the canonical work on Japanese Film: "A Hundred Years of Japanese Film," Kodansha International, 2001.
Kurosawa's greatest film is universally acknowledged to be "The Seven Samurai" (1954). Many consider it to be the greatest film ever made. There is a masterful study of this film by Joan Mellen (who added some material to Ritchie's Kurosawa volume) and published by the British Film Institute (2002). "The Seven Samurai" was remade twice in English, first by John Sturges (1960) as "The Magnificent Seven" (the original title for the release of the Japanese film in the US), and later by John Lattimer (Pixar, 1998) as "a bug's life." This writer (obviously in the minority) finds the former a poor copy and the latter a minor masterpiece, which surely would have delighted the "emperor" himself.
on July 17, 2002
Something Like an Autobiography
by Akira Kurosawa
translated by Audie E. Bock
It seems obvious that this book is the first to turn to for admirers of Kurosawa's films who seek to know more about the legendary director's influences and ideas. This is the primary source in English for information about Kurosawa's early life and career, and all the film studies and biographies in print (including dvd commentary tracks and the recent documentary film) draw heavily on it.
It's an excellent book, ably translated by Audie E. Bock. Bock was Kurosawa's English translator and assistant for many years, and incidentally, has provided some of the better English subtitle translations of his films. Her translation of his text here is clear and direct.
In addition to being a great director, Kurosawa was a great scriptwriter, and he tells his own story in fine style through brief episodes that are replete with visual imagery (perhaps to be expected from a filmmaker). His recollection of his childhood is particularly revealing: of the turmoil and sweeping changes in early 20th century Japan, as well as the personal experiences and events that shaped the man he was to become.
Kurosawa recounts his story through his early career at Toho and Daiei up to the Venice Film Festival's award of the Grand Prix medal to Rashomon (1950). His decision not to proceed further is perhaps the book's only major disappointment, as Kurosawa was to live until 1998 and make many great films that are not discussed in the book.
Something Like an Autobiography will hold great appeal to any reader with an interest in 20th century Japanese culture in general, and is simply required reading for those seeking a deeper understanding of the Master's films.
on June 3, 2001
This wonderful text brings the reader directly into one of the greatest minds in film history. Open, honest, real, Kurosawa shares his hopes, his fears, his true self with the reader. For those who admire Kurosawa's work, this book provides so much insight into how the great film maker got his ideas, his motivation and his drive. Unlike the Heart of Darkness, this film maker was filled with light in an otherwise dark time. Alive when the great earthquake hit Tokyo, this book takes the reader from the economic chaos of pre-WWII Japan, through the personal trials and tribulations of Ameican occupation as Kurosawa searches for an identity for his people in the modern era. Touching and painful is the reality that he had to travel aboard to make films because the international movie making genius was considered somehow second rate in Japan just because he was Japanese. Kurosawa said, I don't know why it is that Japanese people feel any thing Japanese is not good enough. His story illustrates the kind of sociological identity crisis that Japan as a whole experienced after WWII. Engaging.
on December 19, 2000
This book is a fantastic gift for the Kurosawa fan and even for the casual reader who likes an interesting book. It gives a clear insight into Kurosawa's life and one can trace the origin for many of his cinematic idioms from his personal experiences. Its really fascinating especially in the parts where he describes the various influences especially his stint with Yamamoto. His rage against the Japanese censorship is so beautifully expresses and one can not help but feel what greater masterpieces might have been extracted from a less fettered director. My only quibble is that he has not talked about his films after Rashomon since that represents a vital experience for film lovers to know and understand.
on August 24, 1999
This work is pure pleasure to read. His use of language mirrors his mastery of cinematography. The book outlines his life up until 1950. While this might seem to omit many of his more well known works, enough detail and thought is given to his early days, that a true insight is gained into his life and work. I do not consider myself a movie buff, but this book doesn't get caught up in the technical side, so I was able to understand his passion clearly. Very good.
on December 5, 1997
Indispensible reading for cinemaniacs, as well as an insightful examination of Japanese culture prior to World War II. The chapters on Kurosawa's first films are interesting, if a bit skimpy in detail, and I would have loved a more thorough discussion of "Rashomon," "The Seven Samurai," the making of "Kagemusha," and his other late-period films. But those are minor quibbles. I won't soon forget this "autobiography."
on February 11, 2002
Interesting not only for the view into the mind of one of my favorite directors, but also for the perspective of someone growing up in barely post-feudal Japan and living through WWII. The tale ends with the production and release of Rashoman, which leaves out a lot of interesting films and events from Kurosawa's life, leaving me hoping that he produces a second volume covering the remainder of his life before it comes to an end.