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Akira Kurosawa

March 23, 1910 - September 6, 1998

    Akira Kurosawa was born in Tokyo, the youngest of eight children, to Isamu and Shima Kurosawa, of the Samurai class.  Displaying an early interest in art, he was allowed to attend a private art school while still a teenager.  His painting "Seibutsu" was accepted for the Nika Exhibition at age 18. Kurosawa applied to enter art school, but failed the entrance exam.  He continued to submit his artwork to exhibitions but did not find a repeat of his early success.  Unable to make a living at painting he changed courses at age 26 and was hired as an assistant director by a prominent Japanese production company.  After seven years working as an assistant director his first film, Sugata Sanshiro, was released, in 1943.

    Kurosawa directed ten films during the 1940s, but it was the film Rashomon, released in 1951, that gained international attention when it won the 1951 Golden Lion Award from the Venice Film Festival.  Rashomon won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1952.  A succession of successful films followed throughout the 1950s, bringing Kurosawa to the forefront of internationally known directors.  More popular internationally than in his own Japan, his achievements brought the attention of Hollywood production companies as well. The relationships which he formed with them were tenuous, at best. In 1969, Kurosawa gave up trying to make the movie Tora Tora Tora, with 20th Century Fox, after two years had failed to produce results. European and American filmmakers emulated his directing style, even re-making some of his films as "Spaghetti Westerns". Fistful of Dollars (1964), directed by Sergio Leone was based on Yojimbo, and The Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven (1960). During the 1960s there began a steady decline from the pinnacle of success he had achieved in the late 1950s. In Japan, he was criticized for being too "western" and his choice of writers like Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and Dashiel Hammet was viewed with suspicion. To his critics, his work had begun to seem outdated and overly melodramatic.  In 1971, Kurosawa attempted suicide.

    It is a further tribute to Akira Kurosawa that his recovery from the depths of depression that had led to his suicide attempt was to result in the achievement of a new level of success, surpassing his previous one.  In 1975, he found regained respect with Dersu Urzala, a film made in the USSR.  Kagemusha, his tale of a man who serves as a "double" for a dead feudal lord won the Golden Palm from Cannes in 1980.  In 1985, his version of King Lear, titled Ran was released.  It received an Oscar nomination for Best Director (1986). In 1990, the Academy Awards presented Kurosawa with an Honorary Award for cinematic accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained worldwide audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world. Kurosawa was awarded the D.W. Griffith Award from the Directors Guild of America in 1992.

Although, sadly, the world will not have another film directed by Akira Kurosawa, he has left a legacy of over thirty films that we and future generations may continue to enjoy.

 

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