On Kurosawa

A Tribute to the Master Director

Through a series of essays, vignettes, poems and fictional excursions, Tokyo-based author Peter Tasker pays homage to one of the world’s greatest creative spirits: Akira Kurosawa.
In this book, Tasker explores and cherishes the wealth of beauty and wisdom in Kurosawa’s more than 30 films, provides insightful commentary on Kurosawa’s life, and sheds light on some of Kurosawa’s lesser known forays.

©Akihide Tamura

Who is Kurosawa

The Japanese director Akira Kurosawa has influenced the world of film like few others in history. His many masterpieces, among them timeless classics such as “Seven Samurai”, “Rashomon”, “Ran” or “Yojimbo”, not only helped manifest Japan’s role as one of the world’s important cinematic nations but also left their mark on films and filmmakers worldwide. Kurosawa understood the possibilities of the medium film, and thanks to his uncompromising directorial approach and the deeply humanistic and emphatic vision which drove most of his work, his films are still cherished by filmgoers and directors today.
2018 marked the 20th year since Kurosawa’s passing. His work remains as powerful as ever.

©Akihide Tamura

Preface

Why Kurosawa? Because his best work is for the ages; like an unscaled mountain range, it inspires, intimidates and challenges. Because he encapsulates both the history of cinema and the history of modern Japan. Because he changed my life.

I doubt I would have come to spend the greater part of my working life in Japan if not for a chance encounter with Seven Samurai at the university film club on a rainy night many decades ago. The film was nearly three hours long, but thrilling and moving and deeply serious in a way that The Magnificent Seven, Hollywood’s plastic western version, could never match. Watching the flickering black and white images, I felt I could smell the blood and mud and share the exhausted desperation of the peasants. I was back a few weeks later for Throne of Blood, Kurosawa’s extraordinary take on Macbeth.

Where on earth did this stuff come from, I wondered. What kind of mind was behind it? I’m still wondering today, hence this book.

My plan was to watch each of the films – re-watch in many cases – and commit to paper a more or less spontaneous response in whatever form, monologue or essay or poem, seemed to work best. The model would be the Japanese tradition of zuihitsu (random jottings).

The works I’ve covered include the thirty films Kurosawa directed, some others that he scripted but did not direct himself and a couple that he embarked on but never finished. I have also adapted and repositioned some anecdotes from his autobiography, which is a remarkable testimony of his life and times that should be filmed someday too.

Kurosawa expects a lot from his audience and never condescends. Like many of the greats in other creative fields, he doesn’t look before he leaps. He takes huge risks. In search of what? He would probably answer that with a shrug. Kurosawa disliked being asked what he meant by such and such a scene. The power of film, he maintained, resided in what could not be explained.

At the start of The Bad Sleep Well, someone interrupts a formal wedding by wheeling in a huge wedding cake in the shape of an office building. A flower pokes from the window of a room where a man died. In the context of a realistic political thriller, it’s a bizarre, even daft scene. It shouldn’t work, but somehow, inexplicably, it does.

That’s the magic of Kurosawa.

On Kurosawa: A Tribute to the Master Director

Hardcover binding

214 pages (incl. film stills, illustrations, and photographs by Akihide Tamura)

Design
Satoshi Machiguchi, MATCH and Company
Publisher
Mark Pearson, Zen Foto Gallery, Tokyo (info@zen-foto.jp)
Distribution
shashasha (info@shashasha.jp)
Size
186 × 246 × 25 mm
Publication Date
01 Dec 2018
ISBN
978-4-905453-78-9

the Author

Peter Tasker is an expert on Japanese and Asian economics and the author of a number of critically acclaimed non-fiction and fiction books in English and Japanese, including “Inside Japan” (1987), “Japan 2020” (1997), “Buddha Kiss” (1997), “Dragon dance” (2003) and “Maximum Target” (2011). He has a keen interest in 1960s and 1970s Japanese culture and has translated numerous works by underground icon Shuji Terayama into English. He is a life-long fan of master director Akira Kurosawa's films.

Home Page

Table of Contents

  • Epigraph
    1
  • Acknowledgements
    8
  • Preface
    11
  • Table of Contents
    12
  • Introduction
    16

IMasterpieces

  • screen
    KAGEMUSHA
    24
  • screen
    SEVEN SAMURAI
    30
  • life
    RE-SAMURAIZING JAPAN
    32
  • screen
    IKIRU (LIVING)
    38
  • life
    TAKASHI SHIMURA’S MOUTH
    44
  • screen
    RAN
    45
  • screen
    THRONE OF BLOOD
    48
  • screen
    21st CENTURY TURKEYS
    51

IIBreakthrough

  • screen
    RASHOMON
    57
  • screen
    THE IDIOT
    58
  • life
    SETSUKO HARA’S NOSE
    59
  • life
    READING BOOKS
    60
  • screen
    THE SILENT DUEL
    63
  • life
    NOIR
    65
  • screen
    ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY
    66
  • life
    WOMEN
    68
  • screen
    THE MOST BEAUTIFUL
    71

IIIWho is Kurosawa?

  • life
    MR. SUN AND MOON
    75
  • screen
    JAKOMAN AND TETSU
    77
  • screen
    SANSHIRO SUGATA (JUDO SAGA)
    79
  • life
    THE SOUNDTRACK OF MY YOUTH
    80
  • screen
    THE MEN WHO TREAD ON THE TIGER’S TAIL
    82
  • screen
    SNOW TRAIL
    85
  • life
    MOTHER
    89
  • screen
    SANSHIRO SUGATA PART TWO
    90
  • life
    RIOTS
    95
  • screen
    THE DEN OF BEASTS
    96

IVKurosawa & Mifune

  • life
    THE BREAK WITH MIFUNE
    102
  • screen
    YOJIMBO
    105
  • screen
    THE BAD SLEEP WELL
    108
  • screen
    STRAY DOG
    110
  • screen
    SCANDAL
    112
  • screen
    HIGH AND LOW
    115
  • screen
    RED BEARD
    121
  • screen
    THE HIDDEN FORTRESS
    122
  • screen
    SANJURO
    124
  • screen
    SWORD FOR HIRE
    128
  • life
    MIFUNE’S EYEBROWS
    131

VSlump

  • screen
    TORA! TORA! TORA!
    135
  • life
    TORU TAKEMITSU
    141
  • life
    AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE
    143
  • screen
    DRUNKEN ANGEL
    144
  • life
    MY BROTHER
    146
  • screen
    LOWER DEPTHS
    148
  • life
    BOKUZEN HIDARI’S SMILE
    149
  • life
    RUNAWAY TRAIN
    150
  • screen
    THE COMPANY THAT VANISHED
    152
  • life
    MY DEFEAT
    155
  • screen
    THE SONG OF THE HORSE
    156

VIRecovery

  • screen
    DERSU UZALA
    162
  • screen
    VENDETTA OF A SAMURAI
    165
  • life
    PAINTING PICTURES
    168
  • screen
    DODESKADEN
    170
  • life
    THE COMING OF TECHNICOLOR
    173
  • screen
    I LIVE IN FEAR
    174
  • screen
    NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH
    177
  • life
    IN DEFIANCE OF TIME
    180
  • screen
    DREAMS
    181

VIICoda

  • screen
    MAADADAYO (NOT YET!)
    187
  • screen
    RHAPSODY IN AUGUST
    194
  • life
    GOING TO THE CINEMA
    196
  • screen
    AFTER THE RAIN
    199
  • life
    MEETING JOHN FORD
    201
  • screen
    DOHYO MATSURI
    202
  • screen
    THE SEA IS WATCHING
    205
  • life
    AK’S ARITHMETIC
    209
  • Sources
    211
  • Epigraph
    218
screen

THRONE OF BLOOD

Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood is a re-imagining of the story of Macbeth, rather than a screen adaptation of the Shakespeare play as done by Roman Polanski and, more recently, Justin Kurzel. It is a work that stands on its own terms, creating a unique self-contained world.Filmed in the volcanic foothills of Mount Fuji, Cobweb Castle was constructed with Kurosawa’s usual attention to authenticity. Yet, as with Rashomon, the setting is strangely isolated from further context. It exists in a dead zone that could be anywhere.When Kurosawa and his three co-writers Hideo Okuni, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Ryuzo Kikushima hunkered down in his favourite hot-spring inn to produce the screenplay, they didn’t even take a copy of the play with them. There is no hint of it in the film’s title or the names of the characters or in the Japanese title credits.If anything, Kurosawa and his team reverse Shakespeare, removing many of the elements he added to the stark outlines of the original story in Holinshed’s Chronicles. Gone is the poetry, gone the famous speeches, gone the exploration of Macbeth’s inner struggle, gone any sense of tragedy.What is left is human beings as archetypes – as in the Noh theatre and also most forms of early drama in the West – as opposed to distinct individuals. In the place of human agency is a Buddhist fatalism reminiscent of the famous opening lines of the Tale of the Heike, which Kurosawa often talked of filming, but never did.

The sound of the bells of Gion Temple echo the impermanence of all things

The hue of the flowers of the teak tree declares that they that flourish must be brought low

Yea, the proud ones are but for a moment, like an evening dream in springtime

Kurosawa’s film opens with the same image that it closes with – mist swirling around a block commemorating the place where Cobweb Castle once stood. Before any human figures appear, we hear a Noh-like flute melody backed by an ominous orchestral rumbling. Then comes the chant of the chorus, which also returns with the closing credits:

Behold the ruin of the castle of illusion

Inhabited only by the spirits of the dead

A scene of carnage born of lust for power

Which never changes from ancient to modern days

Holinshed’s Macbeth is one in a line of medieval Scottish kings who murdered their way to supreme power and were in turn murdered. He’s not especially remarkable and began his reign with many “woorthie dooings and princelie acts” as well as cruel punishments before setting about the elimination of his rivals.Shakespeare took Holinshed’s narrative framework – the witches’ prophecy, the ruthlessness of Lady Macbeth, the killing of Banquo – and made Macbeth a larger and more complex figure. He begins as an intelligent, kind-hearted (“full of the milk of human kindness”) retainer and ends as a blood-soaked tyrant, all the while being intensely aware of what is happening to him. To highlight the enormity of regicide, Shakespeare makes King Duncan an aged, almost saintly man. Thus, the death of Macbeth – and the restoration of legitimate authority under Duncan’s son, Malcolm – becomes a cathartic event.As in Ran twenty-eight years later, Kurosawa’s vision is much bleaker than Shakespeare’s. Washizu (the Macbeth figure) is neither complex nor thoughtful, but a simple warrior carried away in the maelstrom of events, just as any other might be in his circumstances. Far from being saintly, Tsuzaki (the Duncan figure) is cunning, brutal and not much older than his killer. We learn from Lady Asaji (the Lady Macbeth figure) that he won power by murdering his own lord. In the castle he bestowed on Washizu/Macbeth is a cursed room with walls indelibly stained with the blood of a rebel lord who was slaughtered there by Tsuzaki’s son.Lady Asaji is an eerie presence with her long kimono squeaking against the wooden floors and her Noh-mask of a face sporting smudges of eyebrow halfway up her forehead. But like the other Noh-like figure, the prophesying witch-spirit in the forest, she is a teller of uncomfortable truths. As she notes, in a world where parents slay their children, and children slay their parents for gain and position, it makes sense to get your retaliation in first.How far can you trust the slippery Tsuzaki? How far can you trust your childhood friend Miki (the Banquo figure)? After all, he’s no different from you. Didn’t he react to the witch-spirit’s words the same way you did?At the end of the tale, there is no climactic single-combat face-off (“Lay on, Macduff!”) where we can at least admire the villain’s raw courage. Instead, Washizu dies an ignoble, even absurd death – stuck with dozens of arrows fired by his own troops who decide to switch sides when they see the way the battle is going.There is no catharsis because there is no individual tragedy. There is no victory speech celebrating the restoration of rightful order. In fact, we barely glimpse the victors, though we know Tsuzaki’s murderous son is waiting to take over.And that is that. One cycle is over and another waiting to begin. The last shot tells us how everything will end: in ruins and swirling dust, while the chorus chants warnings that will never be heeded.

life

MR. SUN AND MOON

Choosing a child’s name is a serious business. It’s a signpost to destiny.The kanji character for “Akira” has two sub-components, the character for “moon” on the right side and the character for “sun” on the left. The original Chinese character goes back to the earliest form of writing in East Asia, the oracle bone script of the second millennium BC.

In Mandarin Chinese the pronunciation of the charactor is “ming”, as in Ming Dynasty. In Japanese, the Chinese-style pronunciation is “mei” and the indigenous-style pronunciation is “aka(rui).” As a personal name, it becomes “Akira”, but can also be used for other personal names such as “Toru” and “Haru”.The character connotes brightness, enlightenment, wisdom, tomorrow, dawn. It appears in hundreds of compound words, including the terms for “civilization” “clarity” and “invention.”During the abortive shoot for Tora! Tora! Tora! Kurosawa took to writing autographs with a calligraphy brush and ink. He would not write his family name, just the character for “Akira”, with the English words “sun” and “moon” above it.Japanese first names are rarely used outside the context of the family, but at the time he was in close contact with Hollywood studio personnel and other Americans. Instead of being referred to as “Kurosawa-sensei” by his juniors and “Kurosawa-kun” by his elders, he would have had to get used to being called “Akira” or, more likely, “Akeeruh.”

The two kanji characters that make up his family name, “Kuro-sawa”, mean “black” and “swamp” Put his personal name and family name together and you have a fascinating visual contrast.You see a full moon shining on a gloomy, treacherous landscape.You see the beam of a film projector breaking through the darkness of a cinema.You see shadows and silhouettes, black and white and all the shades in between.You see the darkness and light in the heart of the human animal.

Sometimes the Japanese media write “Kurosawa” not in kanji characters, but in the katakana script used mainly for foreign loan-words or for special emphasis. The formulation often comes with the phrase “sekai no Kurosawa”, literally “Kurosawa of the world.”In a sense, the term is merely factual. By winning the Golden Lion for Rashomon at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, Kurosawa became famous globally before he became famous in Japan – and at a time when the only well-known Japanese overseas would have been Emperor Hirohito and General Tojo.Furthermore, Kurosawa’s films rarely deal with specifically Japanese customs and social codes and are easily comprehensible by foreign audiences. His samurai inhabit a mythic landscape, like the gunslingers and sheriffs of classic Westerns. This universality explains his success in transposing Shakespeare and Gorky to his own filmic world, a feat that would be impossible for an Ozu or a Mizoguchi.By de-Japanizing his identity, the Japanese media are acknowledging something else too; that as an artist Akira Kurosawa has transcended his individual origins and exists in another realm where Japan and Japanese-ness no longer define him. Or to put it another way, “Sekai no Kurosawa” is a gift from Japan to the world.

life

MOTHER

When the tempura oil spewed flame
She lifted the pot from the red-hot grill
Walked calmly across the tatami as
The heat frizzled her eyebrows to crisps,
Slipped on clogs at the outside door and,
Her face and voice expressing nothing,
Set the pot down safely in the gardenp

They used pincers to peel her blackened skin
Her bandaged hands took months to heal

screen

HIGH AND LOW

“My room was so cold in winter and so hot in summer, I couldn’t sleep. From that tiny room, your house looked like heaven. As I looked at it, I gradually started to hate you.”So says the child-kidnapper to his target, a successful businessman whose wealth he extorted. Literally, the executive lives “high,” in a grand house perched on the Yokohama bluff. The criminal lives “low,” in a squalid apartment close to the teeming maze of the entertainment district.Down there, it is as “hot as hell” in the baking summer. Using a telescope, the kidnapper can see right into the businessman’s luxurious living room, packed with artworks and modish furniture.The film is an adaptation of a taut thriller, King’s Ransom, by the great American crime writer Ed McBain. Kurosawa made dramatic changes not just to the details of the plot but to the major theme. While McBain’s 1959 novel focusses on inequality and its effect on life choices, Kurosawa goes deeper.

The Japanese title is “Heaven and Hell,” which is a much better description of the psychological contrast that Kurosawa creates. In the world of the film, character, choices and fate combine to take human beings into states of horror and states of peace.The first sections follow the original story reasonably closely, to the extent of using chunks of McBain’s dialogue, but the novel ends at a point where the film is not even half done. The remainder is entirely the invention of Kurosawa and his co-writers. The famous train sequence, the nightmare world of the heroin den, the dream-like chance meeting between hero and villain – none of that is in the original novel.Crucially, Kurosawa drastically alters the portrayal of the two main characters. The effect of every change is to accentuate the differences between the two men, rather than the similarities as drawn out in the novel.McBain has a gang of three kidnappers, career criminals motivated by pathetic dreams of wealth and freedom. Their squabbling mirrors the ruthless scheming of the high-powered executive in the big house and his treacherous colleagues. In both cases the heartlessness of the males comes into conflict with the human feelings of a woman.In the end McBain gives the two more sympathetic of his criminals a second chance. They get away scot-free and there is some small possibility they will learn the error of their ways.Kurosawa makes his villain a much darker figure, a hate-filled loner who doesn’t seem to need or even want the money. He ends up a triple murderer and it’s clear there can be no redemption for him. Far from being on a level with McBain’s three losers, he has a high-status job as a trainee doctor. In a Japanese context, that means he almost certainly comes from a well-off family. He is intelligent, well-spoken and cockily self-confident right to the end.“Hate made my life worth living,” he says in the final devastating encounter between the kidnapper and his target. “For an unfortunate person like me, it’s fun to make a fortunate person unfortunate.”“Were you really so unfortunate?” is the disbelieving reply of Kongo (“King” in the novel), the executive who lives on the hill.

Kongo’s Outcast Background

Kongo’s scepticism is rooted in his own surprising back-story, which is implied rather than spelt out. He is from a craftsman’s background and still keeps his tools around the house. When the police need a special pocket sewn into a briefcase, he offers to do it himself. Squatting in the middle of his posh sitting room, he empties his tool-bag onto the carpet, rolls up his sleeves and gets to work.“In the old days, I didn’t just do shoes. I made bags too,” he explains.For a Japanese audience, the implication would be clear. Kongo is a member of the burakumin minority group which was discriminated against for many centuries and restricted to taboo trades such as leather-work and dealing with the dead. Despite that handicap, he has worked his way from the factory floor to the higher echelons of the corporate hierarchy.McBain’s businessman protagonist remains unregenerate to the end. He keeps his fortune, wins the takeover battle, even personally takes down the bad guy, half strangling him in the process in his lust for revenge. His mafia-like values – “you do whatever it takes to get ahead” – remain intact.“Some guys always pick up all the marbles,” says Steve Carella, the most humane cop in the 87th Precinct.“Why do the louses of the world get all the rewards?” grumbles another.After a rocky start, the Japanese cops come to respect Kongo and praise him accordingly.“He’s an amazing guy.”“Maybe it’s because I was brought up poor, but I’ve never liked rich guys. That’s why I didn’t like him at first.”When they research possible grudges against him, they find he is well liked by the line-workers at the factory he manages.Kongo risks everything and loses everything. Unlike McBain’s ruthless go-getter, he is a different man at the end of the film than at the beginning, humbler and wiser. Having undergone bankruptcy and a forced sale of his possessions, he has found a job at a much smaller company and is working hard to turn it round. He has also forgiven his tormentor.“You must be happy I’m going to get the death penalty,” says the condemned man.“Why say that?” replies Kongo. “Why must we hate each other?”“I’m not scared of death or going to hell. If I was told I was going to heaven, that’s more likely to make me shake with fear.”Heaven and hell are not realities, but states of mind.The killer is already in hell, as he realises at the last moment, one that he created himself. His cynical bravado suddenly melts away. He hurls himself at the wire netting that separates the two of them. He howls with the despair of self-knowledge.

© Akihide Tamura
screen

DERSU UZALA

Dersu:Sun is the most important man. If he dies, we all die.

Arseniev:According to you, all things around us are men.

Dersu:Look, all are men. Water is alive.

Arseniev:Is this fire alive too?

Dersu:Yes, fire is still men. Fire get angry – scary. Water get angry – scary. Fire, water wind – three mighty men.

Kurosawa’s “comeback” film in 1975 was financed by a Soviet production company and filmed in Siberia. The Tora! Tora! Tora! fiasco of 1968 and the box-office failure of Dodeskaden (1970) had made him a financial liability in both Hollywood and Japan.Fearing that he would never make another film, Kurosawa had attempted suicide in 1971 and was rushed to hospital. He remained grateful to the Russians for rescuing his career. Dersu Uzala won the Oscar for best foreign language film of 1975, Kurosawa’s second such award after Rashomon.The film is an adaptation of a memoir by Vladimir Arseniev, an early twentieth century Russian military surveyor and ethnographer. The book, written in 1923, is little known in the West but had sold well in Japanese translation.On its publication in the Soviet Union, its author received a letter of congratulation from Maxim Gorky, a favoured writer of the Bolshevik regime and author of The Lower Depths, also adapted for the screen by Kurosawa.Arseniev encountered the real Dersu, a member of the Goldi ethnic minority, in the Russian Far East. As a boy, he had been an enthusiastic reader of James Fenimore Cooper and his Dersu has similarities with Chingachgook, hero of The Last of the Mohicans.The Goldi (Nanai) people are of fully Mongoloid origin. Kurosawa stressed the importance of their animism, which he believed had much in common with the traditional beliefs of other East Asian peoples, including the Japanese. “Dersu does not think human beings are the lords of creation,” he stated in a 1975 interview with the Japanese magazine Weekly Playboy.

Kurosawa believed that his own family, which came from Akita Prefecture in north Japan, had some foreign blood. He himself was extremely tall for a Japanese of his generation and, according to one close associate, had a bluish tinge in his eyes. Family tradition held that they were descended from the Abe clan of northern warlords, one of whom was noted for his enormous body and non-native facial features. Northern Japan was where the pre-modern Jomon people were concentrated, a population believed by some to be connected to Japan’s Ainu minority.Kurosawa was familiar with Arseniev’s book and had wanted to film it for decades. In the mid-1950s, at his request, collaborator Eijiro Hisaita scripted a version that placed the action in early Meiji period Hokkaido. “Dersu” was to become a member of the Orok ethnic group dwelling in Hokkaido and “Arseniev” a Japanese army officer.Geographically and historically, this made sense. Hokkaido is closer to the Ussuria region, where the real Arseniev met the real Dersu, than it is to Tokyo. In early Meiji, Hokkaido and the Kurile Isles to the north had yet to be settled, developed and fully incorporated into the Japanese state.The Hokkaido Dersu project didn’t get off the ground, but twenty years later, Kurosawa had the opportunity to set the story in its authentic context. Now in his mid-sixties, he spent a year and a half filming in Siberia. He suffered from frostbite, tick infestation and damage to his knees that persisted for the rest of his life. For several months, the crew were based in the town of Arseniev, named after the explorer.Maxim Munzuk, the actor who played Dersu, was a Tuvan, an ethnic group with Mongolian roots. In real life, he enjoyed hunting and fishing in the forests and steppes. According to Kurosawa, the short, squat Munzuk’s appearance and way of walking were exactly how he had imagined Dersu.

The film takes the form of a prologue and flashback, one of the few Kurosawa films to do so. The opening sequence, which shows Arseniev searching for Dersu’s grave, takes place in the spring of 1910. Kurosawa was born in March 1910, amidst the headlong rush of Japanese industrialization.In the prologue, the twentieth century has arrived in the Russian Far East, too: buildings are being thrown up and the cedar trees that marked the site of the grave have been cut down. Arseniev does not find it. By the time of Kurosawa’s birth, no trace of the man Dersu is left.The nature he inhabited and was part of was both beautiful and terrifying. Death was just an instant away in the form of a freezing wind or a bandit’s bullet or night visit from Amba, the tiger-god. When Dersu realises his eyesight is failing, he knows his time on earth is over and Kangu, the spirit of the taiga forest, is calling him home.

Arseniev:How old are you, Dersu?

Dersu:Ah, I've been alive for a long, long time...

Tens of thousands of years, in fact. But when Dersu the Trapper disappears, his world disappears with him.Arseniev himself is complicit in the process, as he knows. He is a military surveyor whose job it is to map the area for future development and military purposes. The eastern stretch of the Trans-Siberian Railway, linking Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, was completed in 1897, facilitating the movement of people, weapons and building materials. The smallpox that wiped out Dersu’s wife and children probably arrived with settlers from the other side of the Urals.

This excursion left a mournful impression. On every side, one sees nothing but robbery and exploitation. In the non-distant future this land of Ussuria, so rich in animal life and forest, will be turned into a desert.

Vladimir Arseniev, from Dersu the Trapper

The Russo-Japanese War, not mentioned in the book, has already happened, with the Russians suffering a crushing defeat. The Russian Revolution is around the corner. In response, Japanese troops operating as part of the Allied Expeditionary Force will occupy the Russian Maritime Province, the location of the story, and parts of Siberia until 1922.Vladimir Arseniev died in 1930. His widow was shot as a Japanese spy in 1938 after a trial that lasted ten minutes, and his daughter was sent to the gulag for ten years. Two years previously, in 1936, the young Akira Kurosawa entered the Japanese film industry.

I sat down by the side of the road and buried myself in memories of the friend I had lost. As in the cinema, all the pictures of our past life together were unrolled before the eyes of my memoryÅc“Farewell, Dersu, old friend” I said for the last time, and turned to walk back to the station.

Vladimir Arseniev, from Dersu the Trapper

Reviews & Comments

“Kurosawa created works of unmatched power -- bold, challenging and entertaining art, far beyond what seems achievable in his time or any other time. Tasker’s book explores and illuminates that. I’m knocked out by the design and admire the intimate, anti-film book approach. It brings me closer to the artist and the person.”

Steven Okazaki, director of Mifune: The Last Samurai

“Peter Tasker’s On Kurosawa: A Tribute to the Master Director achieves something that didn’t seem possible – a genuinely fresh perspective on this exhaustively documented filmmaker. Exquisitely designed, the book turns to the Japanese tradition of zuihitsu (random jottings) for its model, with poems, essays, quotations and even fiction to reflect upon each of the director’s 30 films (plus others he wrote or were never made). Designed by Satoshi Machiguchi and lavishly illustrated, On Kurosawa is an essential, one-of-a-kind tribute.”

Stuart Galbraith IV Author, The Emperor and the Wolf – The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune

“All in all, I must say that I really enjoyed Tasker’s less conventional approach to Kurosawa’s life and films. While some chapters certainly worked better for me than others, the book offers many fresh perspectives on topics that I feel I have become quite familiar with in the last twenty odd years of maintaining a Kurosawa website. It’s always nice to be surprised in this way.”

Vili Maunula, curator of the Akira Kurosawa Info website.

“The book is crafted with lots of photographs from which one almost “smells the blood and mud,” as Peter Tasker says he did when he had a chance-encounter with Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai as a student film-addict one rainy night many decades ago. His book reminds one that the director was widely known as an extreme perfectionist. “Well done,” he would say.”

Tomohiko Taniguchi, Professor at Keio University and Special Advisor to Prime Minister Abe.

“This is a beautifully designed and enjoyable book that sheds new light on Akira Kurosawa's body of work. The author's deep love for a master film-maker and his films shines through on every page.”

Frederik L. Schodt,  award-winning  translator and author  of Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga and other works

“Like viewing a mountain from several angles, On Kurosawa brings alive Kurosawa the colossus in a unique and freshly illuminating way.  Peter Tasker calls Kurosawa a “gift from Japan to the world.” His book is truly a gift to us, Kurosawa’s admirers and students.”

Fran Rubel Kuzui, filmmaker

“Kurosawa lovers have reason to rejoice. Peter Tasker’s ON KUROSAWA is a gorgeous and comprehensive anthology of the master’s works. In this essential volume, Tasker reflects and illuminates us on the brilliant, multifaceted work of Japan’s most important filmmaker.”

Min Jin Lee, author of FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES and PACHINKO, finalist for the National Book Award.

“A visual tour of Kurosawa’s filmic legacy that reminds us of not only his domestic influence but also the global power his films and cinematic tapestry evoke.”

Barak Kushner, Professor of East Asian History at Cambridge University.

“I learned a lot from this wonderful book. That Drunken Angel, one of my favorite all-time Kurosawa films, a graphic and moody depiction of the post Tokyo Underworld, is probably the first ever yakuza movie. That the greatest director in the world, who made many masterpieces including Seven Samurai, Ikiru, and Rashomon, went ten years at the peak of his power as a director without being allowed to direct a movie in Japan, until George Lucas helped put together the funding for Kagemusha, recruiting Francis Ford Coppola as co-producer. I also learned that Kurosawa had a ferocious temper and was a very heavy drinker, but also managed to read the massive novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy more than 30 times, and considered Fyodor Dostoyevsky his favorite author. These are just a few of the terrific insights into Akira Kurosawa and his world that you will glean from his handsomely produced book. Peter Tasker has done us all a remarkable service with On Kurosawa, which caused me spend the weekend after reading it watching Kurosawa films. We owe Peter a big debt of gratitude.”

Robert Whiting, author of You Gotta Have Wa and Tokyo Underworld

“Son livre est l'inverse d'une exégèse critique. Doté d'une magnifique iconographie, il varie les perspectives, les angle et les points de vue, consacrant à certains films un court poème, imaginant pour d'autres la vie d'un personnage après le film, racontant pour d'autres encore les circonstances du tournage...”

Régis Arnaud, Vivre le Japon
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