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Currently playing at the AK film club: Ran (Kurosawa 1985)

Kurosawa’s paintings in Paris

The first of the AK100 events seems to already have started (actually not: see update below), with the exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris. Here is a short description in French and in English with further details.

You can also download a French language PDF brochure about the event: click here.

Update: As Fabien notes in his excellent account of the exhibition in a comment to this post, this is not an AK100 related event at all. Do also read Diego’s earlier comments — together, the two give you something of a verbal tour of the exhibition!



Discussion: 22 Comments »



Hi guys, I visited the exhibition a couple of days ago during a short trip to Paris. It is really very exciting to see Kurosawa’s paintings live and the Petit Palais site is just splenind. Unfortunately, the exhibition is not very well organized – it might be sometimes hard to follow the sequential order of the works even for someone who knows the films well like us.
I also wanted to have more information in the captions of the works and a more precise explanation of the Japanese titles that appear on the paintings. Me and my Japanese girlfirend sometimes had difficulties in relating the actual Japanese to the translation proposed on the captions.
However, the emotion of seen Kurosawa’s paintings live at an inch from your nose is priceless and it’s definitely worth the trip if you are in the nearby.




Vili Maunula

Thanks for the report, Diego! It’s much appreciated, as I’m sure most of us won’t have the chance of getting anywhere near the exhibition any time soon.

The link that I posted in the article here mentions that the exhibition includes “nearly a hundred of the filmmaker’s various drawings made in crayon, ink, water colours or pastel”. Would you say that “nearly a hundred” here means “close to 100″, or rather more something like “over 60″? Did they hang any larger works, or was it only smaller drawings?

I guess it’s mainly (exclusively?) works from the late 70s onwards?

Was there any exhibition book or booklet available? Did you see if they were selling the “Akira Kurosawa – Complete Drawings”?

And how about visitors? Were there people at the exhibition?

Sorry about the avalanche of questions. :smile:




Hello Vili,

I’m very bad at numbers but I reckon the paintings are around 90. All the works have the same size (somewhere between A3 and A2 size I believe). Important thing: they are all ‘very’ recent, being the preparatory sketches for the films – Kagemusha, Ran, Dreams, and Umi wa miteta.
Infact they should have advertised this better as one might think Kurosawa’s paintings are not only sketches for the scripts.

For those of you who can read French there’s more info in the pdf file you linked above.

They were selling a catalogue made especially for the exhibition, not any other publication about Kurosawa.

As for the audience, it was rather mixed. Paris hosts a fairly large community of Japanese and it was no surprise to see many of them there. However, the exhibition – which is very well advertised in the city – attracted a vast number of ‘random’ visitors. Petit Palais has a parallel exhibition showing some works coming from the collection of Shokokuji, Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji, which I didn’t visit. Therefore, it is possible to buy a ticket that includes both exhibition for a reasonable price (round €10).

All these exhibitions, as well as others (Musée d’Orsay, Musée Guimet, etc) are in the context of the France-Japan 150 anniversary, celebrating 150 of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Something analog (regrettably less full of beautiful exhibitions) is happening here in London at the same time. I guess the only Kurosawa-related event taking place in London will be one of the Kurosawa 100 world tour appointments.

And I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s that gonna be, if you know what I mean…




Hey, Diego, Vili, the show looks good! I would love to see Kurosawa’s hand up close!



Vili Maunula

I don’t actually know if any of the larger paintings survive. Kurosawa destroyed all his early paintings once he became a film director, and I’m not sure if he later painted other than for his movies (and that airplane design for JAS in the 1990s).

Didn’t the exhibition at least have a collection of the film posters that he painted?

I attended an exhibition of his paintings (among other things) in Kyoto in 1999, and while I can’t remember much, I remember this one wall made up of Kurosawa’s posters (the ones he painted himself). I also remember that there were some pretty large paintings as well, but coming to think of it now I’m not sure if those simply weren’t blow-ups of his smaller drawings. We couldn’t get close enough to see for sure, and as I said my memories are hazy.

Apropos, why is the AK100 website calling Kurosawa “infamous”?



Jeremy Quintanilla

I would of really like to seen that exhibit.




Vili, no, there weren’t any of his posters. That would have been super. I’m not sure either there is any mention of other paintings in any of the main references of Kurosawa’s work and life.

I saw the ‘infamous’ title of AK100 website. Now that’s interesting… well, it would be fair enough for me to call him infamous, at least on the Japanese side, as he has been heavily criticized in different periods of his life for his work. However, after his death he underwent the usual process of ’sanctification’ that all these controversial figures do once they pass away. The way this AK100 production posits itself in the paradox of Kurosawa as famous/infamous is really interesting, but I wonder what the intention of that title was…




Infamous, as in “AK100 site has tentative grasp on English, and an even more dubious understanding of Kurosawa’s work”.



Vili Maunula

Coco: Infamous, as in “AK100 site has tentative grasp on English, and an even more dubious understanding of Kurosawa’s work”.

I think you are right.

Also, I wonder if I should actually remove all the links to their website as per their terms of service: they not only “prohibit” linking to any page but their front page, but are also reserve the right of denying links from a “web site that includes contents intended to harm or defame the Team, other companies (individuals), or groups”.

Of course, I would think that they are quite a way off of their legal rights with those demands. I wonder, will we also be prohibited from publishing negative reviews of the AK100 events? :razz:




Haha, now that’s funny. Thank you Vili, very well spotted.
This does nothing but increasing my desire of polemics…
All I have to say is that I will follow closely the progression of their activities and try and atten all I can in London, Paris and hopefully Japan if the timing is fortunate.

Plus let me insist on this on Nou no Bi, the so-called documentary on Noh. This is not the lost documentary that he shot during the production of Throne of Blood!! That one is now lost.
From the preview, this Nou no Bi is a static shot of the Noh play Yashima, and not a documentary at all!!!

I’m so pissed off!!



Vili Maunula

I wonder whether the “lost documentary” ever had anything but the static shot of Yashima completed. The first we heard about the release was that it would be a “documentary”, but later reports have made me suspect that they are just trying to build a documentary around this footage Kurosawa shot. Somehow, it seems similar to a case where they would be building a movie around some location scouting shots for a film that Kurosawa never actually started filming.

Even if they are following Kurosawa’s original plans, it sounds very dubious to me to call it a “Kurosawa documentary”. Maybe, if they have a full script it might be justified, but then how relevant as a documentary is a work that already at the time of its release is 25 years old?

Not that I wouldn’t like to see it completed and released, of course. I just wonder, how long can you go on selling things with the value of Kurosawa’s name before you have irreversibly diminished that value?




Thanks for the information.
Living in France (400km far from Paris) was yet the first place where I learnt about it.
I planned to take a visit of this exposition (and maybe a guided one for €4.50 more) in the next month.
If you have any more question about it, I could try to grab some answer (but do not promise to succeed, as I won’t have much time to spend around).



Vili Maunula

Fabien, it would be great if you could give us a report once you visit the exhibition!

I’d also like to know if this is actually an AK100 event, or separate from the “Word Tour”. It is a little confusing because this exhibition is to end in January, yet the AK100 stay in Paris is marked for March, April and May of 2009.

If this is a separate exhibition, it would be great to know who is running it, and whether it is touring other cities.




So I took last friday the guided visit of “Akira Kurosawa, dessins” (drawings) exhibition and I was the one and only guest of the guide during nearly one hour and a half! (And there is only one guided tour per week.)

It was my first (as far as I can remember) visit of the Petit Palais and, like Diego, I found it grandiose, as it is a stylish and impressive building with great rooms and a nice inside garden.
(It was erected for the 1900 Universal Exhibition and became the official Paris Beaux-Arts Palace in 1902, hosting permanent and temporary exhibitions since then – especially some works of great painters like Courbet, Cézanne, Doré, Rembrandt, Monet and so on.)

When the guide came and saw me, she seemed a little bothered and, when asked, explained me that she had almost nobody at each of her weekly Kurosawa tours, that the few guests who paid the guided visit were all Kurosawa experts or enthusiasts and she immediately asked me in which of those cases I put myself. (Could you guess?)
Later, she gave the precision that she was not a Kurosawa specialist at all but a contributor to the “Zen” temporary section of the museum who took time to read books and watch films to prepare her speech.
At this moment, I was proud to take out of my bag and show her a book that she had not read (the one from Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, acquired on the wise advice of Vili).

The “Zen” section of the Petit Palais is – as Diego mentioned above – hosted towards 150th anniversary of French-Japan relations (like many other cultural events about Japan in Paris this season) and incidentally related to the tenth anniversary of Kurosawa’s death.
The guide confirmed me that it had nothing to do with AK100 and that the drawings were borrowed by the museum curator from HoriPro Inc. and Kurosawa’s heirs, when he went to Japan in order to prepare the “Zen” exhibitions.
(This exhibition is produced by Paris museums and financially helped by the Japan Foundation and french-japanese Sasakawa Foundation.)

The first thing you see when entering the exhibition is a photo and a short bio of Akira, the latter being written in french, english and japanese (this is not specific to this section and the three languages can be found nearly everywhere in Petit Palais).
After that, you turn on your right and see a filmography, accompanied by a 1983 poster of Cannes film festival, featuring a Kurosawa drawing: on this one stands a japanese cavalryman on his horse and dressed in red; I can’t say if it’s a late vision of Kagemusha or an early vision of Ran, as the guide seemed mistaken on this one (she spoke about a 85 Venice “Mostra” film festival poster which was not there).
Then, you enter a long corridor, straight on one side, and built like a folding screen on the other side; on these two sides are hung the 87 drawings in chronological order, with a photo and a synopsis for each film (always in french, english and japanese).
Below each drawing stand a title and the tools and materials used: blends of lead pencil, watercolour, pastel, felt-tip and ball-point on drawing paper or letter paper, sometimes with collages.

The guide followed the chronological order, speaking about the scenarios, about the director’s life and a little about Japanese history for Kagemusha and Ran.
She spoke particularly about Akira’s brother (silent movies, suicide) and father and explained that the abundance of drawings (one thousand – or maybe thousands? – in total, for only 87 exposed) started with Kagemusha, in order to convince future producers (like Coppola) that the film could be great.
She warmly agreed with me on the impressive first drawings (in exhibition order) for Kagemusha, showing moon reflections on the warriors listening to the flute melody or fire highlights in Suwa sanctuary.
Sadly, she could not say anything about the finally abandoned and not realized ninth Dream, “Je vole” (I am flying), presented with three drawings featuring a funambulist walking on a rope between high buildings and a fourth drawing featuring the same character flying in front of a mountain.
She ended her speech with a personal view emphasizing the rise of femininity in Kurosawa’s œuvre with Umi Wa Miteita (The Sea is Watching) and I could not do anything but to promise that I will watch it as soon as possible.

Despite the fact that the guided visit seemed not very appreciated, the simple visit attracted nearly ten folks per hour during the two or three hours I spent there, but this is very few for such an artist and such a museum.
Just before my leaving, a visitor with a restrained english accent accosted me to ask some questions and seemed very happy to share her passion with “such” another Kurosawa adept and very happy too to receive detailed information about the earliest films (which she did not watch yet) and their availability on DVD.

There was a little shop at the end of the room, featuring only the associated catalog at the price of €30, but the main shop of Petit Palais sell also the Kurosawa volume of the french series “Cahiers du cinéma” (interesting but relatively small book) as well as french DVD releases at exaggerated prices (Arte Vidéo Judo Saga set and MK2 set).

I intend to send a mail to the french press contact to get more information and possibly an authorization to reproduce here some drawings not shown in the PDF official document.



Vili Maunula

Thanks for the excellent, in-depth verbal tour of the exhibition, Fabien!

It is a little strange that they would even arrange a guided tour, if they don’t have either a guide who is an authority in the subject, or visitors interested in that tour! On the other hand, from what you described, she seemed like a nice guide. I am also glad to hear that the synopses and other texts were offered in three languages.

It is an interesting point that she made about “the rise of femininity in Kurosawa’s oeuvre with Umi wa miteita” (The Sea is Watching). I am not sure if I fully agree with her there, but that film and the other posthumously filmed script, After the Rain, certainly have a slightly different vibe when it comes to families and women.

Thanks also for reminding me about the Cahiers du cinéma book. I had all but forgotten that I bought it earlier this year, but haven’t read it yet! I’ll have to take a look. :smile:



Jeremy Quintanilla

I really appreciate the write-up Fabien.




Fabien, lovely report of the exhibition. I’m not surprised at the few attendees, nor at the lack of a handy Kurosawa expert to give the guided lecture. Kurosawa’s graphic arts would be of interest to a very small audience, I think, and museums have little money for luxuries like experts these days. Often volunteers give guided lectures.
Who even goes to art museums these days, anyway? (Art professor bemoaning the state of the arts…I’m a little verklempt…talk amongst yourselves).




I finally received an answer to my e-mail, by the curator himself, but only to learn that he was not aware of any other planned drawings exhibition.

Given that he did not forbid me to reproduce some additional drawings, and according to the copyright/press section of the official document (PDF in Vili’s article), I reproduce here four drawings not presented in the official document and showing other aspects of Kurosawa’s paper work.

R 443 – Hidetora Ichimonji’s helmet with crest (277×354mm, lead pencil, watercolour, pastel on letter paper)

R 450 – Hidetora Ichimonji’s cavalry ensign and banners (277×368mm, lead pencil, watercolour on letter paper)

(There were also sketch or paint studies about kimonos, caps, hoods…)

The next two are about the abandoned ninth Dream : I am Flying.
Y 406 – Building roof [I am Flying] (329×409mm, lead pencil, watercolour, pastel, ink on watercolour paper)

Y 409 – Stumbling [I am Flying] (329×409mm, lead pencil, watercolour, pastel, ink on watercolour paper)

Note also that there was a children-targeted activity along with the exhibition, named “Let us draw with Kurosawa!”.
(When waiting for the guided tour, I noted that there were throngs of children, accompanied by adults, and following or waiting for various activities.)
I did not take this one, but the grandson of my uncle might take it, wait and see.

[Images seem to be forbidden, here, sorry.]



Vili Maunula

Thanks for the images, Fabien! What do you mean with images being forbidden here, though? They should work, if you use the image tag button. Or did you have some trouble there?

I like the idea with the “Let’s Draw with Kurosawa” activity. :smile:

Actually, I’m not entirely sure but I think that these images have a bit more contrast and stronger colours (especially reds) than the originals (or reproductions?) of these four that I have seen before. I wonder if these are separate versions, or if it’s just that the images are not entirely accurate in terms of their colours?

In any case, thanks a lot for these! Much appreciated!




Hey Fabien, nice post, and the images are really interesting. It’s one thing to talk about art, another thing to see it (at least in reproduction).




What do you mean with images being forbidden here, though? They should work, if you use the image tag button. Or did you have some trouble there?

Well, I did not make use of the button, but I already checked up that the button do nothing more than I manually did (inserting a correctly written image element with src and alt attributes) and on submitting my post, WordPress simply ripped off the image elements.
I supposed that the image element was activated in Forums discussions and deactivated in News discussions, but it could as well be a bug or a mistake from me (even if I can’t see how).

[As a test, I just inserted an image in this post using the Image button and the image element disappeared from the post again on submitting it.]



Vili Maunula

Indeed, you are right Fabien. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

This may have something to do with the latest Wordpress update, which I ran… well, months ago. I’ll see if I can do something about it.


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