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Akira Kurosawa Digital Archive opens

Red Beard script coverWould you be interested in seeing some twenty thousand pages of Kurosawa’s screenplays, photos, storyboards, drawings, notes, newspaper clippings, personal scribblings and other materials? If yes, head to the Akira Kurosawa Digital Archive, just opened by Kyoto’s Ryukoku University in collaboration with Kurosawa Production.

I don’t think that I am exaggerating if I say that this is probably the most important release of Kurosawa archive material ever. There just is so much of it! Want to read some production notes on The Idiot? Here you go, 16 pages, hand-written. The script for The Quiet Duel? Sure, take a look. Want to know what the Film Daily thought about Yojimbo in 1962? Well, apparently it has satire and sophistication.

More of a visual type? No worries, may I interest you in some drawings for Rhapsody in August or posters for Dodesukaden? Production stills from Seven Samurai? Or are you more into Kurosawa as a person? Take a look at his travel photos from, say, Rome, New York (?) or London. Or how about some golf?

Or, if you are a more hard-core researcher, take a look for instance at the almost 100 pages of notes for The Sea is Watching, or Kurosawa’s notes for his autobiography. I feel that I could go on forever.

The website and most of the material is in Japanese, so those with no command of the language may find it slightly difficult to navigate around, but I’m sure that you’ll get the hang of it. The material is arranged into folders and subfolders, accessible from the left-hand menu. It helps if you are at least able to recognize the film names in Japanese. Note also that it may take a while for the images to load, as they are really good scans, some taking hundreds of megabytes as they are presented with incredible detail. (Thanks to the zoom system, you don’t actually need to load the whole image in one go, though.)

Even if the scans are not dated or tagged (edit: they actually are — each picture has this information in the “metadata” section), the search doesn’t seem to function perfectly, and some fairly obvious material is missing (probably due to copyright restrictions), this is an absolute treasure trove.

Jump in, take a look, and post your findings in the comments! Happy hunting!


Discussion

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NoelCT

Dang, I wish I could read through these. I took Japanese in high school, but that was a decade ago and I never kept up with it. Can anyone tell me if they have his original RUNAWAY TRAIN script?

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Vili Maunula

Yep, it’s there: 暴走機関車. 133 pages. It was something that also I wanted to look up immediately after I saw this thing. 🙂

Hm. I just realised that if I link directly to an image, the system doesn’t seem to give you the possibility to move backwards and forwards within the folder. So, maybe it’s better if I give the folder group: the main group for scripts filmed by other directors is 23, the Runaway Train subgroup is 19, and the script itself is the subgroup 01 in that (02 has some newspaper clippings). In other words, look for this:

23. 脚本による他の監督映画化
–19. 暴走機関車
—-01. 台本

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NoelCT

That’s fantastic. Thanks, Vili.

[goes hunting for old stack of Japanese/English dictionaries]

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Vili Maunula

Noel, I decided to translate all the category titles into English.

It’s almost two in the morning now — I only started after midnight — so I will have to give up for the day, especially since the server seems to be having some problems (I get a 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable message every now and then).

In any case, you can see the work here. I hope it will be of some help to someone!

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Jeremy Quintanilla

A suggestion perhaps to the greatness of it all, is I spent 3 hours exploring. And in many regards it’s like a magician’s trick book opened up. From the bits I manage to read, the drawings, storyboards, to the amazing photographs, I already see elements of Kurosawa never known. While unfortunately limited, the photos of AK and crew at the camera are amazing. The little bits of how the camera was setup, where the lights are at, where AK is at, etc, are deeply interesting. Small set notes, scribbling, and bizarre photos, the investigating to which, solves some mysteries, creates more, but best of all spawns a refreshing affect, and deeper appreciation to AK’s work.

The website too is brilliantly simplistic and easy to operate. The great effort and care is obvious, and huge raw scans, a work of art in themselves.

Indeed the most significant and honoring piece of work for anything Kurosawa.
akirakurosawa.info must now step aside to 2nd place.

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Vili Maunula

So true Jeremy, so true.

The actual number of items currently in there is now reported to be 27,431. If you looked at a hundred pictures a day, it would still take you more than nine months to go through the entire archive.

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cocoskyavitch

Bliss.

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PB

Dang, I wish I could read through these. I took Japanese in high school, but that was a decade ago and I never kept up with it. Can anyone tell me if they have his original RUNAWAY TRAIN script?

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Vili Maunula

PB, if you check the second comment posted here, you’ll find the link. Funny how Runaway Train is the first reaction for so many of us!

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deconstruct

Incredible! It is enough to make any AK fan’s head explode.
The photos are fascinating. Is it possible to download them at all? Would love to use as wallpaper or the like.

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Jeremy Quintanilla

^^ If you have a high screen resolution that enables you to see the whole image at a size large enough for scaling to wallpaper, you can use Windows Vista’s Snipping Tool or some of the better screen capture software. Otherwise there is no way, as they purposely arrange the image to be embedded as part of the flash and acrobat, rather them an image.

I notice they do list the file’s name and the location of the archive used to display the image, but I haven’t bother to see what happens when I attempt to access the image directly, as I don’t want to abuse their work. I do not however think it will work.

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Sam Meddis

Hi – I’m a student at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA., USA, enrolled in course on the films of Akira Kurosawa. First off, this website is a fantastic resource. As part of my course, I intend to do a short documentary film about the director and would like to use some material from Digital Archives Research Center. This is a non-commercial, educational film – with no budget – for a class project. I wonder if anyone can point me to copyright information there – or even better, a contact I can reach through e-mail.
Thank you for your help.
Saverio Meddis

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Vili Maunula

Sam Meddis: I wonder if anyone can point me to copyright information there – or even better, a contact I can reach through e-mail.

Sam, the front page says “Copyright © 2007-2009 Ryukoku University Digital Archives Research Center”. Although I think that all actual material is copyrighted by Kurosawa Production, I think that the easiest way to find out about copyrights is to contact Ryukoku University Digital Archives Research Center, as they maintain the website.

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Sam Meddis

Vili – thanks a bunch for the prompt help! I will check this out. Best regards.
Sam

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Vili Maunula

No problem Sam, I’m glad to be of help if I can. 🙂 When you get your documentary film ready and if there is a way for us to watch it online, drop me an email. And enjoy your Kurosawa studies!

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Sam Meddis

Absolutely – be delighted to share it!
Sam

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Jeremy

The good thing, I believe Japan shares the same ease of copyright laws in regards to non-commercial educational usage as America, so with a bit of effort, I would imagine certain permissions wouldn’t be too hard to get, and without certainly, I do believe some can be used without specific permission-but of course find out first. .

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Sam Meddis

Jeremy – thank you for the info. I’ve e-mailed them for permission, and we’ll see where that goes. Appreciate the interest!
Best
Sam

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maik

@sam meddis:
hello, i found this page over my research about copyrights for kurosawa films, ecspecially rashomon. in the last post you said that you have emailed to the Ryukoku University Digital Archives Research Center and asked for permission. i wonder if they’ve answered? and if, what did they say? it’s kind of complicate find out something verified about the copyrights. in wikipedia i’ve read about that the japanese court saved the kurosawa works until 2033. is that true? thanks and best regards.

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Vili Maunula

Maik, I doubt Ryukoku University holds the copyright to Rashomon, if it is rights to the entire film that you are looking for. As it was Daiei who produced the picture and since what used to be Daiei is today part of Kadokawa Pictures, you might want to ask them, depending on what type of rights to the picture you are looking for.

All of Kurosawa’s works are currently under copyright in Japan, and there indeed was a long court case about it a few years ago.

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maik

Thanks Vili for your answer. I don’t really know what kind of rights i am looking for cause i didn’t know that there are serveral kind of rights to this day. But i can tell you that i am a publisher and i have the opportunity to publish a very nice comic that based on stills of the movie ( in german, if this matters). The text is translated from a english version but pretty close original.
I believe that the message of this movie is as strong as the movie itself so i really would love to publish that comic. But the question is: whom should I approach? Kadokawa Pictures seem to be the first idea if they hold the rights on the movie, right? Has anybody experience
asking those Japanese Production Companies for rights?

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Sam

Hi, Maik – I tried to persuade the university and the production company, including Toho, to allow me to use images from the archive and my request was denied. I even told them that my use was for educational purposes as part of a Masters Degree project and that it would have no commercial use, but they said very politely that was not possible.

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Vili Maunula

Sam, I’m sorry to hear that your request was denied.

Maik, if you operate in a German speaking country, you could also see which companies have published the German editions of Rashomon and ask them who to contact for copyright information.

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Maik

Well, thanks a lot for everything. @Sam: I am very surprised that they denied your request for a non commercial use. This is hard, even if said very politely. But i wonder if you cannot use images anyway? If you don’t go commercial, who should ever find out (and there is no economic loss for the company)?
@Vili: It’s a good idea to ask german companies first. But i am pretty desperate after all. However, i will find out and keep you posted. By the way: This is a great site and i am happy i found it.

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