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Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema published

Akira Kurosawa: Master of CinemaFilm historian Peter Cowie’s new book Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema is as far as I can see now published and on its way to bookshops. Amazon.co.uk lists March 1 as the publication date in the UK but also gives the book as “temporarily out of stock”, while Amazon.com lists March 9 as the publication date for the US. Meanwhile, other places like The Book Depository already stock the title.

Not much information is yet available about the book apart from it being marketed as “the most lavishly produced and profusely illustrated volume on Akira Kurosawa ever published”, suggesting that the book is heavy on illustrations, including “annotated script pages, sketches, and storyboards”. One wonders what the book can bring onto the table here that the Akira Kurosawa Digital Archive hasn’t already given us.

Fortunately, it should not be all pictures. Peter Cowie has written extensively on film, especially Ingmar Bergman and Scandinavian cinema in general. A well respected film scholar, I am quite excited to find out what Cowie has to say about Kurosawa’s works, and I expect to see some new insights.

As always, you will hear from me in the form of a book review once I get a copy of the book (I ordered from the Book Depository, which I have used in the past and been happy with). Unless the delivery is delayed for some reason (usually takes about 5 days), I would expect to have a review ready in about a week or two.


Discussion

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Jeremy Quintanilla

I look forward to this book, Cowie is one of the few critics/ film writers, I do like.
Anyone that places Bergman’s Seventh Seal as his all time favorite, and claims it life-changing, is alright be me after all.

This book, I do believe his is first dive into Japanese cinema, it would be curious to his views towards Japanese films, coming from a largely Scandinavian foundation, as I personally see the two methods greatly different, if although in no conflict.

Americans: stay away from Borders books, they want $75. Not that would have a reason to go, unless you like wrongly categorized books, in unorganized bookshelves.

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Vili Maunula

I haven’t actually read anything from Cowie (that I’m aware of), so he’ll be a completely new acquaintance for me.

Bookdepository still hasn’t shipped my book, and I’m starting to wonder if they pulled the old “let’s sell things before we actually have them” trick, and have now realised that just like Amazon.co.uk, they actually don’t have it and can’t get hold of it until sometime next week when it comes out in the US.

Not the best week for me in terms of shipments, I must say. I also ordered a Kindle 2 from Amazon, and it seems that it got stuck in the customs. Amazon has also seemingly given UPS an incorrect phone number, since the package tracking says that they can’t contact me (invalid phone number).

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Ugetsu

I ordered the book from Book Depository yesterday, hope you aren’t right Vili! I’ll let you know when (if) it arrives.

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Vili Maunula

Yay, my order status has changed to “dispatched”!

I have in fact bought about a dozen books from the Book Depository since last summer, and have been very satisfied with their service. I think that this was the first time a book wasn’t sent within 24 hours, but then again they only promised a 48 hour dispatch to begin with.

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Ugetsu

Ah, you got lucky, mine is still in ‘processing’. Hope you didn’t get the only copy available!

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Jeremy Quintanilla

I’m curious the usefulness of the Kindle’s Global Wireless. The idea seems really neat, but how often does one need a book, and not be around a wifi hotspot, or at home? When you travel, isn’t reading material part of the plan in advance? I’m just not thinking you’re ever in the middle of nowhere, with no wifi, or computer, and decide, “hey, I could use a book right now”.

The Kindle, I believe ships only with a American FCC(Federal Communication Commission) compliance tag on the box, I believe customs has to clear that compliance meets with whatever local communication commission there is, which often holds it up.
When I ordering electronics with broadcasting abilities from Japan, they only have the Japanese communication compliance tags on the box, and US customs have to check if the device is registered as American complaint which take a few days to do.

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Vili Maunula

Kindle’s global wireless would be great if you could use it also for freely browsing the web. It’s nice though that they allow reading the English Wikipedia on it (your very own Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!). And if I had to choose between global wireless and wifi, I’d still go with global wireless. Less hassle. Content (like newspapers and magazines) delivered directly to the device. And if I want to hook it up to my computer, I can always use a USB cable.

Anyway, I think that my main use for the Kindle will be with pdf files.

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Vili Maunula

Chicago Sun-Times has published something like a review of Cowie’s book.

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Vili Maunula

Cowie’s book is now in stock at Amazon.com, which should mean that also other bookshops across the US have begun to sell it.

In other news, my Kindle 2 arrived today. First impressions: the clicking sound emitted by the “next page” button is annoyingly loud, and at this point I find the device quite uncomfortable to hold. The way the screen refreshes is also a little bit nauseating (I am pretty sensitive to blinking lights). The screen itself is quite good, though.

I like how I can browse the Kindle store from the device and download first chapters for free. But quite disappointingly, the only Kurosawa related Kindle book available, the Richie-edited Rashomon, is not sold outside of the US. I’d love to have my entire Kurosawa library in a searchable format one day!

Anyway, I’ll see how I get used to the Kindle in the coming days. There is no hurry, considering the generous 30-day return policy!

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Ugetsu

Vili:

Chicago Sun-Times has published something like a review of Cowie’s book.

Its a curious review alright – although he makes a good point that maybe eBooks or pc’s are better for books on cinema I can’t really understand where he’s coming from in his criticisms. He seems to have wanted something from both books he didn’t get. I don’t even know what he means in some of his sentences – although maybe this is due to bad editing.

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Vili Maunula

I’m glad to hear that you were just as confused as I was, Ugetsu. I still don’t really know whether he would recommend the Kurosawa book or not, or even what the actual contents of the book are!

The mail man didn’t bring my book today. Oh well, maybe tomorrow…

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Ugetsu

I’d be interested to know too how you get on with the kindle. I’m thinking of investing in an eBook too – I’m taking a long trip after the summer and I want to have all my reading in a nice compact package. I’ve found it hard to find a really good independent comparison of all the alternatives. I think the market hasn’t settled down yet to a standard format – nobody knows who the iPod of the eBook world will be (maybe even its the iPad…)

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Vili Maunula

I just got Cowie’s Kurosawa book. Wow, I hadn’t realised that it would this massive! It weighs more than 2.2 kg, and is in terms of dimensions easily the largest Kurosawa book that I have. The flip side of the cover jacket can in fact be folded into a good-sized poster that depicts a scene from Ran!

Here’s a quick photo that I took to give some idea about the size (I’m about 185 cm tall, if that helps — although that includes also the top of my head):

Cowie: Akira Kurosawa

By the way, it’s quite nice of them that Rizzoli designed the book colours to match my today’s clothes!

Leafing through the 300-page book, more than half of it seems to be pictures. I’m not a huge fan of coffee table type picture books, so it’ll be curious to see how the text holds up. The contents list reads:

– Foreword by Martin Scorsese
– Introduction by Donald Richie
– A Note for My Father (by Kazuko Kurosawa)
– Preface
– Chapter 1: The Man and His Formative Years
– Chapter 2: Images of the Modern World
– Chapter 3: The Historical Imperative
– Chapter 4: The Literary Connection
– Chapter 5: Formalism and the Elements
– Chapter 6: Riding into History
– Selected Filmography
– Notes
– Acknowledgements
– Films Directed by Kurosawa

I haven’t really read into it yet, as I have my hands full of work today, but I’ll definitely start in the evening. Considering the weight that you have to support when holding the book, it seems like reading this doubles as physical exercise!

As for the Kindle, Ugetsu, I’ll let you know what I think once I get a couple more days with it. At the moment, I’m seriously considering returning it.

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Vili Maunula

Actually, this image might better communicate the size of the book:

Kurosawa books

Now I need to go and find out what happened to that but about having my “hands full of work today”… 😛

(But if you have never seen the Japanese edition of Richie’s Films of Akira Kurosawa, take a note how small it is compared to the original.)

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Ugetsu

Impressive collection!

I still think Yoshomoto’s book has the ugliest cover of any book I’ve ever seen. It looks even more so compared to the other AK books.

Incidentally, while you mention coffee table books, I was browsing through a new book by Tashen written by Galbraith, about Japanese Cinema. Its very lovely, I’m tempted to buy it.

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Vili Maunula

Yeah, coming to think of it now, maybe I posted that second picture more to boast than to illustrate. 😛

It’s not pretty, but I actually kind of like the cover of Yoshimoto’s book. It’s like a mug shot, which I think is appropriate for a book that attempts to go into the smaller details of Kurosawa’s works, to show him as he is. It’s also as if he was accused of something.

But my favourite cover is probably the one for the Japanese book Kurosawa Akira: eiga no dainamizumu (“Akira Kurosawa: The Dynamism of Film”). It’s in the bottom left corner of the picture, the one with the green stripe in the middle. The cover itself communicates dynamism. And I think it was my first Japanese language book, so that probably adds to the feelings I have towards it.

I leafed through Galbraith’s new book in a bookshop in Rome a few months ago, and it looked like a nice coffee table volume, although not something that I would buy for myself.

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Ugetsu

Good point about Yoshimoto’s book, I suppose there must be some reason for choosing a mugshot rather than the more obvious photo’s of Kurosawa working. I wonder if there is a reason for the blue tint.

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Jeremy Quintanilla

Nice collection, I’m impressed. I was impressed with my collection, but you ruined that for me now. 😥

I do look forward to any review you offer. Oh, and nice shirt, I could hardly be considered fashionably sensitive, but the even I killed the whole flannel look back in 1990, but I’m not a lumberjack, to which maybe you are. :mrgreen:

Yoshimoto’s book to me is not only the best cover, but the best picture of Kurosawa picture ever. It strips away the mystical image of Kurosawa and just shows the man, to whom is just ordinary. Sort of like finding out that Spider Man is really just a wimpy, nerdy kid, it’s both disappointing and exciting at the same time.
Plus, anything is better then those stupid photos of Kurosawa pointing, or off to the side of the camera. Why these have been determined to be what a director should be doing, I don’t know, but now everyone trying to look cool does it.
Go to a film festival, and any movie passing out press packets, all have photos of the director doing the same thing.

I too like to hear a little bit about the Kindle, seems like another of those electronics which sounds fantastic- until you own it..

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Vili Maunula

Yep, I’m indeed a lumberjack and I’m ok! I cut down trees and I wear high heels, I put on women’s clothing and hang around in bars. (Just like my dear papa!)

But enough about me! I just realised that the Kurosawa on the cover of Yoshimoto’s book looks quite a bit like Martin Scorsese. As for Cowie’s book, I intended to read into it yesterday but then got distracted by Champions League football. Maybe today.

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Ugetsu

Jeremy:

I do look forward to any review you offer. Oh, and nice shirt, I could hardly be considered fashionably sensitive, but the even I killed the whole flannel look back in 1990, but I’m not a lumberjack, to which maybe you are.

I’m reliably informed by a fashion conscious friend that the early ’90’s flannel lumberjack look is back, with the added requirement of a beard… I even have one or two buried away from my Nirvana listening days….

It strips away the mystical image of Kurosawa and just shows the man, to whom is just ordinary.

Thats a very good point, I never thought of it that way. I guess maybe I’m just a little crass in wanting my books to look nice on my coffeetable.

Speaking of which, the Cowie book just arrived…. at first glance its quite a handsome book, very well laid out with some nice pictures including some great ones of Kurosawa that I haven’t seen before – also some good prints of film posters. From my first browse through it, the book looks to be intended to fall more into a generalist overview for the fairly well informed reader rather than a scholarly work.

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Fabien

Indeed, I’m less impressed by the (nice) shirt than by the beard, even if it’s not red.
Or is it? I don’t know how much red was the beard of Red Beard.

I, too, find the Yoshimoto’s cover very good; it’s one of the only three books I have about Kurosawa, bought after Vili’s review and brought with me in Paris drawings exhibition to boast.
Interesting cover for an interesting content.

I read that Cowie’s book holds around 150 pages of pictures, but are they only photographs or also drawings? (Which are part of Kurosawa’s cinema mastering abilities.)

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Ugetsu

Fabien

I read that Cowie’s book holds around 150 pages of pictures, but are they only photographs or also drawings

The book is full of very well reproduced stills from the films, a wide variety of photographs (on set, and personal ones of Kurosawa), some very nice examples of Kurosawas drawings and reproductions of Teruyo Nogami’s shooting scripts, as well as some lovely examples of original film posters. There are some nice ‘side by side’ illustrations showing Kurosawas paintings and the scene from the film (a pariticularly striking one of the ‘seasons’ sequence in Madadayo).

I’m quite impressed by the quality of the book – without having read the text yet (and there are far more illustrations than text), I’m glad I bought it.

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Vili Maunula

Indeed, the book is really well produced and like Ugetsu says includes plenty of pictures. Not quite so many drawings as regular photos, but for drawings you could always hunt down the book that collects all of Kurosawa’s drawings into one volume. (It’s pretty expensive, though.)

I read a bit over a third of the book while waiting for dinner to cook, and at least chapters 1 and 2 are quite generic stuff that is well suited for a coffee table book, but which offers hardly anything new to anyone who has read a Kurosawa book or two before. There might of course be more later on. But so far, no real new insights, and plenty of often repeated anecdotes.

The beard, by the way, is brown. I don’t think that Mifune’s beard was really reddish, either in reality, was it? In any case, it’s good to know that lumberjackwear is coming back to style, as I just bought a few of these shirts since they were on sale and I needed shirts.

Now I just need to dig up that Nirvana Unplugged album, and I’m good to go. Or maybe I’ll just stick to my Neil Young collection.

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Jeremy Quintanilla

The seemingly generic writing is a bit disappointing, Cowie has had some good bits with Bergman, especially some of his points regarding the Seventh Seal, more disappointing I was hoping for a fresh viewpoint to Kurosawa rather then a generic synopses.

I must admit being jealous of the beard, and truthfully if I could pull off such a feat of manliness I would rock the flannel everyday, grudge being back in style or not. Instead, I’m 28, and prepubescent boys have better results then me. So…
a mulatto, an albino
a mosquito, my libido ❓

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Ugetsu

Just read through two random chapters in the book. There is surpringly little text in the book and either Cowie is a somewhat incoherent writer or (more likely) it has been severely edited. Whats there is quite elegantly expressed, but for anyone who has read any of the main books on Kurosawa there is frustratingly little there. Its frustrating because what is written is potentially very interesting.

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Vili Maunula

I haven’t had the chance to read further than what I managed yesterday, but I got the feeling that the book was written with a coffee table book audience very much in mind. You can pick up the book, open it pretty much anywhere, read just a paragraphs or two, and you are rewarded with a self-contained anecdote or thought. It feels to me like the book was meant to be picked up and read randomly, and maybe that’s why there is so little coherence or overall narration?

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Vili Maunula

Criterion has posted a short interview with Cowie. Not much information there, but nice nonetheless.

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Vili Maunula

My own review can now be found here.

I also went and updated the Books on Kurosawa page, which was long overdue. I should actually do the same for the DVD page.

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