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Kurosawa in 3D

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    Vili Maunula

    The other day, I saw Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, and quite liked it. I saw it in 3D, since so much praise has been lavished on Scorsese’s first venture into the third dimension. Yet, I must say that apart from two or three sequences, the 3D technology once again left me a little cold, and I felt that I might have enjoyed the film even more in 2D.

    In any case, Hugo and its themes of film technology and film preservation got me into thinking about the following questions:

    1. Will Kurosawa Productions, under its current leadership, at some point try to convert a Kurosawa film into 3D?

    2. If they will, which film will they attempt do the first conversion with?

    3. Which film should they pick?

    4. Would such an experiment be advisable?

    5. Would it even be technologically possible?

    6. Were Kurosawa alive today and still working, would he be interested in trying out 3D?

    I’d be curious to hear what you think. At this point, my own answers would be:

    1. I have a feeling that it will at least be considered.

    2. Seven Samurai 3D seems like the most obvious candidate.

    3. This is a difficult question. After two days of thinking, I have come to believe that Kagemusha, High and Low or Dreams might work the best. The first has a number of scenes with plenty of depth, the second constantly works with spatial metaphors (although more in terms of height than depth), while Dreams with its short vignettes could allow for several different approaches for the conversion.

    4. It would be interesting. But advisable? I don’t know. I’d be curious though. And if I’m curious, I think it’s worth doing (especially if it’s someone else’s money!).

    5. I have absolutely no idea. But Hugo had 3D converted scenes of Méliès’s films. So I guess it should be possible, at least on some level.

    6. Kurosawa wasn’t very quick to adopt widescreen or colour. Furthermore, he specifically tried to flatten everything into a painterly flat two-dimensionality. So, he might not have been the first one to jump into 3D. But if he had, and thinking how fully he embraced widescreen and colour when he finally employed them (in The Hidden Fortress and Dodesukaden), the result could have been something quite fascinating. What would be the 3D equivalent of Kurosawa’s use of colour in Dodesukaden?



    I will play devil’s advocate outside of the question grid. Please forgive me, Vili. =)

    First of all, what is a three-dimensional movie?

    A director gives a point of view on 3D, and says:

    I think it’s a misnomer to call it 3D versus 2D. The whole point of cinematic imagery is it’s three dimensional… You know 95% of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution, color and so forth, so the idea of calling a 2D movie a ‘2D movie’ is a little misleading.

    Questions I have about this and Kurosawa are: how did he managed depth with standard / “2D” material, compared to other directors? Are there Kurosawa specific methods for depth-rendering? Are there some elements in his filmography which represent further achievement in this domain? (Maybe this last one could join your third. I don’t have answers, at this time.)

    Even if we choose to ignore the questioning about “3D” definition, three-dimensional movies have existed during nearly all Kurosawa’s life.

    First technology patents in the late 19th, first attempts in the early 20th, first paid “3D” projection in 1922, a lot of stereoscopic/phonic movies in the 1950s, in order to fight against television competition. (Wait, isn’t there some competitor, today?)

    During 88 years of life, Kurosawa tried and adopted colour, he also tried and adopted wide screen, but he never adopted “3D”.

    Did he try some technology relevant to it? (I don’t know.)

    Furthermore, I think that swapping from “2D” to “3D” and swapping from black and white to colour are two different swaps concerning at least two big points: colour doesn’t give headaches and the prerequisites for “3D” are still a serious obstacle for directors.

    I don’t believe that sacrificing viewers and directors in order to get hypothetically better movies was in the way of thinking of Kurosawa.



    I haven’t seen Hugo (life got in the way, I’m normally first in the queue to go see a Scorsese film), I do regret not getting to see it in the cinema on 3D, which I note seems to have died away already, this summers blockbusters seem to be ambiguous about it.

    My general feeling about Kurosawa is that he was never afraid of new technology – I thought his use of widescreen in Yojimbo was brilliant, and well ahead of any other contemporary I know of. I always got the impression that he was a sceptic about technological progress for the sake of it, but when he saw an advantage to something, he would embrace it wholeheartedly and usually see uses in it that others didn’t. I think that he would have been happy to use 3D for Yojimbo, with all those striking compositions – scenes like the ‘almost’ battle in the town square with Mifune looking on from above could have been great in 3D.

    But I don’t really know what the effect would be with those long distance shots he liked so much. I’ve often wondered if the screen flattening effect they gave the film was what Kurosawa was looking for, or whether it was a by-product of a technique he liked for other reasons.

    I would be willing to give Seven Samurai 3D the benefit of the doubt if anyone tried it. I doubt if it would really make the film better, I think it would be intriguing to see the result. Of course, if they tried to colourise it at the same time….. 😕


    Vili Maunula

    Fabien, I fully agree true that “3D film” is less revolutionarily three-dimensional than is advertised. My own experience has actually been that 3D films feel flatter than 2D ones. I’m not sure if it’s just something wrong with my eyes, but to me 3D films don’t look 3D at all, but rather like a collection of two-dimensional planes, much like in an animated film where several layers of backdrops are moved independent of each other in order to give the illusion of depth. Just here the independent layers tend to be the different characters, and it is most of the time quite distracting.

    Having said that, I wonder how much of my visual confusion has to do with the fact that I have not yet learnt to properly read a 3D film. I constantly find myself struggling with things like focus and movement: everything that is not focused on or anything that moves always seem very blurry to me.

    It is also true that 3D film existed long before Avatar, but I think that it is only now thanks to the wide availability of proper digital technology throughout the ecosystem (cameras, editing tools and projectors) that 3D has some chance of sticking around and becoming more than just a gimmick. In my view, the conditions for 3D are radically different now from what they were even just five or ten years ago, let alone in the “golden era” of 3D in the early 1950s.

    We have already had enormous commercial successes with 3D while at least one major art film figure (Scorsese) has tried out the technology. Personally, I’m also extremely curious to see what Ridley Scott will get out of the technology with Prometheus, for I consider Scott to be the visually most talented film maker currently working. The man has got a near perfect eye.

    So, while Kurosawa probably never was tempted by 3D in his lifetime, I would think that the situation could be different now. This is all of course idle speculation and neither here nor there, considering that the man is actually not alive and working. 🙂

    Ugetsu, it is interesting what kind of a reaction I get, thinking about a colourised version of Seven Samurai, as opposed to a black and white 3D version. Like you, I’d be curious to see a 3D conversion. Meanwhile, the idea of a colour conversion makes me almost physically sick. Maybe this says something about my approach to these film techniques!



    I suspect that 3D cinema and T.V. is being driven by the technology companies rather than film makers wanting to stretch their art. The T.V. manufacturers need to keep selling sets and once most people have converted to HD the next method of getting them to replace those HD sets is to make 3D exciting ……. if they can .

    I haven’t seen any 3 D movies in the cinema so I can’t really comment , however I’m perfectly happy with 2D , the human brain seems pretty clever , if I’m watching a movie I don’t get frustrated at the “flatness” of the image , in fact due in part to the skill of cinematographers and the human brain I think we perceive the films in a sort of natural 3D .

    My one experience of 3D entertainment was a Kraftwerk concert where the back projections were in 3D and that was amazing with words and images jumping out at me to accompany the music , however amazing that was it still felt like a gimmick I might not enjoy as part of a film.

    But to answer your questions Vili , I wouldn’t be surprised if an attempt was made to reissue a Kurosawa film in 3D ( especially given many of the TV manufacturers touting 3D technology are Japanese ) and I agree Seven Samurai seems an obvious choice they might make given it’s world wide appeal .

    Personally I hope they don’t try this but if they had to I think Kagemusha might be a good choice.

    I am sure Kurosawa would probably try 3D if he was mid career today and it fitted a particular film idea .

    Werner Herzog is perhaps a good parallel with Cave of Forgotten Dreams , I didn’t expect him to work in 3D but he did for that subject and as I understand it he claimed his other films didn’t need it but in this case he wanted to show viewers more of what it felt like to actually experience the caves . I have only seen the film in 2D so again can’t comment more.



    What a fun idea Vili!

    They could probably process digital negatives of a black and white Kurosawa film in mono red and mono green and create a binocular effect. I actually saw the artists on the Hobbit drawing in that manner…and it kinda works! (Check out production video #6 with a chubby Peter Jackson and the two artists drawing side-by-side in “3-D”…I think it was in that reel…maybe). So, yes, it could probably be done rather easily, and that means all old B & W probably could be 3D. Would you like to see Bringing up Baby or Philadelphia Story in 3D? I think it might be fun…

    My vote would be Sanjuro in 3D-for all the scenes that emphasize depth of field. And, by the way, I think enough people get sick in 3D films that there will probably always be a demand for regular “flat” depth films.


    Vili Maunula

    Longstone: I suspect that 3D cinema and T.V. is being driven by the technology companies rather than film makers wanting to stretch their art.

    I agree that this seems to be true to a large extent, even if the current popular wave of 3D is, I would argue, mainly due to someone (James Cameron) wanting to stretch his concept of cinematic arts. Also, I think that the people actually financing the making of these 3D films would prefer that the technology companies were a little slower at introducing 3D home cinema.

    It sure cannot be a coincidence that 3D cinema suddenly appeared at a time when ticket sales are down, partly due to competition from other forms of entertainment (especially gaming), and partly because people can now afford home equipment that rivals the experience of going to a cinema. For someone like me who has no 3DTV (or even HDTV for that matter), the idea of seeing something in 3D “as intended by the director” can be a reason enough to watch a film at a theatre, however much I generally prefer watching films at home.

    Longstone: Werner Herzog is perhaps a good parallel with Cave of Forgotten Dreams , I didn’t expect him to work in 3D but he did for that subject and as I understand it he claimed his other films didn’t need it but in this case he wanted to show viewers more of what it felt like to actually experience the caves . I have only seen the film in 2D so again can’t comment more.

    I too only saw the film in 2D, as there was no other option available to me. Which is a pity as I would have been very interested to see what Herzog managed to do with 3D there.

    Coco: They could probably process digital negatives of a black and white Kurosawa film in mono red and mono green and create a binocular effect.

    Possibly. Although for “true 3D”, wouldn’t it also require them to plan the depth for each individual part of the screen?

    In Scorsese’s Hugo the most interesting 3D effects for me were the ones applied to Méliès’s original films. It would be interesting to know how they did it.

    Sanjuro would indeed be a good candidate for 3D! (Well, relatively speaking of course…)

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