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Kurosawa’s popularity in Japan

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    I’m interested in finding more about Kurosawa’s popularity in Japan compared to his popularity in the West during the 1950s.

    I know that in Japan Rashomon was met with generally poor reviews whereas it was his breakthrough success throughout the West and was wildly acclaimed. Does anyone know or have any information about how his later films were viewed in Japan, in light of his newfound popularity in the West, or how his earlier films, such as Stray Dog, faired?




    I am no expert and most of this is merely what I have read, since well I wasnt even born at this time, hell not even my parents were. 🙂

    Hopefully there arent too many mistake, and am sure other will be able to fill in the gaps.

    To generalize,

    Stray Dog (1949) came under critic attack, most pointing out flaws and some rather amateur mistakes, it was apparent Kurosawa was still learning. So for Stray Dog it didnt do much for him.

    As you mention 1950s Rashomon came with mediocre success in Japan, and didn’t bring Kurosawa anything he didnt already have.

    In 1951 Kurosawa made The Idiot, misunderstood in Japan it was in large a failure. Mostly due to the fact it was an adaptation of a Russian novel. With Japan having no christian following like Russian, they didnt respond to it all.

    It was around 1952 when Kurosawa started to gain momentum. It was that time the international success of Rashomon came about, and also the same time Kurosawa started working again for Toho.

    As well in 1952 he filmed Ikiru, which I consider the most important movie he made regarding his career and fame(of course Rashomon played a important role, as Rashomon got his name out but it was Ikiru allowed him to prove himself).

    Ikiru came at high critic regard, and considerable success, also its the first film where we see Kurosawa starting to control every aspect of his work, and the beginning stages of his style starting to emerge. This help increase his fame considerable.

    With Rashomon and Ikiru in the pocket, Toho opened up their wallets with faith that Kurosawa’s could pull of Seven Samurai in 1954. Without his previous success I dont think there would be anyway for Kurosawa to get heavily funded for what was largely a experimental film, with goals to shatter all the cliches of previous samurai films.

    Seven Samurai was a large success, rewrote a entire genre, and spawn the starts of international interest in Japanese cinema. Most of these is widely know.

    So to answer your question in the ’50s it was roughly around 1952 where Kurosawa became popular, but it was 1954 with Seven Samurai’s success and with previous success of Ikiru and Rashomon behind him, Kurosawa was officially set.

    ’55 he made Record of a Living Being, it came at moderate success I believe, but didnt move him any further.

    1957 he made Throne of Blood, which again ignited his name, and came with great success. It was this film where Kurosawa, shows more of his talent and have quite a bit of innovative directing.

    Although now Seven Samurai is regarded as his masterpiece, I do believe in the 50s it was Throne of Blood that was regarded as Kurosawa’s best film.

    ’57 he made The Lower Depths, ’58 Hidden Fortress, both great films that did well, but I cant think of anything extra special about them or anything that add to his fame.

    1960 he was requested to start his own production company, and maintain relations with Toho to ease the cost and risk of funding his movies.

    Made The Bad Sleep Well, it did well.

    Then ’61 Yojimbo and ’62 Sanjuro, both these finalizing his fame in Japan and worldwide.

    So for roughly ’52 to mid-late 1960 his was at his peak.

    Towards the mid 60’s he fell back not really doing much, which was partly due to the rise of Japanese interest in TV, and the downfall of Japanese cinema as a whole. Which for AK really effected him.

    70’s he did his Russian movies, which didnt really do much for him.

    1980 he got a break with Kagemusha, which did well, help give his name credit and then with Ran in ’85 he came back to life. With Ran really re-highlighting his fame. To which I belive was greater internationally then Japan.

    From that point on, he held steady and did some rather nice movies. Personally I think his old style was lost and he started to direct more in a American mainstream way, but not to discredit some really good films he did. I find Dreams to be his best and most Kurosawa like of all his modern films.

    Fame wise, I dont think he was regarded any higher then most directors during the late 80’s and 90’s. At least to me, a few years after Ran, he was just another director among the many. Although his fame was likely larger outside Japan.

    As of now in Japan, from what I have experienced his name is known. However few know his is a movie director, even less have seen his films, and the very few that at least know of Kurosawa making The Seven Samurai, they know nothing of the movie, if they have even bother to watch it at all.

    I’ll say currently film in Japan is not taking very seriously and there is little interest in Japan’s cinema past. Thus Kurosawa among many other great Japanese directors

    I cant speak for anywhere else but America, but I do see quite a few young kids with dreams of making movies starting to find interest in Kurosawa films. Many are merely interested because of the “coolness” of Japan’s history and samurai, but there are quiet a few that find great value from what can be learned from Kurosawa films.

    In which case currently in my view, Kurosawa is far more famous and respected outside Japan today, and will properly be like that for a long time.

    I suppose his current fame is as strong as a dead guy can get, its at least enough for books and most important Criterion’s DVD to be made and remade and from what I’ve heard sell very well.


    Vili Maunula

    Jeremy Quintanilla wrote 1 day earlier  » 

    It was around 1952 when Kurosawa started to gain momentum.

    I don’t think that this is entirely true. Already Kurosawa’s first film, Sanshiro Sugata, was both a critical and a commercial success. Galbraith’s “The Emperor and the Wolf” (pp.44-45) lists it as having won two awards and one second place, while it also mentions that its commercial success may have been partly boosted by the lack of movies in release.

    I think (but I may be wrong here) the only two Kurosawa films to have lost money were <i>Record of a Living Being</i> and <i>Dodesukaden</i>. Both were, however, positively received by Japanese critics.

    Something I should do for this website, that is when I find the time, is a chronological list of Kurosawa’s movies and a short note on how they fared domestically and internationally in terms of both the box-office and the critical reception. Maybe I’ll get to that on this winter break.



    I dont think it correct to have rewards and profits equal fame. There are many directors in the past and even today that have won awards and have had profitable movies, but have little name recognition in their home land and nearly none outside their country.

    Based on how I take the original question, it would be when was Kurosawa famous as a whole, meaning outside the tight movie industry circle. In which case I will stick with my comments that it was around ’52. As to when Japanese people knew of the name and people outside Japan started to hear the name.

    However, this is not to say I am right and your wrong.


    Vili Maunula

    Well, yes. If you take the question to mean Kurosawa the person’s popularity/fame, then you may be right. I understood the question to be about Kurosawa’s works, and perhaps wrongly so.



    Yeah, the question could go both ways, I took as AK the person and didnt even think about it possibly meaning his works until you mentioned it.

    The only reason I guessed ’52 was because, that was the first time a article in America appeared about him in a magazine The New York Times(its also the first article to appear in the Akira Kurosawa: Interviews book as well, used as a intro to AK).

    However if its the works of AK then, counting when he started to receive rewards would be the best time. Now that I reread the question, it does tend to regard the works of AK, rather then just AK, so more then likely I am wrong, which is nothing new.


    Vili Maunula

    Vili Maunula wrote 21 hours earlier  » 

    I understood the question to be about Kurosawa’s works, and perhaps wrongly so.

    Jeremy Quintanilla wrote 10 hours earlier  » 

    Now that I reread the question, it does tend to regard the works of AK, rather then just AK, so more then likely I am wrong, which is nothing new.

    So, we agree that we are both wrong? 😉

    Perhaps bp could provide us with more details?



    Thanks so much for such enthusiastic an informed responses! Sorry not to get back to this until now but to answer Vili’s question I was looking into a combination of both directorial popularity and cinematic popularity but leaning more toward how well his name was known.

    I suppose that after seeing his movies it didn’t really occur to me that he wouldn’t have been an eye-turning director to the people of Japan back in the late 40’s and early 50’s but that seems to have been the case and thus the average viewer of his films probably would have no idea who he was. When one can’t look back at a single director’s catalog it’s not as readily apparent that he is so uniquely gifted.

    It’s very interesting to hear that his name is almost lost nowadays in Japan compared to in the west (or the US at least). In a course I took last year on Japanese popular culture we watched Rashomon, but I wonder how much of popular culture his early films like that were.

    The larger question that I’ve been looking into as a research topic deals with this conflicting popularity in Japan and in the west and how Kurosawa was labeled as too eastern and then too western a director by domestic critics. Indeed his influences melded both cultures, but it seems to me like these critics were just missing the point. Or maybe it is the westerners who were missing the point considering what we herald and revere as such unique and exhilarating cinematic pieces weren’t quite so significant to the culture they were aimed at as other works of the time.

    Kurosawa said in his autobiography that the Japanese were hesitant to appreciate anything Japanese for what it was, dismissing their own culture as unimpressive, and it wasn’t until westerners saw interest in Japanese art that the Japanese themselves were willing to appreciate it.

    Sorry if this is a bit of an absent minded tangent, but do you guys have any thoughts about this and whether my research is leading me down the right track?



    The Japanese complained he was too traditional in thinking on a modern art. His movies are simple and do often reassemble closely to Kabuki. That however was Kurosawa ideals, to make movies simple, rather then overly complex. This was for the most part appreciated in the west.

    As you mention it is true the Japanese where quick to dismiss their showings and apperication of their culture during the American occupation, and even for sometime after Japan become a self governed country. Thus Kurosawa’s display of the old ways, where criticized until American showed interest, and which in case spawned many exploitation films of Japanese culture (none where Kurosawa’s of course) and more acceptance in the use of old culture on a new medium.

    Another Japanese complaint of Kurosawa’s supposed westernization was when Kurosawa started writing his name and having his name appear on screen often with English letters, rather then kanji. Kurosawa never commented on this, nor has anyone looked into detail as to why(to my knowledge, but it was a important sign his was “westernizing” to the Japanese.

    His samurai movies where clearly Japanese, but have a western structure in some areas, but this no surprise, being that he idolized John Ford.

    I dont think Kurosawa was westernizing, just following in the foot steps of his idol, which in case happen to be American.

    As for too eastern for the west, I dont know of any real comments on the subject, on Tora, Tora, Tora, I believe Kurosawa was criticized for not understanding–according to the studio, what Americans wanted to see, and was in that case, criticized for being too Japanese. This on top of other things was the reason he drop the film.

    Kurosawa film studies and japanese cinema- by yoshimoto touches on this breifly on some chapters.

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