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My Wikipedia Challenge to Kurosawa Fans

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    dylanexpert

    I would like to make the following modest proposal.

    As Akira Kurosawa’s centennial birthday will occur on March 23rd of this year, I propose that the biographic article on the filmmaker on Wikipedia.com be extensively revised so that it can be submitted to be upgraded to feature article status, and can thus be presented as the featured article on Wikipedia’s home page on March 23rd, 2010. It is only right that one of the greatest directors who ever lived — and the most famous Asian director who ever lived — should be accorded this honor.

    The current rating, according to Wikipedia’s quality scale, of the Kurosawa article is, rather shockingly, “C-class,” even though Kurosawa’s biography as a topic has been rated of Top importance in the category of WikiProject Japan and of Core importance in the category of WikiProject Biography/Actors and Filmmakers. (It also appears in the WikiProject Screenwriters category.) Thus, the article would need to be upgraded pretty substantially in a hurry. I would like to consult with other Kurosawa experts (I definitely can’t do this alone) about what needs to be done to bring this piece up to featured article status in two months.

    I have reviewed the article and the following are some ways that I feel it can be improved:

    (See my blog at http://cinegems.blogspot.com/2010/01/birthday-present-for-akira-kurosawa.html for the rest of the challenge.)

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    cocoskyavitch

    Great Idea dylanexpert ! We should have our best writers visit all the fims of Kurosawa, too, and upgrade on the wiki!

    I am not a writer, but lawless, Vili, Ugetsu are, and Jeremy has really great insights, too. We have the brain power here, and it would be a fitting tribute.

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    dylanexpert

    Thank you for your reply. And the others — Ugetsu, Vili, lawless, etc. — can we work on this project together?

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    Ugetsu

    Dylanexpert, its a terrific idea, I’d be happy to help out with it. Your suggested layout is very good, it provides a good basis for a wiki entry I’d add that the entries to various Kurosawa films and his regular actors would be improved a lot too.

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    Vili Maunula

    This is an excellent idea, and I’d be happy to contribute the best I can. How could we best proceed to get this thing off the ground?

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    dylanexpert

    Thanks for the enthusiasm of all of you. It is very inspiring. I suggest that we leave the pages of the individual films and actors alone for the time being and just concentrate on Kurosawa’s bio itself, as we have the self-imposed time limit for that.

    How many of you have experience editing Wikipedia articles? Your expertise would be invaluable.

    I’ll handle creating the section, “Criticisms of Kurosawa” and maybe one or two others. Who would like to handle other sections of his page? And who among you know of other Kurosawa experts who would like to work on this?

    Lastly, what suggestions, after reading the Kurosawa wiki article, do you yourselves have?

    Thanks.

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    lawless

    I know less about Kurosawa and his films than the rest of the folks Coco mentioned, including herself (and don’t sell your writing skills short, Coco), but I’m pretty good at editing and making something cohesive.

    Seems to me we need to find a way to work on document(s) together. Any suggestions?

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    Ugetsu

    I’m not sure it needs to be all that organised, so long as everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing – after all, the spirit of Wiki should be that lots of people adding their bit should result in something better than the collective knowledge (or something like that 🙄 ).

    I can’t say I’ve enough specific knowledge of any one aspect to pick one, although I think I could tackle any of the last four subsections dylanexpert sets out.

    One suggestion I’d make would be that a suggestion that a section on ‘Kurosawa and his contemporaries’ might be useful – it would allow a discussion of Kurosawa in the context of Japanese cinema, specifically in the immediate post war period.

    Under dylanexperts section on ‘influence’, I would suggest that it would be misleading to only list films that are acknowledged remakes – far too many films were made that were clearly remakes or ‘influenced by’, but it were not acknowledged as such, presumably for legal and financial reasons. The reality is that Kurosawa didn’t just create films that were remade, he created entire sub-genres, and this should be part of his biography.

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    dylanexpert

    Ugetsu:

    I’ve had a devil of a time this morning trying to figure out how to promote a “C” level article on Wikipedia (such as the one on AK) to a “B” or “A” level one, which I think can be done right now as the article stands. Anyone who knows how this can be accomplished should post to this thread to let me know.

    I, for one, plan to post to this site my own sections as I write them before I post them on Wiki, to make all of you aware of what I’m doing and invite you to make changes to what I’ve done, if you feel it necessary.

    As to your idea of “Kurosawa and His Contemporaries” I would like to do a section near the beginning of the article showing the social-political-artistic context in which AK began his career as an Assistant Director (the wars in Manchuria and China and the resulting thought control), and the ways in which AK surmounted these obstacles to make his debut. I’ve been reading Peter B. High’s book The Imperial Screen, which has much information on this matter.

    You’ve made your point about the “Influences” category, but for clarity’s sake, perhaps the section should be subdivided in two, one called “Remakes” and the other “Homages.” The two concepts are sort of jumbled together in the article as it stands.

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    Ugetsu

    That makes sense, dylanexpert.

    I’ve no idea how to upgrade articles, but I guess if lots of people are working at edits, it comes to someones attention. I think if we all just added bits as we have time, it will start to take shape, then maybe we can reassess things in a few weeks.

    I just hope I can make edits – thanks to someone in my office who uses the same feed making some imaginative ‘additions’ to a wikipedia page on a certain football team I think I might be blocked!

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    Vili Maunula

    I think that this effort could actually benefit from proper organisation.

    Would it for instance help if we first as a group created a skeletal structure for the “new and improved” article? What I have in mind is a simple list of headings and subheadings, and things that we think should be mentioned in each section. Basically, a list of all the information contents, everything that needs to be included in the article, and what goes where.

    Once that list is created, it will be easier for us to divide the work of actually writing out the sections, as then we will each know what the overall plan is and what will be discussed where. If we all just go ahead and start editing the article as we see fit, the end result will have little coherence.

    Or, this is the way I usually approach collaborative writing, but it’s just a suggestion of course!

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    NoelCT

    The last few weeks, I’ve actually been dabbling with a page for THE SEA IS WATCHING, which isn’t even mentioned on Kurosawa’s main page. I’ll try to get that wrapped up and would be glad to help wherever needed.

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    dylanexpert

    Hello, everyone. I have just revised the Akira Kurosawa Wikipedia page to eliminate the last remaining “Citation needed” and submitted it for peer review. Someone sent me the link, where I found out how to submit peer reviews for articles, which turned out to be surprisingly easy. I have classified it for EXPEDITED peer review [caps mine], not even knowing if such a category exists, in order to stress the deadline factor, this being AK’s centennial year. I also asked for Volunteers in the talk page of Wikipedia: WikiProject Actors and Filmmakers.

    Vili: Your idea is a good one. Should the list appear somewhere on this website or somewhere else? If you can create the place for us to build the list, so we can each agree on it and then divide tasks amongst ourselves, I would appreciate it.

    We may not be able to make the deadline of AK’s birthday on March 23rd. However, if we fail to do that, we should set a secondary deadline of August 25th, the 60th anniversary of the Tokyo premier of Rashomon.

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    Vili Maunula

    I quickly tried installing a wiki type addon for this site, but unfortunately it didn’t quite work under my current setup. (I am actually seriously thinking about turning this site’s “information” section into a fully wiki-type area one day, but more about that some other time.)

    One option would be to have the article structure posted here in the forums, and discussed here. Someone (dylanexpert) should probably be the chief editor, meaning that he would post a new version of the structure whenever one is agreed on.

    Another option would be to take this to your blog, dylanexpert, in which case you have the tools to constantly edit a main post (which would have the article structure), while we use the post’s comments area for the discussion.

    A third option would be to use the forum here to discuss the structure, and use a collaborative writing tool like Google Docs to keep the master document updated.

    In any case, it might be a good idea to post to the discussion section of the Wikipedia page in question and link to our project so that anyone interested or currently working on the page there is alerted to what we are doing.

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    cocoskyavitch

    In any case, it might be a good idea to post to the discussion section of the Wikipedia page in question and link to our project so that anyone interested or currently working on the page there is alerted to what we are doing.

    Sounds like a good place to begin, Vili. By letting others know where they can have discussion and find other resource material about Kurosawa, we already then, perform a service.

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    Blah

    This is a great idea! I was actually the one who wrote most of what you see on the Influence section. I also added most of the existing citations that you see on the article. (before my edits the article had maybe two citations). Truthfully, I didn’t try very hard with the Influence section. I read the Ingmar Bergman article, saw that it had an Influence section and decided I would one-up it by adding one on the Kurosawa article too (their Influence sections are virtually the same, take a look).

    I agree that the bullet-list should be changed. The names should be integrated into paragraphs and explained why and how they were influenced by Kurosawa. Maybe a paragraph about his influence on action films where Yimou, Woo, Peckinpah, and slow-motion influence can be added, then another paragraph on his influence on his contemporaries where you could add Fellini, Bergman, etc.

    Also, if you want to upgrade the article into higher classes (as I have tried in the past), you should focus on, first and foremost, the LEAD section (the first paragraph you see on the article, basically a summary of the article) and citations. Add as much citations/references as you can.

    Cheers

    EDIT: I also tried to improve the awful state that the Seven Samurai article is in, but didn’t know where to start. For a film that’s considered one of the greatest of all time, its article is especially pathetic. 🙁

    Ugetsu: If your IP is blocked, you can always make an account, which I think will allow you to edit.

    Also, his filmography only lists films he directed, so no Runaway Train and stuff.

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    Vili Maunula

    Welcome to the group Blah! It is great to have people in the project who have previously worked with the article.

    I went through dylanexpert’s original blog post and the discussion here, and taking your ideas came up with the following suggestion for the structure for the article. I’m sure that this won’t be the final version, but maybe it will help us move forward?

    I have replaced heading numbers with Xs, since it’s not at this point important what the actual numbers are. Please ask if something is unclear. And, of course, comment and suggest modifications.


    Lead section

    x Life and career

    x.x Youth [1910-1935]

    x.x Director in training [1936-1942]

    x.x Early works [1943-1945]

    x.x Postwar years [1946-1950]

    x.x International recognition [1951-1954]

    x.x Late 50s [1955-1959]

    x.x Final works with Mifune [1960-1965]

    x.x Brushes with Hollywood [1966-1969]

    x.x Difficult 70s [1970-1979]

    x.x Resurgence of financing [1980-1989]

    x.x Last decade [1990-1998]

    x.x Death and posthumous works [1998-2010]

    x Directorial Approach

    x.x Influences

    x.x Kurosawa and his contemporaries

    x.x Working methods

    x.x Collaboration and the Kurosawa-gumi

    x.x Recurring themes

    x.x Style

    x.x “Western” director

    x Legacy

    x.x Kurosawa’s Influence

    x.x.x Influence on cinematic arts

    x.x.x Remakes

    x.x.x Homages and references

    x.x Film studies and Kurosawa

    x.x Criticism of Kurosawa

    x Works

    x.x Filmography

    x.x As an assistant director

    x.x As a scriptwriter

    x.x Collaborations and television work

    x.x Theatre

    x.x Books

    x.x Awards

    x See also

    x References

    x Further reading

    x External links


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    Blah

    I think that’s a good start, if that actually gets realized I have no doubt that the article can get Featured Article status.

    I also think we should change Kurosawa’s portrait in the article. The current one isn’t very… exciting.

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    Jeremy

    If you all manage to pull off the list of Vili’s, then Kurosawa page would be perhaps the most in depth article of anyone listed on the website. I wish you all luck, I’m fairly worthless in these causes, but I know of some pretty good Kurosawa portraits, much better then the same old 3 or 4 everyone sees.

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    dylanexpert

    Vili’s list is a fantastic start. I have a few changes (mostly minor) I would suggest for it, but I think we can proceed.

    The Kurosawa article with my minor revision was peer reviewed by a not-terribly-experienced reviewer. (Think Minoru Chiaki in Seven Samurai.) He did not “graduate” the article from “C” to “B” status and in fact, did not know how to do this. He suggested some changes (particularly that we must increase the citations) and basically said we should revise the whole article and submit it for Featured Article status. (“Good” article nominees have a very heavy backlog, apparently.) I agree with this appoach.

    I will soon post to my blog an article inviting those of you (and others) who want to work on this a place to input your suggestions. Simply use the reply function to enter your suggestions, using Vili’s structure as a template.

    I already have a draft of the revision of the article’s introductory paragraph (the one that appears above the index), which I will put in my blog post.

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    dylanexpert

    My blog post requesting your assistance in creating the Kurosawa Wikipedia page is now online. I have made comments on Vili’s proposed structure and added my revised draft of the Lead Section of the article. Please add your corrections/suggestions in the Comments area.

    The post can be found at http://cinegems.blogspot.com/2010/02/creating-wikipedia-kurosawa-page.html.

    I look forward to your comments.

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    Master Thief

    Thanks dylanexpert. Great to see this project happening. Hope it suceeds for the birthday.

    By the way Bob Dylan is playing in Tokyo on the 23rd and the 24th – which is Bob’s 69th birthday. But by your nickname I assume you knew that already.

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    Master Thief

    Doh! Dylan’s birthday is 24 May not 24 March.

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    dylanexpert

    I have just made comments on my blog in reply to Blah’s and Vili’s comments. Please check them out at http://cinegems.blogspot.com/2010/02/creating-wikipedia-kurosawa-page.html.

    Yes, Master Thief, I was aware that May 24th was Bob Dylan’s birthday, but it’s great that he’s playing in Tokyo this month even if it’s not his birthday.

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    Blah

    What’s happened to this now? And if anyone, cares, add Henry Sellick to the list of influenced directors.

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    dylanexpert

    Blah:

    This effort has not been abandoned, but to move this forward, we need quite a few writers to work on it. (Optimally, we would need, say, seven. ; – )) I can’t do this gigantic project alone. If you know any AK scholars (pro or amateur) out there who would like to work on this, please send me a message to let me know how to get in touch with them.

    I will be posting to my blog my draft of the revised structure for the Wiki article that I think will work, plus my outline for one of the main sections (Criticisms of Kurosawa).

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    dylanexpert

    Vili:

    This is the first paragraph and the outline of the “Criticisms” part of the Wikipedia article. Please note that when I describe the negative criticism to which Kurosawa and his films have been subjected, it doesn’t mean that I agree with it, I am just recording what others have written on the subject, as a balance to the general praise appearing elsewhere in the article. I have written several topics listed in the bullet points below and will finish the rest soon.

    “Despite the great acclaim Kurosawa’s work has received, his films, as well as Kurosawa as an individual, have also been subjected to considerable criticism, much of it harsh. The majority of these negative judgments fall into one or more of the following categories:

    • Adverse comparisons with the work of Kenji Mizoguchi

    • Accusations of sentimentality, naiveté and/or didacticism

    • Alleged emotional detachment and “superiority”

    • Political controversies

    • Alleged lack of contact with contemporary realities

    • Claims of personal arrogance and harsh treatment of colleagues

    • Criticisms by Kurosawa of himself.”

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    Vili Maunula

    That looks like a good list, dylanexpert. Would the criticism launched by Japan’s New Wave directors be included in the “Alleged lack of contact with contemporary realities” part?

    Have you found writers for the different sections of the article? I could try to find the time to write something, if you just let me know what you’d like to assign to others, rather than work on yourself. May for me currently looks like a month when I will spend more time travelling than home, but I’d be happy to contribute, and I feel bad for not having been more active in this project.

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    Ugetsu

    I’ve been very slack about doing anything about this, but I hope I can contribute over the next few months.

    As for the criticisms of Kurosawa, Mellen mentions quite a few of them in her book on Seven Samurai. There are also discussions of various criticisms of Kurosawa in her book ‘The Waves at Genji’s Door’. Yoshimoto mentions a few in his book.

    I’d list others as:

    – Misogyny (or at least, not being interested in women as characters). In the BFI Region II dvd of Red Beard Alex Cox accuses Kurosawa of creating female characters that only exist as people for the male heroes to save. Mellen, having praised his early films, writes that he seemed repulsed by the wife in Rashomon and after this never created a realistic female in future films.

    – Pandering to the west. Mellen thinks that a comment made by Ozu that some Japanese film makers were like craftsmen who made tawdry coloured clothes for western tourists as being a reference to Kurosawa – a number of Japanese critics and western critics have suggested that his films were aimed at a western audience and so weren’t really ‘Japanese’. David Thomson argues that Rashomon was ‘shrewdly aimed at western audiences‘. Thompson also describes Throne of Blood as being ‘as Oriental as a travel agents window‘.

    – Some western critics accused Kurosawa of historical revisionism and anti-Americanism following Rhapsody in August (I think the NYTimes review may have taken this view).

    – His 1970’s critics, including film makers like Oshima, argued that Kurosawas refusal to take a clear political stance in his films was reactionary and out dated.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – I’d suggest that the last two items on your list are already covered by political controversies and alleged lack of contact with contemporary realities, but those are good additions to the foregoing.

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    Ugetsu

    Thanks Lawless, yes, I think point 3 and 4 I made is repeating the point – although the whole issue of the hostility of the 1960’s/70’s wave of film makers to Kurosawa is worthy of an essay in itself. I must admit I could not quite understand why they were so hostile – as Mellen herself argues, in many ways Kurosawa was far more radical than the sort of superficial Marxism of some of those film makers, yet they insisted on depicting him as some sort of authoritarian monster.

    BTW, on a general point – I find I’m still completely blocked from making any changes to Wikipedia! Thanks to someone in my office making some mischievous alterations to the page on a particular football team, everyone in my office (i.e. everyone who shares the IP address) is blocked. I can’t even do it from my home pc. Anyone know how I can persuade Wikipedia to allow me back in?

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    dylanexpert

    Thank you all for your comments. Some responses…

    Vili:

    As for as the “Alleged lack of contact with contemporary realities” subsection of the “Criticisms” section, yes, I would try to include the opinions of the Japanese New Wave directors (and if you could lead me to sources that would give me good quotes for those, that would be appreciated). I was also thinking of the long passage at the end of Audie Bock’s profile of K. in Japanese Film Directors, in which Bock makes the case that films like Red Beard provide audiences in Japan (and probably elsewhere) with a traditional “Kurosawa film” experience rather than something relevant to (then) contemporary Japan or the world.

    As far as assigning parts of the article, I want to get as close as possible to a final, agreed-upon outline before assigning parts of it to people. Only then would I want to assemble a “Wiki Seven Samurai” team of writer/editors to work on it, dividing up the assignments while retaining an overall style and tone.

    The exception is the “Life and Career” overview parts of the article, which I would very much appreciate if you could start revising (and adding) as soon as you can. Always remember, however, that the descriptions of the individual major films (e.g., Ikiru) must merely summarize rather than deal exhaustively with their themes, reception and importance, because there exist separate Wiki articles about those films — however inadequate some of these may now be. And of course, every assertion has to be referenced.

    Ugetsu:

    I have the Yoshimoto book at home. I’ll see about the Mellon books.

    As far as women in K’s films go, I think it’s a *huge* stretch to call them misogynistic. After Rashomon, there *are* a few sympathetic women in his work, such as, for example, in Ikiru, the young, vivacious, but not-too-bright employee, Toyo, played by Miki Odagiri, or Mrs. Gondo, played by Kyoko Kagawa, in High and Low. (Neither of these characters is looking to be rescued.) But for me, this is not a matter of loving or hating women; it’s just K’s temperament as an artist: he’s a man’s director, period. He prefers men as subjects in the same way that Mizoguchi and Naruse prefer women as subjects. It’s who they are. So I would not be inclined to include feminist objections such as Mellon’s as possible legitimate criticisms.

    “Pandering to the west” would be a painful and, I think, rather amorphous and unnecessary topic: what commentator could possibly offer hard proof of such an accusation? Bock says bluntly, “He has never catered to a foreign audience and condemns those who do,” citing a panel discussion to which K. contributed. It’s possible that Ozu might have been referring to K. when he used that metaphor of sellers of gaudy clothes to Western tourists — but Ozu could just as easily have been talking about something like Kinugasa’s overrated Gate of Hell. I’m never going to quote somebody’s interpretation of an Ozu quote that’s ambiguous to begin with. As far as Thompson’s concerned, I’ve only read a few excerpts of his work, but the ones about Kurosawa that you quote make him out to be a real jerk. When K. began work on Rashomon, so few Japanese productions had been seen by (non-Japanese) audiences in Western countries that you could count them on your fingers (literally, I believe). It’s stupid and ahistorical to claim, as Thompson does, that K. was making a film for the foreign markets when in fact there *was* no foreign market yet. (You could say that K. invented that market.) Thompson’s observations of Throne of Blood are join as obtuse. I’d never quote him for anything.

    I’ve already written about the political controversy over Rhapsody in August. I’m sure I’ll find something about the condemnation of K. as being “outdated” by Japanese Film Critics, but again, I need sources.

    Lawless:

    You are right about those two items (Rhapsody and the critics) and the subsections they belong to.

    I’ll try to finish the Criticisms section soon.

    Regards,

    Dylanexpert

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    lawless

    Dylanexpert: While I understand your reluctance to include criticisms that there isn’t solid evidence anyone has made, it seems to me a mistake to ignore criticisms that were actually made simply because you don’t believe them to be valid. I thought the goal was to write something objective and balanced, which means that even if there is a straw man, it should be cited and then the evidence in opposition marshaled so the reader can make up her or his own mind rather than the writer(s) making it up for her or him.

    Thus, I believe that crticism of his depiction of women and its possible misogyny should be included, along with any explanation, such as that women were simply not the focus of his work — which, by the way, in itself could be considered, if not misognyistic, marginalizing and thus devaluing of women.

    I’ve seen the old canard that his films were Western in style, outlook, or appeal, whether consciously or unconsciously, too many places to think it a good idea to ignore it just because I think it’s a canard. I think his lack of contemporary relevance is a canard too, but that’s not being left out. The same can be said for the frequent comparison of his samurai movies to Westerns and overemphasis (in my opinion) on the influence of Westerns, their visual style and narrative on his work.

    Even if it’s necessary to cite poorly researched articles, or people like Thompson (or is it Thomson), The issue needs to be met head on and discussed, rather than ignored, for the Wikipedia entry to be complete and deserve being upgraded.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – I hadn’t noticed your post when I wrote the above response to the one by dylanexpert directly below it. Like you, I don’t understand the hostility the new wave, or whatever the right term is, of directors from the 60s and 70s exhibited toward Kurosawa, but in addition to seeing him as part of the Establishment and as the Japanese filmmaker most respected, or at least best known, in the West, perhaps some of it had to do with the fact that despite leftist leanings in his youth (wasn’t he a briefly member of the Communist Party?), his movies weren’t ideological enough for them, preferring to see the world in shades of gray instead of black and white, and he was considered something of an autocrat on the set.

    From what I remember of that period, collaboration and valuing the contributions of others, even those at the bottom of the professional ladder, were values held in high esteem, even if they were usually ignored. Radical student organizations such as SDS and the Weathermen, to cite examples I’m familiar with, were as autocratic and misogynistic as the society they criticized, yet they espoused radical participatory democracy.

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    Ugetsu

    Dylanexpert,

    I agree totally with your refutations of the criticisms of Kurosawa – I just listed out what I know to be frequently made complaints about him and his work – that doesn’t mean I agree with them!

    On the subject of misogyny, I think it would be a mistake to leave it out, simply because it is a complaint made not just by Mellen, but as I said its stated quite clearly by Alex Cox in the Region II DVD of Red Beard. Mellens criticism is actually quite nuanced and detailed – she devotes a whole section to her book on Japanese cinema to ‘Kurosawa’s Women’. I think it is Prince who makes the point in defense of Kurosawa that it is a mistake to confuse misogynistic film directors (he names Pekinpah as one) with those directors, like Kurosawa, who simply aren’t terribly interested in female characters.

    As for Thomsons comments, I agree they make him seem like a jerk, not to mention a supposed film expert who knows damn all about Japanese cinema (although to be fair he wrote a superb piece about Ikiru in the New York Times a few years ago). Unfortunately, he is also a very widely read and influential film writer, so I don’t think his criticisms can be ignored. His ‘Autobiographical Dictionary of Film’ is considered quite a major (if quirky) book among film buffs, if not among academics. One thing that interests me though is that his comments on Rashomon are frequently restated in various sources (unattributed to Thomson or anyone else) – its like a bad meme spreading that supposedly the film is a poor reflection on the original source story (which is obviously untrue), and that it compares poorly to Ugetsu Monogatari, which is a facile argument. I suspect that like a lot of Thomsons little one line judgments, its so memorable that others repeat it to make themselves look better read and more cinema literate than they actually are. Or possibly of course someone else said it and Thomson repeated them.

    I agree with Lawless that the whole ‘Kurosawa catered to western audiences‘ canard is so widely repeated that I don’t think it can be ignored, although I think it would be perfectly proper within a wikipedia article to state clearly that none of the experts on the subject (except, arguably, Prince) agree with it.

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    Ugetsu

    Just to add (I’ve just had a look at Mellens ‘Seven Samurai’),in her section ‘Kurosawa and Japanese Film; Kurosawa and his Critics’, (pp.58 to 73) she refers to criticism by Masahiro Shinoda that ‘Kurosawa has exhausted himself pursuing the travelling camera…. his films represent no more than a ‘simplistic humanism‘. She says about Oshima:

    ‘who, unlike Shinoda, eschewed the period film, reacted violently to my mere mention of Kurosawa. Asking him to respond to what he termed Kurosawa’s ‘so called artistic films‘ implying that their presumptive ‘realism’ precluded his taking them seriously. For Oshima, Kurosawa drew so heavily on Japanese tradition as inevitably to force his audience into complacency. ‘Our generation cannot rely on the congeniality of our all being Japanese in order to communicate,’ he argued. That Kurosawa had brought Japanese film to a Western audience meant that he must be pandering to Western values and politics.’

    She further adds that Shuji Terayama argued that Kurosawa’s adherence to the structure of the classic Hollywood film meant that for a director like himself, Kurosawa ‘could not be meaningful‘.

    Mellen adds that the only one of the ‘new wave’ who didn’t criticise Kurosawa was Imamura, and his work (she comments rather cattily) has endured rather better than the works of Kurosawas detractors.

    Further in this section, Mellen discusses in some detail the criticism that a number of Japanese (and western) critics had of Kurosawa’s Jidai geki films. She notes that some writers (including Burch) either ignore them or dismiss them as minor works compared to his contemporary works. She reflects in some way Yoshimotos arguments (insofar as I understand them), that the historical works are considered by many critics as problematic in that they seem too divorced from contemporary concerns – something that she attributes to a failure by the critics to identify the irony and allegory within Seven Samurai and other of Kurosawas Jidai geki films.

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    Ugetsu

    I found the reference to Ozu making an oblique criticism of Kurosawa. Its on page 153 of Mellens ‘Waves at Genji’s Door’.

    In a discussion of Ozu’s politics, she writes:

    This reactionary aspect of Ozu’s sensibility is conveyed most graphically during a relaxed moment in an interview he gave to critics Akira Iwasaki and Shinbi Iida for Kinema Jumpo magazine in 1958. Ozu, who at other times praises western films from Chaplin to Welles, reveals a xenophobia to which many Japanese seem addicted, a contempt for foreigners quite drastic in its stereotypic, racist approach. Ozu suddenly bursts out with an attack on foreign tourists whom he equates with Western critics who prefer the “high octave” works of directors like Kurosawa to his own:

    “Something for damn foreigners” means something sold at souvenir shops in Yokohama, such as an embroidered red kimono with hollyhocks on it. I detest things like that. It’s irresponsible to manufacture this junk just because “damn foreigners” will be happy with it….We are Japanese so we should make Japanese things. If they don’t understand them, there’s nothing we can do about it.

    The embroidered red kimonos with hollyhocks on them are a scarcely veiled reference to the films of Akira Kurosawa which, Ozu is suggesting, were made to please foreigners; the “Japanese things” refer to his own films, whose failure to please foreign critics obviously irritates Ozu – only in the 1970’s would his films gain a considerable following in the West. Interviewer Iida, delighted, replies with a Buddhist aphorism: “A lost soul is beyond redemption.” A few moments later in the interview, Ozu speaks contemptuously of the inability of foreigners to understand his films: “They don’t understand – thats why they say its Zen or something like that”.

    The quotations are referenced to Akira Iwasaki and Shinbi Iida, “A Talk with Ozu,” Kinema Jumpo, June 1958. Translated by Leonard Schrader.

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    Vili Maunula

    Looking at the enthusiasm and scholarship here, it may be that we will need to have a relatively short “criticism” section on Kurosawa’s own Wikipedia page, and create a separate page called “Criticism of Akira Kurosawa”? 😉

    Dylanexpert: I’ll think about the “Life and Career” section, and see what I can come up with. It is a herculean task, but then again so are the other sections on the planned page. I agree that discussion of individual films should be kept to the minimum in the bio, with only information relevant to the biographical narrative included. The challenge, as far as I see it, is to keep the section detailed enough, but at the same time not too long or list-like in its presentation. I’ll take charge of the section, try to come up with something, and post it for everyone to comment.

    I agree with Ugetsu and lawless that both misogyny and pampering to the west are issues that many critics have noted, and therefore should probably be included; although I’m not sure if “misogyny” is the best term to capture the wide variety of commentary about Kurosawa’s suggested lack of interest towards female characters.

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    lawless

    “Misogyny” probably isn’t the best description; probably the most the term has to recommend it is that it’s a single word.

    It’s more than just a lack of interest in female characters vis-a-vis male ones; many of his most memorable female characters are villains and harridans, most notably Lady Asaji of Throne of Blood; the landlady in The Lower Depths, and Lady Kaede of Ran. The vast majority of female characters who are not out and out villains are flawed in a way that is not noble. His male leads, though flawed, are often also noble, which tends to counterbalance their flaws. And a primary focus on male characters has the effect of making a male point of view normative, irrespective of whether it’s intentional.

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    Ugetsu

    Yes, I just used the word misogyny as short-hand – I can’t recall if that word was every used directly against Kurosawa, although Alex Cox may have used it in his intro to Red Beard. Didn’t Kurosawa say somewhere something along the lines of ‘all my female characters are a little peculiar…’?

    I think even the summary of his works is a huge job to take on – nobody is likely to agree on what they are really about! But I’d be happy to have a go at a few of them. I’m way behind on my reading, so I’m not sure I’d be able to offer much help on ‘life and career’.

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    dylanexpert

    I’ve delayed responding to all the comments partly because of other pressures on me, partly because the responses overwhelmed me a bit, and partly because the comments function was down for awhile.

    The unanimously unfavorable response to excluding the “misogyny” and “pandering to foreigners” put-downs as topics in the Criticisms section of the Wiki article has convinced me that these cannot be omitted from the section. But this presents a considerable problem. The Criticisms section is already very long and not nearly complete. It seems to be threatening to overwhelm the rest of the article. But I don’t agree with Vili’s suggestion (whether seriously meant or not) that the Criticism section be relegated to a separate Wiki page with a brief paragraph on the main page. This would probably disqualify it from consideration as a featured article.

    Ugetsu: Thank you for posting the complete Ozu quote. I’m still not convinced, as Mellon is and Ozu’s original interviewers may have been, that Ozu was actually referring to Kurosawa; I still think he may have been alluding to minor pictures like Gate of Hell. But that quote, and some of the comments of the New Wave directors, should definitely be included, while noting that this is Mellon’s interpretation of Ozu’s ambiguous comment. The Oshima quote is particularly fascinating, because Kurosawa thought very highly of Oshima and he includes Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence among his 100 favorite movies. He wrote in his commentary on that film: “‘I rely on you to develop Japanese movies,’ I said to him several times when we dined together… A really skilled film maker he is!” (Kurosawa is right, I think, about Oshima’s skill, but he’s also extremely cold: I call him “Nagisa Hokkaido.”) On the other hand, K does not include any Imamura films on his favorite films list, and I (like Mellon) respect Imamura more than any other director in the “New Wave.” Regarding Kurosawa’s alleged “Westerness,” this quality very sharply declined, in my opinion, after High and Low. As Pauline Kael correctly remarked in her (cautiously favorable) review of Ran, “People go on writing that he’s the most Western of Japanese directors, but that hasn’t been the case for a long time.”

    As a side observation on Ozu, I think his bitterness regarding Westerners’ neglect of his work (at the time of the interview) is extremely interesting and very ironic. It was only after his death that Ozu’s work was finally appreciated in the West. I recall that when Tokyo Story (the first Ozu film I had ever even heard about) premiered in New York in 1968, five years after Ozu’s passing, there were NO negative, or even mixed, reviews, out of about a dozen critics. (Summaries of New York critics’ opinions were published in the Sunday New York Times during that period.) This greatly impressed me.

    Lawless: About Kurosawa’s attitude towards women, I agree that quotes to this effect should be included, but I certainly will not use the word “misogynist” to describe those criticisms. Your comments on this matter are interesting, but it should be noted for every evil female character like the landlady in The Lower Depths and Lady Kaede in Ran, there are also sympathetic female characters, like Okayo (the Kyoko Kagawa character) in Lower Depths and Lady Sue (played by Yoshiko Miyazaki) in Ran.

    I think it’s important to look at the most favorable female character in K’s entire work – Yukie (Setsuko Hara) in No Regrets – and extrapolate K’s values from there. It’s obvious that women are favorable characters in K’s universe when they possess the virtues of male heroes: courage, loyalty, steadfastness, selflessness (but not “ego-lessness”) and a stubborn devotion to excellence. Tsuru, the heroine of The Most Beautiful (played by K’s future wife, Yoko Yaguchi), also possesses these qualities. Extreme female sexuality that implies treachery is regarded by K with a kind of fascinated abhorrence: the wife in Rashomon, the landlady in Lower Depths, the mantis woman in Red Beard, Lady Kaede in Ran. (The two oversexed yet lovable wives in Dodeskaden who keep switching husbands are exceptions to this rule.) The two “drag” female roles in K’s work – Shino in Seven Samurai and the Princess in Hidden Fortress – are also both very peculiar and interesting; Shino, when she gives up male dress, seems to abandon male virtues as well, since in the end she fails in loyalty by rejecting her lover, Katsushiro. So to sum up my opinion, calling a woman “masculine,” from K’s point-of-view, would not be an insult but a compliment .

    Vili: We’re exactly on the same page regarding the “Life and Career” section. Everything about this project is a big task, but I appreciate your taking on that part of it. I look forward to reading your contribution.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Hi. As for the categories, friends: It’s probably a better idea to have sections like “Kurosawa’s Women” and “Kurosawa and the West” so that you can allow for criticism to have its proper place. If you have a title, say “Kurosawa as Misogynist” you’ve got to spend a deal of time disproving his misogyny from the start just to get back to neutral. Know what I mean, guys?

    Ugetsu placed this in the list: –

    Misogyny (or at least, not being interested in women as characters). In the BFI Region II dvd of Red Beard Alex Cox accuses Kurosawa of creating female characters that only exist as people for the male heroes to save. Mellen, having praised his early films, writes that he seemed repulsed by the wife in Rashomon and after this never created a realistic female in future films.

    Cox is so stupid. It’s like blaming a heron for not being a skylark. That Kurosawa focussed on men in moments of crisis is a given…duh. It doesn’t mean there are no women in his films, or that the women are garbage roles. Did he even know of “No Regrets for our Youth“? There simply is no way that his criticism can hold in light of that film…

    Mellen is stupid too. What about “Rhapsody in August“? Was she unaware of that film?

    People talk to hear themselves talk. Their big fat opinions aren’t worth the air. Dylanexpert is right on. Kurosawa was no misogynist…at least he wasn’t in his films. We have to ask Teruyo Nogami if he was a misogynist to his colleagues…though I doubt she would say “yes”.

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    Ugetsu

    dylanexpert:

    I think it’s important to look at the most favorable female character in K’s entire work – Yukie (Setsuko Hara) in No Regrets – and extrapolate K’s values from there. It’s obvious that women are favorable characters in K’s universe when they possess the virtues of male heroes: courage, loyalty, steadfastness, selflessness (but not “ego-lessness”) and a stubborn devotion to excellence. Tsuru, the heroine of The Most Beautiful (played by K’s future wife, Yoko Yaguchi), also possesses these qualities. Extreme female sexuality that implies treachery is regarded by K with a kind of fascinated abhorrence: the wife in Rashomon, the landlady in Lower Depths, the mantis woman in Red Beard, Lady Kaede in Ran. (The two oversexed yet lovable wives in Dodeskaden who keep switching husbands are exceptions to this rule.) The two “drag” female roles in K’s work – Shino in Seven Samurai and the Princess in Hidden Fortress – are also both very peculiar and interesting; Shino, when she gives up male dress, seems to abandon male virtues as well, since in the end she fails in loyalty by rejecting her lover, Katsushiro. So to sum up my opinion, calling a woman “masculine,” from K’s point-of-view, would not be an insult but a compliment .

    Thats a really interesting insight. I think you might be right about it. I can’t recall at the moment where I read it but I think AK once talked about the ‘domestic’ world as being one he didn’t really understand (he was I think explaining the difference between his choice of subjects and Mizoguchi’s). I think its not so much that AK didn’t get, or didn’t understand women, its that the world of the home and of small business was something that was somewhat alien to his experiences (unlike Ozu and Mizoguchi) so he avoided portraying it – and since this side of Japan is the more ‘feminine’ world, this led him to focusing on the male experience. But as you rightly point out, he was quite happy portraying women who were part of that male world.

    Coco:

    Mellen is stupid too. What about “Rhapsody in August”? Was she unaware of that film?

    To be fair, the comments were in her book written in 1976!

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ugetsu reminds us of Mellen’s timeframe: To

    be fair, the comments were in her book written in 1976!

    That explains a LOT.

    Everyone is stuck in time, and some of that is gonna rub off into one’s brain.

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    Vili Maunula

    dylanexpert: But I don’t agree with Vili’s suggestion (whether seriously meant or not) that the Criticism section be relegated to a separate Wiki page with a brief paragraph on the main page. This would probably disqualify it from consideration as a featured article.

    It wasn’t a very serious suggestion, but I think that it is customary in Wikipedia to move larger sections into their own sub-pages, and to give a summary of the points — sometimes several paragraphs long — on the main page. In any case, I don’t think that this is something that must be decided now of course, but rather only after the sections are written and we get a general idea of the length of the whole page.

    I’ll do my best to produce something worth showing for the “life and career” section in these coming months. From the next four weeks, I’ll be spending three on the road, and I’ll only have a limited access to my Kurosawa bookshelf at that time, but I’ll see what I can do. June should be easier time-wise, even with the attention that the World Cup deserves.

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    dylanexpert

    Vili:

    I appreciate your time constraints. Please remember however, that our proposed deadline for the article to appear as a featured article is August 25, 2010, the 50th anniversary of the Tokyo premiere of Rashomon. So the complete article should be ready for final review by early August at the latest.

    John B.

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    dylanexpert

    TORU TAKEMITSU, one of Kurosawa’s (and Japan’s) most respected composers (Dodeskaden, Ran), is the featured article on Wikipedia today!

    The article mostly focuses on the man’s compositions for the concert hall, but there is one passage on film music relevant to this discussion.

    Takemitsu’s contribution to film music was considerable; in under 40 years he composed music for over 100 films,[76] some of which were written for purely financial reasons (such as those written for Noboru Nakamura). However, as the composer attained financial independence, he grew more selective, often reading whole scripts before agreeing to compose the music, and later surveying the action on set, “breathing the atmosphere” whilst conceiving his musical ideas.[77] One notable consideration in Takemitsu’s composition for film was his careful use of silence (also important in many of his concert works), which often immediately intensifies the events on screen, and prevents any monotony through a continuous musical accompaniment. For the first battle scene of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, Takemitsu provided an extended passage of intense elegiac quality that halts at the sound of a single gun shot, leaving the audience with the pure “sounds of battle: cries screams and neighing horses”.[78]

    Takemitsu attached the greatest importance to the director’s conception of the film; in an interview with Max Tessier, he explained that, “everything depends on the film itself … I try to concentrate as much as possible on the subject, so that I can express what the director feels himself. I try to extend his feelings with my music.”[79]

    I think most of the people on this list would probably agree that he succeeded!

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