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Poetry of unadulterated imagination: The late style of Akira Kurosawa

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    Vili Maunula

    Here’s an abstract of an article written on the late style of Kurosawa. It makes what seems to me a somewhat strange claim, namely that “reception of [Kurosawa’s] late works has ranged from ambivalence to outright rejection”. While this may in some sense be true of Richie, I don’t think Kurosawa’s late works have generally really been overlooked.

    Unfortunately, I no more have an APA Online account, having finished my studies, so I won’t be able to access the article itself.


    Lewis Saul

    >>>Concentrating on major stylistic shifts, a movement from action-oriented, linear, and conflictual narrative toward minimal, cyclical, and desublimated, highly ambiguous forms of cinematic expression is identified, particularly in Kurosawa’s three last films–Dreams (A. Kurosawa, 1990), Rhapsody in August (A. Kurosawa & K. Murata, 1991), and Madadayo (A. Kurosawa & H. Uchida, 1993). Discussing these transformations in the context of aging and relating them to various other examples of late-life works, a reexamination of Kurosawa’s films attending to life-span developmental processes is suggested.

    Yes, it always seemed strange to me that Richie stops “liking” AK after Red Beard. (After all, in his book, he handed over the chapters on post-Red Beard films to Joan Mellen)…

    The facts, of course, are as follows:

    1. Mifune was “out of there” after Red Beard. Of course, it had nothing to do with AK’s dynamic shift in style and more to do with the fact that Red Beard tied up his schedule for two years and he was pissed that he could not work on anything else … (or shave his beard)!

    2. AK, making his very first color film in 1970, was so depressed by the result that he attempted suicide…

    3. The post-Red Beard films are so stylistically different from what preceded that many hard-core Kurosawa fans were turned off…

    That said, I personally take the late films as a new direction — similar to what Stravinsky went through when he abandoned his original style to concentrate on writing serial music.

    I think “highly ambiguous” is the key. In these late films, AK leaves the problematic issues as a permanent question mark; nothing is completely resolved.

    I didn’t pay for the entire article, so I don’t know exactly where he ends up with all this …

    … but it’s not impossible that he feels as I do:

    Different than what came before, but still the works of a master.

    Is the Rite of Spring “better” than “Threni”??? Probably not.

    But Threni is still *very* interesting!



    Vili Maunula

    1. Mifune was “out of there” after Red Beard. Of course, it had nothing to do with AK’s dynamic shift in style and more to do with the fact that Red Beard tied up his schedule for two years and he was pissed that he could not work on anything else … (or shave his beard)!

    Just a bit of nit-picking, but I think it’s good to point out that people have, over the years, offered various different explanations for the fact that Mifune and Kurosawa never worked together after Red Beard, this being only one of them.

    I personally think that the reason for it was more on Kurosawa’s side than on Mifune’s. But since neither Kurosawa nor Mifune ever came clear about why they stopped working together, your guess is probably just as good as mine.

    In any case, to go back to the larger issue, it just seems strange to claim that Kurosawa’s later films were not generally well received when you think of Ran, which is generally hailed as one of his masterpieces, and which Kurosawa himself seemed to see as something of a high point in his career.


    Lewis Saul

    I think Ran was and has been pretty well critically received [in general] — but what bugs me is the way some critics dismiss out of hand films like Dersu, Dreams, and — most of all — Madadayo.

    Rhapsody is completely misunderstood by almost everyone [except us, of course 🙂 ]

    Kagemusha is constantly referred to as a “run-through” for Ran, which as we all know is only a shadow (haha) of the truth…


    As far as the break-up, you’re right, only those two probably knew the whole story. But it IS a fact that Mifune’s production company, which was just getting its feet off the ground, could not produce any films with its owner/star for that entire Red Beard period…



    I vividly remember the Siskel and Ebert review for Ran being glowing, two thumbs way up, etc. I am not certain that AK’s later work with the exception of Ran really played well in the west. I was a fan at that time and remember struggling to even see Ran. Madadayo, which I love, never played in DC, that I am aware of, Kagemusha is before my time, so I am not sure of it. Dreams has gotten great press as of late, my HD channel has played it several times let me say it is stunning and the commentators used the term classic film. Rhapsody is my least favorite film of the later era, but that does not mean I dislike it. Anyway, just some random thoughts that popped into my head.



    Nogami details the Kurosawa/Mifune relationship after Red Beard on page 268 of her book. Its her comment in which I feel are most valid out of all the theories. However even she doesnt know the personal details.

    I like Kagamusha more the Ran

    After Ran Kurosawa went to safe by the book westernized directing.

    Dreams-fun to watch, pretty but pointless and very film school artsy stuff.

    Rhapsody-boring, and preached-which is odd considering Kurosawa always mention you should not preach your thoughts in a film.

    Madadayo- just stupid and with the direction of a amateur, plus I really was annoyed by the old man, he was a pain in the ass.

    To me he really phoned in his last few films.



    Suicide aesthetic-late Kurosawa, Yasunari Kawabata-talk amongst yourselves.

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