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The New York Review of Books: "Kurosawa's Japan Revisited"

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    Vili Maunula

    There’s a nice article on The New York Review of Books website on Kurosawa’s Ikiru and his status as a “western” director. The author writes: “I realize that it may be me, and not Kurosawa, who is truly failing to catch Japan.”

    The article is titled Kurosawa’s Japan Revisited. A slightly different version of the article was also included in Criterion’s new edition of Ikiru.

    Since I was quite pressed on time (and a bit lazy) towards the end of last year, I noticed that I kept hoarding links like these rather than posting my regular link roundup articles. From here on, I’ll try to post links directly as forum posts. Maybe individual posts will also generate more discussion. And of course, as always, I encourage you to start new topics for links that you come across.

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    Ugetsu

    Beautiful writing from Pico Iyer as always – I keep meaning to read more of his books. Its quite insightful too about Kurosawa and his supposed ‘westernness’.

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    Vili Maunula

    I must confess I had no idea who the author is. Now I do, and now he’s in my reading pile. Thanks for the recommendation!

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    lawless

    I also recognized the writer’s name, although I’m not sure where or what I know him from. I agree, good analysis of Ikiru and the relationship of Kurosawa’s movies to Japan and the West. While Kurosawa is clearly part of and speaking from a Japanese perspective, his techniques, approach and interests are less insular than other directors of his generation *cough cough Ozu* and thus easier for Westerners to enjoy and understand.

    I therefore respectfully dissent from a part of Ugetsu’s thesis. Kurosawa’s greater appeal to Westerners and Western audiences as a group (noting that there are exceptions) compared to his Japanese contemporaries is not supposed. It is real. How many Western adaptations are there of Ozu’s films? Or Mizoguchi’s? How many Western sources did either of them adapt? How many Western directors did they inspire, and how many Western directors interceded to get them funding or appeared in their films?

    Which one of them received an honorary Oscar, a best foreign film Oscar, and a special award that was the precursor to the best foreign film Oscar?

    To deny any foothold to Kurosawa’s position as an intermediary between global cinema (Western cinema and Hollywood especially) and Japan is to only tell part of the story.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    I therefore respectfully dissent from a part of Ugetsu’s thesis. Kurosawa’s greater appeal to Westerners and Western audiences as a group (noting that there are exceptions) compared to his Japanese contemporaries is not supposed. It is real.

    Just to clarify, I don’t deny in any way that Kurosawa has a more western outlook, and that this has effected his appeal. My general point is that it is a mistake to see Kurosawa’s ‘westernness’ as something that is not ‘Japanese’. I’m influenced here by the arguments of Alex Kerr that many westerners have taken an upside-down view of what is ‘Japanese’. He sees there as being two distinct traditions within Japanese art and culture – an attempt to create a ‘pure’ Japanese vision, with a more omnivorous parallel tradition which observes the outside world, grabs it, and copies it to make something new. He sees them both as ‘genuinely japanese’, but he criticises both Japanese and western scholars who instinctively see the ‘pure’ version as somehow ‘more real’ than the latter. Although he doesn’t discuss Kurosawa in detail, he has written that he is very much within what he sees as a very long established Japanese ‘magpie’ tradition of hoovering up foreign ideas and making them uniquely Japanese.

    How many Western adaptations are there of Ozu’s films?

    Actually, I think you’d be surprised how many they are! Two that come to mind are Claire Denis’ wonderful 35 Rhum, which is an acknowledged remake of Late Spring, and Cherry Blossoms, a German film from 2008 based on Tokyo Story. Although interestingly, all the ones I can think of tend to be European, not American – a lot of European art cinema directors seem to acknowledge Ozu as a direct influence on some of their films. Although Mizoguchi seems to defy remakes or influence. I do take your general point though, Kurosawa has had a far more direct influence on western filmmaking.

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    Ugetsu

    And just as I posted that I remembered that Mizoguchi’s 47 Ronin had been notoriously badly remade with Keanu Reeves in it... although I think any Mizoguchi fan would strongly deny any influence!

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    chomei

    I believe that there have been several Japanese movies based on the story of the 47 Ronin, so I think it unlikely Mizoguchi’s version influenced the Keanu Reeves’ version. I saw the Mizoguchi trilogy years ago, there is no comparison!

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    lawless

    I agree with Chomei. Reeves’ 47 Ronin riffed on the historical incident, not Mizoguchi’s movie.

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