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On Cameras

Much is often made of the fact that I use more than one camera to shoot a scene. This began when I was making Seven Samurai, because it was impossible to predict exactly what would happen in the scene where the bandits attack the peasants’ village in a heavy rainstorm. If I had filmed it in the traditional shot-by-shot method, there was no guarantee that any action could be repeated in exactly the same way twice. So I used three cameras rolling simultaneously. The result was extremely effective, so I decided to exploit this technique fully in less action-filled drama as well, and I next used it for Ikimono no kiroku (Record of a Living Being). By the time I made The Lower Depths I was using largely a one-shot-per-scene method.’1

Working with three cameras simultaneously is not so easy as it may sound. It is extremely difficult to determine how to move them. For example, if a scene has three actors in it, all three are talking and moving about freely and naturally. In order to show how the A, B and C cameras move to cover this action, even complete picture continuity is insufficent. Nor can the average camera operator understand a diagram of the camera movements. I think in Japan the only cinematographers who can are Nakai Asakazu and Saito Takao. The three camera positions are completely different for the beginning and end of each shot, and they go through several transformations in between. As a general system, I put the camera A in the most orthodox positions, use the camera B for quick, decisive shots and the C camera as a kind of guerilla unit.’1

Many people choose to follow the actor’s movements with a zoom lens. Altough the most natural way to approach the actor with the camera is to move it at the same speed as he moves, many people wait until he stops moving and then zoom in on him. I think this is very wrong. The camera should follow the actor as he moves; it should stop when he stops. If this rule is not followed, the audience will become conscious of the camera.’1


1 These notes were published by Toho Company Ltd. in 1975 as advice to young people considering a career in filmmaking. They are taken from: Kurosawa, Akira. Something Like an Autobiography. Translated by audie E. Bock. Vintage Books, 1983.

2 These are taken from: Kurosawa, Akira. Something Like an Autobiography. Translated by audie E. Bock. Vintage Books, 1983.

3 These notes are taken from: Richie, Donald. The Films of Akira Kurosawa. University of California Press, 1996.