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On Directing

When I begin to consider a film project, I always have in mind a number of ideas that feel as if they would be the sort of thing I’d like to film. From among these one will suddenly germinate and begin to sprout; this will be the one I grasp and develop. I have never taken on a project offered to me by a producer or a production company. My films emerge from my own desire to say a particular thing at a particular time. The root of any film project for me is this inner need to express something. What nurtures this root and makes it grow into a tree is the script. What makes the tree bear flowers and fruit is the directing.’1

The role of a director encompasses the coaching of the actors, the cinematography, the sound recording, the art direction, the music, the editing and the dubbing and sound-mixing. Altough these can be thought of as seperate occupations, I do not regard them as independent. I see them all melting together under the heading of direction.’1

Unless you know every aspect and phase of the film-production process, you can’t be a movie director. A movie director is like a front-line commanding officer. He needs a thorough knowledge of every branch of the service, and if he doesn’t command each division, he cannot command the whole.’2

A film director has to convince a great number of people to follow him and work with him. I often say, altough I am certainly not a militarist, that if you compare the production unit to an army, the script is the battle flag and the director is the commander of the front line. From the moment production begins to the moment it ends, there is no telling what will happen. The director must be able to respond to any situation, and he must have the leadership ability to make the whole unit go along with his responses.’1

For a director, each work he completes is like a whole lifetime. I have lived many whole lifetimes with the films I have made, and I have experienced a different life-style with each one as well. Within each film I have become one with many different kinds of people, and I have lived their lives. For this reason, in order to prepare for the making of a new film, it requires a tremendous effort to forget the people in the film that went before.’2

No matter how much experience you have, when you finally reach the point of directing your own first film you are in a state of extreme tension.’2

It goes without saying that in order to be a film director you must be able to direct actors on the set. A film director’s job is to take a script, make it into something concrete and fix that on film. To that end, he must give the appropriate instructions to the people handling the cameras, the lights, the tape recorders, the sets, the costumes, the props and the makeup. And he must also coach the actors in their delivery.’2

There is a famous haiku by Bashio :
    An old pond
    A frog jumps in –
    the sound of the water.

People who read it and say “Well, of course if a frog jumps into the water, there’s going to be a noise” simply have no feeling for haiku. There are sometimes such human beings among film critics – the things they say they see are so far off the beam that you would think they were possessed by some kind of demon. I suppose nothing can be done about critics, but we can’t have such people among film directors.’2

During the shooting of the scene the director’s eye has to catch even the minutest detail. But this does not mean glaring concentratedly at the set. While cameras are rolling, I rarely look directly at the actors, but focus my gaze somewhere else. By doing this I sense instantly when something isn’t right. Watching something does not mean fixing your gaze on it, but being aware of it in a natural way. I believe this is what the medieval Noh playwright and theorist Zeami meant by “watching with a detached gaze.”‘1

Altough the continuity for a film is all worked out in advance, that sequence may not necessarily be the most interesting way to shoot the picture. Things can happen without warning that produce a startling effect. When these can be incorporated in the film without upsetting the balance, the whole becomes much more interesting. This process is similar to that of a pot being fired in a kiln. Ashes and other particles can fall onto the melted glaze during the firing and cause unpredictable but beautiful results. Similarity unplanned but interesting effects arise in the course of directing a movie, so I call them “kiln changes”.’1

If you are only concerned with how you say something, without having anything to say, then even the way you say it won’t come to anything. Besides, technique is there only to support a director’s intentions. If he relies solely on the technique his original thought won’t appear. Techniques don’t enlarge a director, they limit him. Technique alone, with nothing to support its weight, always crushes the basic idea which should prevail.’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.