Kurosawa,Ford and Melville – existential westerns
30 December 2020
19 January 2021
Thanks for the thoughtful post – I keep meaning to reply to it, but I haven’t really had the time to get my thoughts together on it.
I’m always a little sceptical about attempts to focus on Kurosawa’s ‘westernness’. He himself made it clear that despite his fondest for Russian literature and American films, he was very Japanese and made his films only for Japanese. I think that what is often described as ‘western’ in his sensibilities can be found within various strands of Japanese philosophy and religion as much as western, its just expressed in somewhat different ways. I’d recommend reading some Shuseku Endo for a fascinating insight into what happens when western Christian believes clash with traditional Japanese beliefs (its unsurprising just how keen Martin Scorcese was to make it into a film, given how important a theme this is to him).
The Japanese do have a knack for borrowing things from other cultures, and then twisting them in such a way that the original culture doesn’t recognise it, or misunderstands it when they do recognise the borrowing. I tend to think of Kurosawa as someone with a deep concern about the conflicts between the personal and public, the need for public morality and private integrity, and the impossibility of reconciling these in an imperfect world. I think he filtered this through an artistic sensibility with a magpies taste for a huge variety of outside sources, from American crime novels to grand Russian epics, from Noh theatre to Shakespeare. But I do believe that his fundamental concern was making films of contemporary interest to his audience, and so they are best viewed through looking at those concerns, rather than seeking some sort of abstract philosophical perspective.
21 January 2021
You missed my point. I don’t care about Kurosawa and western inspiration. I want to investigate how Kurosawa connects to french filmaker J.P.Melville and american filmaker J.Ford in existentialism. And the reason why added western, I meant to draw attention to the way they use this genre to convey identical existential themes. Western is only someting they operate in, but I think they are very in more profound way. You answered different question.
I am knocking at this door: Why is the ending of Seven Samurai and The Searchers identical? How is it possible? In both stories, hero/es help others, but they are not able to belong among others. Now, that’s a big problem, so I want to draw attention to similar conclusion these films raise. With Melville, it’s all about moral codes in immoral society- much like in Kurosawa’s Ran, Bad Sleep Well or Idiot. How are they related? Why are they using westerns to tell modern existential stories?
I want to open up new topic here that has not been discussed before with sufficent care, but one I find very important in relation to Kurosawa’s western sensibilities which are one of the defining aspects of his work. Kurosawa, like Ford and Melville, seems to be concerned with the lack of moral ideals in the society of his time and thus feeling that characters with noble sensibilities are outcast in such society. We have see this in films like Ikiru,The Bad Men Sleep Well, Seven Samurai or Ran. With Ford, The Searchers is an analog to Seven Samurai. And Melville made a lot of existential westerns, showing that the code of honor is key to human existence, and the lack of it in the police departments. This code of honor always kills Melville’s ,,Samurai”, but they always sacrifice their lives consciously for it, which is something that the modern man is uncable to do.
Seven Samurai has the same ending as The Searchers. Samurais so not belong into the society, even thought they did so much for it. Because the peasents have no morals, samurais cannot belong into their community. So you have the moraless society and someone who is ready to give for an ideal. That’s conflict that makes Kurosawa quite similar to Melville’s films. And with the Searchers there is a problem of even finding something to believe and live for. Again in Ran, the catastrophe happens because there are no morals or God to stop the sons from doing it.They can do whatever they want, so Ran is a good summary of 20’ century, because they can simply blow up the world and there is nothing to stop them (there is a clear fear of nuclear war in Ran) There is no concidence why Kurosawa made Hamlet and Idiot adaptations, because those are the same stories about ideals in an idealess society and the existential problems it creates. How do you look at this relationship between western-existentialism- and Kurosawa’s critique of post-war society? Do you agree or do you see these directors as strangers?