24 October 2012
I’m tackling a film dissertation (10,000 words) on Kurosawa and philosophy.
Does anyone have any suggestions of underlying schools what can be observed in his work in a period (or throughout) his career? Aside from Ran’s nihilistic tenancies, Rashomon’s epistemology, and perhaps humanist tenancies (especially in his earlier films), I’m having a hard time pinning down a meaty research area.
Despite several members of this forum having expressed strong disagreement with my pet hypothesis, I continue to believe that AK intended (at least in his later films) to make the viewer aware of the things he thought went wrong with humanity. He calls upon us to change human nature by exorcising the essential human evil, as he expressed in an interview in Akira Kurosawa: Interviews ( http://tinyurl.com/966dd8u — I had to use tinyurl because the forum software tore the original URL apart). His method is most straightforward: He does not talk politics but concentrates on the individual. And yes, he does it esthetically.
I would be curious to learn how AK moved away from his Marxist beliefs (to a certain extent elucidated in Something Like An Autobiography: Akira Kurosawa). Japan’s transition from feudalism during the period of US occupation may have something to do with it.
I cannot agree with the label “nihilistic” for Ran. Anyone who shares AK’s dream of improving human nature will take Ran as an invitation to stop the seemingly unlimited sequence of grief humans have brought/bring onto themselves. To a certain extent, Rhapsody in August, Madadayo, and Dreams take the same non-political view, emphasizing the individual. BTW, the same holds true for Ame agaru.
For your research, you may need to frequent sources only available in Japanese to answer the question why AK became disenchanted (?) with Marxism and turned towards the individual. I would be delighted if you were to illuminate this question.
25 October 2012
Hey, Fred, thank you for posting the link to the Kurosawa interview. It is good to hear his “voice”-seems as if I haven’t “gone to the well” for a drink in a while, and it was refreshing to hear is no-nonsense approach to criticism.
I agree-those who call Ran “nihilistic” make it to simple a thing! Kurosawa argues against that kind of labeling in the interview. He states that many critics take too simplistic a view of his work, which he thinks are nuanced and complex…and the result of his own reflections.
Deadlyeggie, perhaps it is better not to try to fit Kurosawa into a box of philosophy. He didn’t much like it anyway, saying people shouldn’t think about films in their heads, but in their hearts. He hated pedantic language and criticism.
Fred, I think that if Deadlyeggie hunted up all of Kurosawa’s actual translated interviews, his autobiography, the basic library of English-language books on him, and looked carefully at the films themselves, a picture of the artist and his working philosophy would emerge! I truly think that the vast majority of what is valuable IS in the film itself-and that an intelligent, sensitive mind can find plenty to write about!
26 October 2012
I’ve often thought that Kurosawa was not particularly interested in ‘ideas’ or philosophies in the abstract, only insofar as they are relevant to the particular historical or contemporary issues he was interested in at any one time. Ultimately, his philosophy was cinema and life. If his ‘conclusions’ seemed to match up with some philosophical idea, that was largely coincidence, as with Rashomon and existentialism (which, if I recall correctly, he claimed never to have heard of before French critics described the film as an exercise in existentialist thought). He also famously said that if he could explain what he meant in his films, he would do that rather than go to all the trouble of making the film.
The word most commonly associated with Kurosawa of course was ‘humanism’, although I’ve always found the term somewhat elusive and vague. His concern was the individual within society. And of course, he changed his mind over the years, which any thoughtful person should do.
So I think your dissertation will be fascinating, its a great topic, but I think that to find ‘philosophical influences’ in Kurosawa is the wrong way around of looking at it. I think his films were problems he saw which had to be solved – any link with contemporary philosophical ideas would have been largely coincidental or would involve a post-hoc attribution which was probably not intended. That doesn’t of course mean that he wasn’t influenced directly or most likely indirectly by specific philosophies – as Keynes once said in another context ‘we are all slaves to some defunct economist’. Perhaps the same could be said for defunct philosophers.
30 October 2012
I agree with pretty much everything that has been said before me in this thread. All I can really add is that you might want to look at Russian authors, especially Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and their influence on Kurosawa. It seems to me that they as writers were a bigger influence on Kurosawa’s thinking than any specific political or philosophical ideology. Although, again, one cannot simply say that Kurosawa was “tolstoyan” or “dostoevskyan”.
It would be very interesting to read your dissertation once it’s ready, DeadlyVeggie!
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