Tagged: book reviews, books, teruyo nogami, waiting on the weather
5 September 2014
I looked through the website items on this topic, but none of them seem to include a site member’s evaluation of this book as opposed to a link to a professional critic’s review, so here goes.
As some of you may recall, this book and Stuart Galbraith’s The Emperor and the Wolf were recommended to me for their discussion of the problems inherent in the making of Dersu Uzala, but I was of course also interested in it as a general discussion of Kurosawa’s career and what it was like to work for him.
My biggest complaint is that the book is somewhat disjointed and episodic in structure; it’s organized more along topical themes than chronologically, and there is some overlap in material. I’m also not sure how useful the fairly extensive discussion of Nogami’s first mentor and personal friend Mansaku Itami and his family is. A lot of names are mentioned, and while some of this is probably my fault for not always picking up on first and last names simultaneously, who’s being referred to sometimes becomes confusing especially when the last reference to that person was pages ago. There were times I thought adding a little more detail as to who was being mentioned anew might help. So would an index.
However, most of my problems with the book stem from the book’s origin with a series of magazine essays that were, as far as I can tell, included as is with the exception of the addition of a clarifying note or two to address subsequent developments like Toshiro Mifune’s death. Not all of the book comes from these essays — several of the later chapters contain new material — but the bulk of the book does.
I can’t fault Nogami or her editors for not reworking the existing material for presentation as a book. It would certainly have involved a lot more work and would have put publication back by at least a year, if not more. I’d rather have the book as is than not have anything because no one had the time to reorganize and rationalize it properly.
The book’s strengths are that pretty much all it contains are Nogami’s personal observations of Kurosawa and others, as opposed to empty speculation, and as befits Kurosawa’s long-time script supervisor and assistant producer, she writes well and with an eye for telling detail. The stories she recounts of spending untold amounts of time getting ready for shots that were only a few seconds or a few minutes long are absolutely fascinating.
She is also blunt while being fair to all of those about whom she writes; to the extent she has personal knowledge, she doesn’t shy away from controversy and so addresses such topics as Shintaro Katsu’s departure from the production of Kagemusha, composer Saito’s resignation near the end of the production of the same movie, and the rift between Kurosawa and erstwhile star and leading man Toshiro Mifune.
The biggest surprise to me reading this book was her characterization of Mifune as shy and diffident. While I understand what she means about him never quite feeling like he fit in or was qualified as an actor and being embarrassed as a result, his on-screen persona seemed larger than life and if anything the opposite of shy! But it’s true that many actors are shy and different in real life than they are on camera or onstage.
Despite her modesty about her writing skills (she thanks the English translator for “struggling with my poor writing”), Waiting on the Weather is a rewarding glimpse into Kurosawa’s personality, working methods, and state of mind, particularly during some of the most troubled times of his career. Even though it left me wanting more, I am glad to have read it and grateful that it was translated into English.
That leads me to a question: Other than Stuart Galbraith’s The Emperor and the Wolf, which seems to be the definitive Kurosawa biography, Kurosawa’s autobiography, which I intend to save for later reading, and Donald Richie’s book on the films of Akira Kurosawa, which I’ve already read, where should I start when it comes to other books about Kurosawa? Most if not all of what’s left to read beyond those mentioned are works of film criticism. Are any noticeably superior, more well-reasoned or well-informed, or fairer than others? Or is it a matter of taste? For what it’s worth, I’m more interested in books about the content of his films than his techniques in making them.
13 September 2014
Thanks for this excellent review lawless, which I will link to from the Akira Kurosawa books page.
I very much agree with your views here, especially about the book’s structure. My biggest complaint is the lack of an index, since topics are scattered around the book and are difficult to find. Fortunately the book is on Google Books and is therefore searchable. It helps a lot.
But it’s still a great book, and I think essential reading for anyone interested in Kurosawa.
If you have read Galbraith, Nogami and Richie, and intend to save Kurosawa’s autobiography for later, my suggestion would be to read Mitsuhiro Yohimoto’s Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema, which I think is one of the most interesting and the most readable of all books on Kurosawa’s films. It very much concentrates on the content of the works and puts them into a wider context, rather than looking at the technical aspects.
Or, if you would like to read more about Kurosawa than his films, I would strongly suggest Hiroshi Tasogawa’s All the Emperor’s Men, which is one of the best books that I have read in the past couple of years, regardless of subject.
Also the Bert Cardullo edited Akira Kurosawa: Interviews is an excellent read, although as a collection of interviews it does of course repeat itself a little, and could perhaps have done with some editorial commentary on some of the less accurate details published in old articles. But it is an invaluable and rare collection of primary sources to what Kurosawa actually said and thought.
It’s a pity that none of Kazuko Kurosawa’s books on her father have been translated yet. She has written at least three, one titled Reflections: Akira Kurosawa, another titled Dad, Akira Kurosawa and third Akira Kurosawa’s Table (titles are all my translations). My understanding is that they all talk about the Kurosawa family’s domestic life, while of course also discussing her father’s working habits.
There are also so many other books that are only available in Japanese. Now, where is that universal translator application that tech magazines in the late 80s promised would be here “within a few years”? Google Translate doesn’t quite cut it yet!
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