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Playing at the film club: Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa)

The Kurosawa estate?

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    Ali

    Hi all,

    My name’s Ali and I am a film student. I am doing research into Kurosawa but I have noticed that there hasn’t been much activity from the estate? There haven’t been many exhibitions, etc. I saw there were plans years ago for a museum, but nothing happened.

    I suppose I was just wondering what people thought? It’s about time there was a retrospective!

    Ali

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    Vili Maunula

    Hi Ali, and welcome to the site!

    I think the estate has actually put quite a lot of effort into all sorts of activities in the years after Kurosawa’s passing. There have been a handful of touring exhibitions of Kurosawa’s artworks and personal effects, as well as posthumous film productions like After the Rain and Dora-Heita and, for younger audiences, the anime series Kaze no Yojimbo and Samurai 7. There was also a video game loosely based on Seven Samurai and another one in the works until for some reason or another Kurosawa Productions pulled out of what ultimately was released to critical acclaim as Ni-Oh. Most recently, there was a stage musical last year based on Ikiru and it was actually the second musical production after the Samurai 7 anime was also turned into a musical adaptation back in 2015. There is also a chain of Kurosawa themed restaurants in Japan (or is it just Tokyo? I forget) and three Kurosawa Film Studios, although I don’t know whether the estate is directly involved with those.

    Of course, news of many of these things have been hard to come by outside of Japan. But I suppose the estate’s focus pretty much has to be Japan.

    It’s also true that things have been a bit less successful on the foundation side. There was indeed a long-standing plan for a permanent museum, but unfortunately that did not come to be, and instead we got rumours of financial irregularities. But they did at least have a temporary exhibition space running until the 2011 disbandment, as well as a “digital museum” that was a CD software release soon after Kurosawa’s passing. And perhaps most wonderfully, they put together the Akira Kurosawa Digital Archive, which is a pretty unique online resource and a treasure trove of materials.

    I must say that the estate has in my view actually done a pretty good job of trying out different things. And it must kept in mind that it has to be a challenging position to be in. Kurosawa, while still fairly widely known and warmly remembered, is not really a global brand that would seem to easily lend itself to sustainable commercial activities that you ultimately need if you also want to run the more “educational” type of things like exhibitions and such that in themselves don’t really generate revenue.

    One thing that the estate hasn’t really tried, at least as far as I have seen publicly discussed, is to take a page out of the hip hop moguls’ playbook and come out with a clothing line. And perhaps they shouldn’t. But my day-to-day experience is that there is a sizeable group of people out there for whom Kurosawa means “cool”, thanks also to Mifune and particularly the handful of samurai films that they made together. I have sometimes wondered if there is untapped potential there that could be converted tastefully into something that would both keep Kurosawa’s name alive as well as building a solid financial basis that would allow for the museum and exhibition tours to exist. But I’m pretty sure the estate has considered all sorts of approaches.

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