Legendary Japanese film maker Akira Kurosawa began his illustrious 55-year career in 1936. Throughout that time, he earned a reputation for working harder than any other director; he was even known to perform dirty work like wiping down walls or floors with rags while on set. His innovations, attention to detail, shot selection, use of long lenses, and powerful storytelling have greatly influenced American cinema.
Just as Kurosawa had influenced America, however, Hollwyood had influenced him. Kurosawa called The Searchers director John Ford his “idol.” Clearly the western inspiration presents itself throughout his films, leading to much admiration and accessibility in the United States, as well as Europe. Unfortunately, this detracted from the recognition he rightfully deserved in his native Japan.
Nevertheless, his works were so influential that they were often remade. 1961’s samurai tale Yojimbo was the inspiration behind the Sergio Leone ”spaghetti western” A Fistful of Dollars, only three short years after the former’s release. An excellent example of his obsession to detail occurred during the filming of Yojimbo. Kurosawa thought the set was too perfect; that it didn’t look like the photograph of an actual village he based it on. So he hired firemen for an entire day to spray water on the roof tops of all the buildings allowing the water to naturally fall, leaving an authentic look of erosion. The film is also relevant because it was the first movie to test the censors by featuring sword slashing sound effects.
While a film student in the 1960s, director George Lucas became “completely hooked” on Kurosawa pictures. He admired the framing of the long lens shots used to create intensity during panning and the powerful element of how he tells the story, so much so that he based the original Star Wars after Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. Ironically, it’s not even in his top three Kurosawa films, but he liked how the story was told by the two lowliest characters (peasants), which later became the droids C-3PO and R2-D2. The innovation of the “swipe cut” was also taken from this film and famously used throughout the entire Star Wars franchise.
On a more personal note, a film/film trail that has inspired my own career begins with Kurosawa’s 1954 classic The Seven Samurai. It all started when I did a research paper back in college and found out that Seven Samurai had been remade into the 1960 gunslinger classic The Magnificent Seven. The film’s success is undeniable, spawning three sequels and a television show, and it launched the careers of budding stars like Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. Twenty six years later, it morphed into The Three Amigos―a comedy featuring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. Another 12 years after that, it was transformed into a Disney/Pixar animated feature called A Bug’s Life. I found it uncanny that these movies were connected, yet I had never realized that a cartoon could have originated from a thread of films dating back over 40 years. So that’s when I decided to take a classic western and turn it into a full-length animated feature. Whether it sees the silver screen one day or not remains to be seen, but no matter what, the inspiration of Akira Kurosawa lives on in yet another generation of aspiring filmmakers in America.
Craig Pisani is an avid moviegoer and aspiring screenwriter with Bachelor degrees in both Cinema and English.