Kurosawa's Notes On His Learnings From Filmmaking!

By Yash Thakur. Posted on October 06, 2015

Every filmmaker in the world has a few idols who they look up to. These idols have made path breaking cinema, some have even changed the course filmmaking and a few have brought in a new language to the art of cinema. Be it Godard, Tarkovsky, or modern day directors like Paul Thomas Anderson or Woody Allen, there are many men and women in the history of films who do not cease to inspire. One such person is Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Regarded as one of the most important figures in the world of cinema, Kurosawa directed 30 films over a course of 57 years. The master filmmaker, whose films have a visual poetry and are highly cinematic, shot into limelight after his Rashomon won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. He has also given some of the most highly regarded films like Ran, Kagemusha, Ikiru, Seven Samurai and Yojimbo.

It is important to note that no filmmaker is born with the skill set of making films. Even Stanley Kubrick did not become a master overnight; he picked up the camera at a very early age and thus became who he was after thoroughly exploring the medium. For any budding filmmaker, it is imperative to experiment and play around with the camera and sound and lights, before turning up on the shoot to start filming.

In 1935, at the age of 25, shortly after his older brother Heigo committed suicide, Kurosawa responded to an advertisement for new assistant directors at the major film studio Toho. It was there that Akira Kurosawa met his lifelong mentor and director Kajiro Yamamoto. In just a year after hiring the young Kurosawa as a 3rd AD, Yamamoto promoted him to Chief AD. This increased Kurosawa's responsibilities, and he worked at tasks ranging from stage construction and film development to location scouting, script polishing, rehearsals, lighting, dubbing, editing and second-unit directing. Thus, by the time Kurosawa got down to directing his first film Sugata Sanshiro (1942), the great filmmaker was already well versed with all the 4 major verticles of filmmaking: writing, directing, editing and cinematography.

Something Like An Autobiography is, in his own words, only a partial telling of Kurosawa's life and career. Inspired by  the memoir of one of his heroes, Jean Renoir, Kurosawa's book contains 57 chapters tracing his early childhood days till the film that put him on the world map, Rashomon. It is written by Kurosawa himself and was translated and published in 1983 by Audie E. Bock. The extracts below are some of notes that the director himself made in his diaries throughout his filmmaking career which highlight his views on direction, writing, lighting and cinema. Read on and be amazed.

Akira-Kurosawa (1)

"THE ROLE OF director encompasses the coaching of actors, the cinematography, the sound recording, the art direction, the music, the editing, the dubbing and sound mixing. Although these can be thought of as separate occupations, I do not regard them as independent. I see them all melting together under the heading of direction."


"WITH A GOOD SCRIPT a good director can produce a masterpiece; with the same script a mediocre director can make a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can't possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. That is what makes a real movie. The script must be something that has the power to do this."


"DURING THE SHOOTING of a scene the director's eye has to catch even the minutest detail. But this does not mean glaring concentratedly at the set. While the cameras are rolling, I rarely look directly at the actors, but focus my gaze somewhere else. By doing this I sense instantly when something isn't right. Watching something does not mean fixing your gaze on it, but being aware of it in a natural way."


"I BEGIN REHEARSALS in the actors' dressing room. First I have them repeat lines, and gradually proceed to the movements. But this is done with costumes and makeup on from the beginning; then we repeat everything on the set. The thoroughness of these rehearsals makes the actual shooting time very short. We don't rehearse just the actors, but every part of every scene- the camera movements, the lighting, everything."


"FROM THE MOMENT I begin directing a film, I am thinking about not only the music but the sound effects as well. Even before the camera rolls, along with all the other things, I consider, I decide what kind of sound I want. In some of my films, such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, I use different theme music for each main character or for different groups of characters."


"THE MOST IMPORTANT requirement for editing is objectivity. No matter how much diffculty you had in obtaining a particular shot, the audience will never know. If it is not interesting, it simply isn't interesting. You may have been full of enthusiasm during the filming of a particular shot, but if that enthusiasm doesn't show on the screen, you must be objective enough to cut it."

You can buy the copy of Akira Kurosawa's Something Like An Autobiography on Amazon India or Flipkart.


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