Akira Kurosawa: Film Artist


Ran: Ichimonji Hidetora

There are currently two fantastic art exhibitions in Los Angeles that cinephiles won’t want to miss, both offered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I’ve already written about “Frédéric Back: A Life’s Drawings” in Hollywood (through November 1st). The second is “Akira Kurosawa: Film Artist” in Beverly Hills (through December 14th). The Kurosawa exhibition comes on the tenth anniversary of his death and includes two galleries, one devoted to posters and photographs from his productions, the other to “more than 100 of Kurosawa’s original pre-production drawings and paintings, art supplies, calligraphy materials, annotated screenplays, props and hand-painted costumes, correspondence and film clips.” Not to mention his trademark sunglasses. Including many pieces from the filmmaker’s 1994 Manhattan exhibition, it’s a genuine treasure trove of material that immediately conjures up images from a career spanning seven decades.

The exhibition also contains interactive displays taken from the handsome AK100 Project, a website devoted to Kurosawa’s 2010 centenary that is rife with information. For example, it describes his mounting passion for painting that he developed through childhood, but reveals that the 1933 suicide of his brother Heigo (who worked as a silent movie “benshi”) and the death of his older brother four months later coincided with his abandonment of painting. As Karl French notes in the UK coffee table book, Art by Film Directors, the claim that Kurosawa went to an art school that specialized in the Western style is a myth repeated by many reputable film reference books over the years. In 1936, Kurosawa switched vocations and entered the film industry as an assistant director.

But after Kurosawa’s own personal travails in the ’70s, including his inability to secure Japanese financing for his projects (despite great international acclaim), he returned to his first love–painting–as a way of pre-visualizing and promoting script ideas to producers, and also maintaining his creative productivity. Kagemusha (1980), Ran (1985), Dreams (1990), Rhapsody in August (1991), Madadayo (1993), and even the non-Kurosawa-directed The Sea is Watching (2002) were all originally imagined as elaborate, multimedia renderings of pencil, watercolor, crayon, and markers. I have a hunch that this may partially account for the more sedate, picturesque, and remote tone of his late films, the early wide vistas and cosmic perspectives of humanity and the later dreamlike placidity and ensemble performances. Akira Kurosawa Drawings is a site that sells an array of prints and paraphernalia that feature these paintings. More information about the Academy’s exhibition can be found here.

Below are some examples of featured works:


Kagemusha: Takatenjin at Twilight


Kagemusha: Kawanakajima: A Memory of Uesugi Kenshin (Unscreened)


Dreams: Mt. Fuji in Red


Dreams: Village of the Watermills


Madadayo: Moon Over the Ruins

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