“How many of you have seen a Kurosawa before?” asked Brandon Arnold who teaches in the Department of Theater and Media Arts. About half of the students raised their hands. “Seven Samurai (1954)? Rashomon (1950)?” Akira Kurosawa is one of the auteur directors whose last name is so significant in the world of film, you can drop the world “films” after his name. “What about High and Low (1963)?” Only about three students raised their hands.
“Kurosawa is a lot like The Beatles to me,” said Arnold. Many people like The Beatles but relatively few have listened through their entire discography. Kurosawa directed thirty feature length films in his life so while many are fans of his work, most have not seen each and every film. Arnold then compared different Beatles albums to Kurosawa films. Sanjuro Sugata (1943) and Please, Please Me because both are fairly formulaic but showed great promise. Stray Dog (1949) and With the Beatles as great follow ups. Rashomon and A Hard Day’s Night garnered huge international recognition. Seven Samurai and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for being the greatest of all time and the one you’ve most likely encountered. Ikiru (1952) and “Hey Jude” for being optimistic works during an extremely pessimistic time. Dodes’ka-den (1970) and The White Album because they’re weird but kind of have something for everyone. Yojimbo (1961) and Let it Be for the return to basics. Ran (1985) and Abbey Road as they are both extremely ambitious. Throne of Blood (1957) and Revolver for their supernatural elements. Finally, High and Low and Rubber Soul in regards to how they are not usually the most well known works but once you find them you are surprised by the depth and breadth of these creators’ talents.
Arnold also warned about talking about these films as if created by Kurosawa alone; all films, even these, are created with a massive amount of teamwork. Kurosawa actually worked with the same people over and over until they were named “kurosawa-gumi” or “Team Kurosawa.” These artists included actors (Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, etc.), writers (Hideo Ogumi, Ryûzô Kikushima, etc.), sound engineers (Ichirō Minawa, Fumio Yanoguchi, etc.), cinematographers (Asakazu Nakai, Takao Saitō, etc.), and his longtime assistant (Teruyo Nogami). These are just a few of the people who helped launch Kurosawa’s name and films into the upper echelons of cinema. Team Kurosawa focused on creating relatable characters in each of these films. Their soundwork, dialogue, photography, set designs, and acting all helped to realize this goal.