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The Great Directors: Vol. 2

Mar 7th, 2011

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Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)

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In film school, lecturers and professors discuss a wide number of filmmakers - if the aim is to provide students with a panoramic appreciation of film as art, why not run the gamut? But this writer remembers one academic experience that offered not just an elucidation of the skills and breadth of a particular movie director, but an almost manic zeal that planted a seed in me as a cineaste in a singular way. 

I recall it like it was yesterday: In a giant lecture hall, we were dissecting the merits of Germany Year Zero and its contrast to Rossellini's controversial late-career history films. Our professor - began offering directorial comparisons, trying to argue that any true film artist must make challenging, reinventive aesthetic statements deep into a career in order to remain culturally viable. She referenced Bergman, Fellini, even Woody Allen, and then in an almost off-hand breath, she professed: "Just look at Akira Kurosawa - THE GOD OF CINEMA."

I scribbled that name in my notebook - then unfamiliar with the guy - and became fascinated by a director that reduced my esteemed educator to using decidedly fanboy nomenclature, and the rest is history.

I bring up this anecdote because an argument can earnestly be made that Akira Kurosawa is the God of Cinema. This director evolved and transformed his craft in beguiling fashions - he never stopped being wildly entertaining, yet he always gave the impression of being one giant step ahead of everybody. Like the cinema of Kubrick, if Kurosawa movies are excellent the first time around, they're positively earth-shattering upon repeat viewings. 

His movies always seem overlong in their first halves, but their second halves pass in a neutron flash - Seven Samurai, for example, spends an hour warming up, then basically turns into a riotous two-hour action sequence. And again, the second (and third, and fourth...) time around, what perhaps originally played as navel-gazing shines as mesmerizing, masterful cinema that is  profound in its form and import.

God of Cinema? Yeah, I'll buy it.

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Memorable Kurosawa quotes:

“As a storyteller, I have no secrets.”

“Movie directors, or should I say people who create things, are very greedy and they can never be satisfied. That's why they keep on working. I've been able to work for so long because I think next time, I'll make something good.”

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