The Influence of Akira Kurosawa on Modern Cinema

Born in Tokyo in 1910, Akira Kurosawa began his career in the film industry in the 1930s as an assistant director, screenwriter, and script supervisor. He made his directorial debut in 1943 with “Sanshiro Sugata.” Throughout his career, he directed more than 30 films, many of which significantly impacted Western cinema.

Kurosawa’s films were recognized for their stunning visuals, nuanced characters, and innovative storytelling techniques. His films were deeply rooted in Japanese culture and history, frequently tackling themes of honour, loyalty, and an individual’s role in society. Despite their cultural distinctiveness, Kurosawa’s films have a worldwide appeal that transcends language and nationality. As a result, his work has had an impact not just in Japan but also globally. One of the ways Kurosawa influenced cinema was through his use of the “Rashomon Effect.” In Kurosawa’s 1950 film “Rashomon,” four characters recount the same event, each with a different version of what happened. The film investigates truth and subjectivity, and its revolutionary narrative structure significantly impacted modern filmmakers. The Rashomon effect became a popular storytelling method in Western cinema, notably in film noir, where unreliable narrators shift perspectives to create ambiguity and tension. Kurosawa’s films also significantly affected Western films of the 50s and 60s.

Several of his films, such as “Seven Samurai” (1954) and “Yojimbo” (1961), were set in feudal Japan yet featured themes and characters that Western viewers were familiar with. Inspired by Kurosawa’s films, the concept of a group of heroes banding together to protect a town from bandits was later replicated by American filmmakers in films like “The Magnificent Seven” (1960).  A  lone hero who arrives in a desolate town and confronts a gang of raiders was a prominent theme in Western cowboy films, largely influenced by Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” and its Italian-American remake, “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). The impact of Kurosawa would also be evident in American blockbusters. “Star Wars” creator George Lucas has cited Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” (1958) as a key influence on his work. The movie features a pair of bickering peasants who serve as comic relief amid a serious adventure. Lucas turned this idea into the beloved characters of R2-D2 and C-3PO. In addition to his narrative innovations, Kurosawa’s visual style influenced modern cinema. His wide shots, deep focus, and dynamic camera motions gave audiences a unique and engaging sense of space and movement. Kurosawa’s films were also known for their bold use of color, notably in his later works like “Kagemusha” (1980) and “Ran” (1985). These films employed bright, vibrant colors to generate an atmosphere of heightened emotion and drama. With lengthy tracking shots and complex choreography, Kurosawa’s emphasis on movement and action significantly impacted action movies. The climactic fight sequence in “Seven Samurai,” for example, has been replicated in various films ranging from “The Magnificent Seven” to “Kill Bill.”

Kurosawa’s impact on modern cinema is often seen in his exploration of the human condition. His films frequently addressed issues such as social injustice, power struggles, and the nature of heroism. Kurosawa’s ability to address these subjects in an emotionally compelling and intellectually fascinating way captivated Western filmmakers. His films were groundbreaking in their use of visual storytelling methods. They tackled complicated subjects and emotions in ways uncommon in Western cinema then. Kurosawa’s effect on the Western genre was equally substantial, and his films inspired a generation of future filmmakers.

Farell Razika