His vision of human experience is firmly rooted in the value system of feudal Japan. Zen Buddhism, the samurai code of bushido ("the way of the warrior" -loyalty and self-sacrifice), and the master-pupil relationship are all important ethical components of his films. Because of his great universality of spirit, we can recognize ourselves in Kurosawa.
Kurosawa is unquestionably a giant of the international cinema. He is the true auteur of his films- he sets up his own shots, does his own editing, and writes his own scripts. He is probably more conscious of Western styles of filmmaking than any of his Japanese peers and has always claimed a great stylistic debt to American director John Ford.
By the time Akira Kurosawa directed his 1950 masterpiece Rashômon, he already had several films under his belt, including the Sanshirô Sugata judoka pictures and the noir-tinged procedural Stray Dog. But Rashômon, adapted from a Ryûnosuke Akutagawa short story, was the one that put him on the international map and helped alter the course of post-war cinema.
Akira Kurosawa was born in Tokyo, the youngest of eight children, to Isamu and Shima Kurosawa, of the Samurai class. Displaying an early interest in art, he was allowed to attend a private art school while still a teenager.
Kurosawa applied to enter art school, but failed the entrance exam. He continued to submit his artwork to exhibitions but did not find a repeat of his early success. Unable to make a living at painting he changed courses at age 26 and was hired as an assistant director by a prominent Japanese production company. After seven years working as an assistant director his first film, Sugata Sanshiro, was released, in 1943.
For those who discover Kurosawa, they will find a master technician and stylist, with a deep humanism and compassion for his characters and an awe of the enormity of nature. He awakened the West to Japanese cinema with Rashomon, which won the top prize in the Venice Film Festival of 1951, and also a special Oscar for best foreign film.
To most outside of Japan, Kurosawa is synonymous with Japanese cinema. He was the first Japanese director whose films were remade in Hollywood and elsewhere, The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars finding their roots in Seven Samurai and Yojimbo respectively. George Lucas has stated that the narrative structure of the first Star Wars film was borrowed from Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress.
Kurosawa originated film techniques that are still being used today. It is today commonplace for movies to be filmed with two or three cameras, a technique Kurosawa initiated in the battle scenes of Seven Samurai. Although not the first director to employ telephoto lenses for most principal photography, he was perhaps the most influential. He was the first director to use slow motion in action sequences.
By using precedents outside the traditional Japanese framework, Kurosawa was able to reach a wider audience and reconfigure the notion of genre. Through his influences and achievements, he became one of the first true international filmmakers, inspiring several generations of filmmakers who would explore notions of genre and identity in film.
His best-known films remain his samurai epics Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, but his intimate dramas, such as Ikiru and High and Low, are just as searing. The first serious phase of Kurosawa’s career came during the postwar era, with Drunken Angel and Stray Dog, gritty dramas about people on the margins of society that featured the first notable appearances by Toshiro Mifune, the director’s longtime leading man.