Kurosawa's Films on Video

Akira Kurosawa is gone, but his legacy lives on in repertory cinema houses around the world and on video. The man whom Steven Spielberg called "the pictorial Shakespeare of our time" died of a stroke at his home in Tokyo on September 6. He was 88.

The legendary director made 30 films over five decades and assisted in the making of dozens more. "Emperor Kurosawa," as he was known in Japan, received an honorary Oscar at the 1990 Academy Awards for a lifetime of "cinematic accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched, and entertained worldwide audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world." Eighty years old at the time, Kurosawa accepted his award with humility, remarking that he hoped to work long enough to become worthy of the honor.

Martin Scorsese said of the perfectionist director, "His influence on filmmakers throughout the world is so profound as to be almost incomparable." From the time he began working as a director's assistant in 1936, Kurosawa devoted himself wholly to the art of filmmaking. He once wrote, "Take myself, subtract films, and the remainder is zero."

He survived by only eight months his longtime favorite actor, Toshiro Mifune, who passed away December 24th of last year at the age of 77. Drunken Angel, made in 1948, was Kurosawa's seventh film and Mifune's first major one. Mifune appeared in 16 of Kurosawa's films, the best-known of which are 1954's The Seven Samurai and Roshomon, which debuted in 1951.

Roshomon won Kurosawa international recognition and his first Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Both of these films are available on Criterion laserdiscs. The Seven Samurai is also available as a Criterion DVD, as is High and Low, a psychological thriller from 1963 about a mistaken kidnapping.

Twenty-four of Kurosawa's films are readily available on video tape at rental outlets everywhere as well as Internet sources such as Reel.com. This includes his last picture, Rhapsody in August, which was made in 1992 with American actor Richard Gere. Rhapsody in August deals with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and was widely criticized in the American press as being too simplistic.

Kurosawa hit a low point in his career in the late 1960s, a period in which the Japanese film business was also in a slump. Depression led to an attempted suicide in 1971, but Kurosawa recovered and made the beautiful, austere Dersu Uzala, a joint Russian/Japanese project set in the Siberian wilderness. Based on the journals of Vladimir Arseniev, the film explores the relationship between nature and civilization through the friendship of a Russian army officer and a Siberian huntsman. The film won Kurosawa his second Oscar for best Foreign Language Film in 1976.

The Kurosawa films on Criterion laserdisc include Stray Dog (1949), Roshomon (1950), Iriku (1952), The Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Yojimbo (1961), Sanjuro (1962), High and Low (1953), Red Beard (1965), Dodes'ka-den (1970), and Dersu Uzala (1975).