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Akira Kurosawa : 10 Most Essential Films



“Most directors have one masterpiece by which they are known. Kurosawa has at least eight or nine.” 

From the beginning, Kurosawa displayed a bold, dynamic style, strongly influenced by Western cinema yet quite distinct from it. Kurosawa was extensively involved with every aspect of film production. He was also a gifted screenwriter, and would usually work in close collaboration with his co-writers from the beginning of the development of a film to ensure a high-quality script, which he insisted was the absolute foundation of a good film. He frequently served as editor of his own films and was regarded by his production team as “the greatest editor in the world”.Now recognized as an important voice in cinema, over the course of the next decade, Kurosawa made some of his most influential and entertaining films.

• Rashomon (1950)

Brimming with action while incisively examining the nature of truth, “Rashomon” is perhaps the finest film ever to investigate the philosophy of justice. Through an ingenious use of camera and flashbacks, Kurosawa reveals the complexities of human nature as four people recount different versions of the story of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife.

• Ran (1985)

At the age of seventy, after years of consolidating his empire, the Great Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) decides to abdicate and divide his domain amongst his three sons. Taro (Akira Terao), the eldest, will rule. Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), his second son, and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu) will take command of the Second and Third Castles but are expected to obey and support their elder brother. Saburo defies the pledge of obedience and is banished.

• Drunken Angel (1948)

The chaotic worlds of the Japanese Mafia (Yakuza) and an alcoholic doctor collide in this film noir classic from Akira Kurosawa. Gangster Toshiro Mifune visits doctor Takashi Shimura, after an unfortunate incident with a bullet. The doctor, who despises the Yakuza, discovers the young man is suffering from tuberculosis, a disease symbolic of what is happening to the doctor and the community he serves. Facing his own anger and fear, the doctor aligns himself with the gangster’s world.

• Seven Samurai (1954)

A veteran samurai, gathers six samurais to protect a village from the cruel bandits. As the samurais teach the natives how to defend themselves, the village is attacked by a pack of 40 bandits.

• Scandal (1950)

Ichiro Aoye offers a bicycle ride to Miyako Saijo, a famous singer. When paparazzi follows them to their lodging, Ichiro loses his temper on them, resulting in a false article about their affair.

• Ikiru (1952)

Mr. Watanabe suddenly finds that he has terminal cancer. He vows to make his final days meaningful. His attempts to communicate his anguish to his son and daughter-in-law lead only to heartbreak. Finally, inspired by an unselfish co-worker, he turns his efforts to bringing happiness to others by building a playground in a dreary slum neighborhood. When the park is finally completed, he is able to face death with peaceful acceptance.

• Throne of Blood (1957)

Returning to their lord’s castle, samurai warriors Washizu (Toshirô Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) are waylaid by a spirit who predicts their futures. When the first part of the spirit’s prophecy comes true, Washizu’s scheming wife, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), presses him to speed up the rest of the spirit’s prophecy by murdering his lord and usurping his place. Director Akira Kurosawa’s resetting of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in feudal Japan is one of his most acclaimed films.

• No Regrets for Our Youth (1946)

Yukie (Setsuko Hara) is a young woman living in 1930s Japan, blissfully unaware of the tumultuous political changes occurring around her. She is shocked into reality, though, when her father, a college professor, is forced to resign after preaching anti-fascist views. As she becomes more aware of the world around her, Yukie falls in love with one of her father’s students who shares his radical views, even as the government seeks to crush anyone who openly opposes it.

• Dersu Uzala (1975)

“Dersu Uzala” is epic in form yet intimate in scope. Set in the forests of Eastern Siberia at the turn of the century, it is a portrait of the friendship that grows between an aging hunter and a Russian surveyor. A romantic hymn to nature and the human spirit, it boasts a performance by Maxim Munzuk as the wise and wizened old man of the Taiga.

• Yojimbo (1961)

A nameless ronin, or samurai with no master (Toshirô Mifune), enters a small village in feudal Japan where two rival businessmen are struggling for control of the local gambling trade. Taking the name Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the ronin convinces both silk merchant Tazaemon (Kamatari Fujiwara) and sake merchant Tokuemon (Takashi Shimura) to hire him as a personal bodyguard, then artfully sets in motion a full-scale gang war between the two ambitious and unscrupulous men.