Friday, February 19, 2010

Kurosawa and Dostoevsky

Interesting essay by Peggy Chiao on Kurosawa's early influences,

The themes, symbolism, and aesthetic forms of Akira Kurosawa’s films owe their origins to the ideas and sensibilities that captured his imagination as a young man. They include Marxism, which caught the attention of the Japanese intelligentsia in the twenties and thirties; classical Russian novels, which mesmerized the country’s cultural elite; impressionist painting, which rocked the contemporary art world; and the sport of kendo, which Kurosawa practiced as a young boy. 

Another major influence on Kurosawa was his elder brother, Heigo, who was addicted to the novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Maksim Gorky. Additionally, he introduced Akira to Western art and the auteur cinema of Fritz Lang, John Ford, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Sergei Eisenstein. Heigo, however, was to commit suicide when Akira was twenty-three years old. In his memoir Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa wrote about his brother’s profound influence on his development in art and literature, and especially in nurturing his passion for Dostoyevsky. Their only difference, he wrote, was that “my brother was pessimistic and negative, and I was optimistic and positive.” One time, Kurosawa met an actor who knew his brother, and the actor told him, “You are exactly like your brother, only he’s the negative, and you’re the positive print.”

From Dostoyevsky, Kurosawa inherited the concept of redemption. As had Dostoyevsky’s czarist Russia, Kurosawa’s Japan was going through momentous economic changes and had to brace itself against an impending catastrophe. The tortures of historical change produced in the artist a humanitarian ideal, to seek redemption through acts of self-sacrifice. In
Seven Samurai, the samurai display great perseverance in protecting the farmers, their social inferiors. In the closing sequence, as the farmers joyously plant rice seedlings and sing, the surviving samurai stand by their comrades’ grave, on a mound, and sigh, “The victory belongs to those peasants, not to us.”

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