In order to write scripts you must study the great dramas of the world – why are they great, where does the emotion that you feel come from, what passion does the writer have to portray the characters and events as he did. You must read thoroughly in order to grasp these things.
Kurosawa, Something Like An Autobiography (Vintage, 1983)
Ok, I’m a Kurosawa nut and I believe that Ran is not only one of the greatest Shakespeare films but one of the greatest of all films. Kurosawa adapted great literature for the screen like no other. As well as Shakespeare he adapted Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and Gorky’s The Lower Depths. Films like Kagemusha are described by critics as ‘Shakespearean’ because they contain familiar elements such as mistaken identity, warring factions, self-destructive families, the nobility of spirit found the basest forms but they also grasp that emotion, that passion which Kurosawa searched for.
For Kurosawa cinema was the most inclusive of all the arts, bringing painting, literature, theatre and music together in one glorious form. He believed in a unique quality in films which he called ‘cinematic beauty’. When a film succeeds, when it expresses this beauty, it elicits a profound emotion unique in the arts. Kurosawa believed “this is why people come to see a film and what should inspire a director to make a film in the first place”. Bert Cardullo (ed.), Akira Kurosawa: Interviews, Conversations with Filmmakers series (University of Mississippi, 2008)
From Shakespeare, Kurosawa derives a powerful source for one of his main themes – the human desire to alter fate and control their environment. A character disrupts the natural flow of life, there follows a chaotic state of flux and then the natural order re-establishes itself. It is the centre of chaos that appears to be the main focus of Kurosawa’s interest in Shakespeare: Throne of Blood begins and ends in a primordial fog; Ran literally translated means ‘chaos’ – the plot has the impetus of a whirlwind and the characters are at the mercy of an amoral natural order; the revenge plot of the Hamlet character, Nishi, in The Bad Sleep Well, takes place in a word where truth is fogged by cigarette smoke and obscured by the language of industry by men in business suits. Kurosawa explores moral chaos and the survival of humanity/or not, through it. The ineffectuality of man to exert control over external influences resulting in personal pain and/or destruction is an important part of Kurosawa’s Shakespeare. One is reminded of one of Shakespeare’s most Buddhist of sentiments uttered in the midst of immense suffering “Bear free and patient thoughts” (Edgar, King Lear IV.6). His achievements are indisputable, his influence profound – Shakespeare and Kurosawa.
Karin Brown, Shakespeare Institute Librarian
Ran, Throne of Blood and The Bad Sleep Well available to view in the SIL.
List of works on Kurosawa in the SIL
The Art of Akira Kurosawa: an annotated documentary of his 21 great films (Toho Laserdisc 1993) q PN 1998.3.K8
Davies, Anthony. Filming Shakespeare’s plays: the adaptations of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Peter Brook and Akira Kurosawa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988)PR 3093