The Director Akira Kurosawa: Early Life

  • A Legend

    Akira Kurosawa (黒澤明) is considered one of the greatest directors of all time. He is the director of such films as: The Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo, Ran, and many many others.

    Over his career of over 50 years, he directed 30 films. His films have influenced nearly every director working today, including but not limited to: George Lucas, Sergio Lione, Stephen Speilberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and many others. The legend would later be rejected by his own, try to commit suicide, and make a marvelous comeback.

    Family and Childhood

    Akira Kurosawa was born the youngest of eight children in Oimachi, Tokyo. He was descended from a former samurai family from Akita prefecture, and his father worked in the Army’s physical education school. His father was remarkably progressive and encouraged his family to accept western things, most especially movies. Akira saw his first movies at six. He and his older brother Heigo loved movies and went to see them as often as they could. In 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated Tokyo. While Akira and his family would survive without too much suffering, he would not be entirely protected from it. Heigo took his little brother to see the damage. After the earthquake, there were many rumors that Korean people were looting causing mayhem, these rumors proved to either untrue or greatly overblown, but most of people began attacking Koreans, and other foreigners, killing hundreds. Heigo wanted his brother to see the aftermath, the bodies, the blood and the destruction. When he tried to turn away, his brother made him continue looking. This trauma would greatly influence his later films.


    Akira’s brother Heigo was the first to go into show business, much against his family’s wishes. Heigo worked as a “benshi”, a silent film narrator. But soon after beginning, technology would change everything. Silent movies would be replaced with the first sound pictures. It’s hard for us today to realize how disruptive this technology was to the filmmakers of the day, and many refused to accept it. Among those people was Heigo Kurosawa. After trying to fight the change, Heigo would take his own life. After hearing of his beloved brother’s death Akira, who had planned to become a painter, changed his career plans to take up his brother’s place.

    Early Career

    Akira began working as an assistant director for Photo Chemical Laboratories (later to become the legendary films studio Toho) in 1936. He worked with some of the greatest directors of the time on all parts of productions for 5 years. Finally, he requested to be able to make his own film. His request was granted. In 1942, while searching for a good subject to film Akira would find an advertisement for a Musashi Miyamoto inspired judo novel. On its publication Akira read it and knew he would be the one to adapt it to film. Akira’s first film Sanshiro Sugata would go on to be both a commercial and critical success. And it would mark Akira Kurosawa’s entrance into the world of premiere filmmaking. He would so leave his indelible mark on history.
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