I want to make movies, beautiful movies. I’ve pursued that goal for more than 50 years. Close to 60 years now. But I don’t think I’ve yet fully grasped what a movie is…I would like everyone to savor the beauty of cinema. What I am aiming for—rather, hoping for—is to make a wonderful, beautiful movie. I want to convey in a natural fashion what I think through the movie and have people around the world appreciate it. A movie projected on a screen allows people all over the world to share in the lives of the movie’s characters. Sharing their suffering and sadness helps people understand each other. That is a special role that movies play. I think that’s the best thing about movies. It’s through the beauty of a movie that this can be accomplished.
There is nothing that says more about its creator than the work itself. Taking his own words to heart, one can see that Akira Kurosawa was truly a filmmaking artist. With over 30 feature films that range from samurai and noir to crime and drama, Kurosawa shows a mastery over the process, a mastery that occurs with a combination of talent and being able to see beyond the means at hand. His skill and ability to attune himself to the experience of making a film is highlighted in the wonderful and essential 80 minute documentary A Message from Akira Kurosawa: For Beautiful Films.
The documentary explores in-depth Akira Kurosawa’s approach to filmmaking. Divided into 10 chapters, the viewer journeys through the many stages of filmmaking—from “Cinematic Material” to “Scripts,” “Storyboards,” “Shooting a Movie,” and “Lighting,” to “Art Direction,” “Costumes,” “Editing,” “Music,” and “Directing”—as Kurosawa discusses the insight he has gathered during his career. An idea for a film, he believed, was like a plant that forms naturally. He also placed much attention to his collaborators, listening to them while allowing them to see edits of the film in production in order to encourage their spirits.
All that Kurosawa experienced was to lead him closer to his ideal of film, a realization of a “beautiful movie” founded in pure cinema, in which themes and messages were subordinate to the specific and artistic qualities of cinema. Dive into the depths of filmmaking with A Message from Akira Kurosawa: For Beautiful Films, a masterclass in the art of cinema from one of its greatest artists.
Akira Kurosawa possessed a masterful awareness of the filmmaking process, and those working close to him considered editing to be among his greatest talents. The renowned director even declared that he would shoot a film simply to edit, because for him editing was the foundation of a film and the most creative and interesting part of the process. The following words on editing and Phil Baumhardt’s Profiles in Editing: Akira Kurosawa exemplify the filmmaker’s profound understanding of “the invisible art” while the latter closely studies Kurosawa’s editing style and techniques in Seven Samurai.
Film editing involves putting on the finishing touches. More than this, it is a process of breathing life into the work.
The most important requirement for editing is objectivity. No matter how much difficulty you had in obtaining a particular shot, the audience will never know. If it is not interesting, it simply isn’t interesting. You may have been full of enthusiasm during the filming of a particular shot, but if that enthusiasm doesn’t show on the screen, you must be objective enough to cut it.
No matter how much work the director, the assistant director, the cameraman or the lightning techicians put into a film, the audience never knows. What is necessary is to show them something that is complete and has no excess. When you are shooting, of course, you film only what you believe is necessary. But very often you realize only after having shot it that you didn’t need it after all. You don’t need what you don’t need. Yet human nature wants to place value on things in direct proportion to the amount of labor that went into making them. In film editing, this natural inclination is the most dangerous of all attitudes. The art of the cinema has been called an art of time, but time used to no purpose cannot be called anything but wasted time.
The most difficult thing is to raise the level of the audience’s appreciation of film. That’s a tremendous thing to pull off. It’s easy to lower it and that’s what has happened. Movie theaters are playing only the awful stuff, and audiences today are apt to actually believe that that’s cinema. So it’s necessary to raise their awareness of what cinema really is. And educating people in that regard is an enormously difficult and challenging task.
Explore the life and works of Akira Kurosawa with the Akira Kurosawa Digital Archive:
The archive, put together by Kurosawa’s estate and Ryukoku University Digital Archives Research Center, is an amazing digital collection of over twenty thousand pages of Kurosawa’s screenplays, photos, storyboards, drawings, notes, newspaper clippings, personal scribblings and other materials. Among the high quality scans you can find unfilmed screenplays, screenplay drafts that were later revised, production memos and notes, continuity drawings, and much much more. While most of it is in Japanese, there are also some English documents, and of course plenty of pictures to check out.
Cinema is not a way to continue dreaming. Nor is it an art through which we try to mirror reality as it is, or to deform it and reflect a grotesque image. For me, cinema is simply an original way to create a new universe, a fascinating world that we show to others so they can discover all its hidden wonders.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s touch on cinema is ever-present as filmmakers from Lars von Trier to Nuri Bilge Ceylan confess his great impact on the way they see filmmaking. During the end of his life, he battled cancer and completed his seventh and final film, The Sacrifice. Fortunately, to add to the completion of the film, filmmaker Michal Leszczylowski took 50 hours of The Sacrifice's behind the scenes footage and excerpts from interviews, Tarkovsky's timeless book Sculpting in Time, and more in order to create the 100+ minute documentary Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky offers the world a glimpse to Andrei Tarkovsky’s filmmaking style. It intimately follows the filmmaker as he carefully directs another tour-de-force of cinematic storytelling. An emotional journey into the vision, personality, and style of the monumental film director, Leszczylowski’s documentary is an essential work for filmmakers and especially for admirers of Andrei Tarkovsky.
The Sacrifice, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
This film is dedicated to my son Andriosha,
with hope and confidence,
Andrei Tarkovsky and the making of The Sacrifice.
So The Gift became about honor and sacrifice, human connection, and the transient nature of life, with each of these elements affecting the cinematic scheme and aesthetics of the story which followed our protagonist on his “journey with fate.” The storytelling would make use of film language by taking on what I deemed a spiritual point of view to the story, one that would mirror our protagonist’s human experience of that “journey.” Prior to filmmaking, I was interested in writing that reflected the human experience, and as a student of French Literature, I grew to admire Marcel Proust, the writers of the Nouveau Roman such as Marguerite Duras, and J.M.G. Le Clézio who wrote an introduction to a book on filmmaking by Robert Bresson, a film director I hold in high regard along with Andrei Tarkovsky. If these writers were experimenting with an art form that was thousands of years old, then certainly one could experiment with the youthfulness of cinema.
Learn more about The Gift in the Mentorless article "The Best Education in Film Is to Make One" or How Edwin Nieves Followed Kubrick’s Principle and Become Part of the Film with a Revamped Fundraising Campaign: Support the Success of The Gift.
When the Sex Pistols play, it may not sound well, but you’ll remember it. That was like the whole point of making films: You’re meant to react to it.
Nicolas Winding Refn