Something Like an Auto-
By Akira Kurosawa, Vintage, 1983
The Only Reason I Appreciate Westerns at All
The eighth and youngest child of an army physical education instructor, Akira Kurosawa started out as a painter before turning to film as a career. His father, Isamu, believed that theater and film were important educational tools and exposed his children to Japanese and western movies early on. Kurosawa's elder brother, Heigo, work as a narrator of silent films (how cool a job would a benshi, be?!) and while Akira was studying art, the two brothers lived together and became close friends.
With the advent of talking pictures, however, Heigo got increasingly fewer jobs, and Akira, unable to make a living as a painter, turned to film as a career. Sadly, Heigo never recovered the loss of his prestige as a well-known benshi and committed suicide in 1933. The loss affected Kurosawa deeply. Several years later he became an assistant director at Photo Chemical Laboratories (PCL), a fledgling sound film studio that would later became Toho, the major studio that produced the large-lizard-monster-who-cannot-be-named-because-of-trademark-infringement.
Eventually, his talents as a screenwriter and director moved Kurosawa into directing feature films of his own unique, masterful, beautiful vision. Heavily influenced by John Ford, Frank Capra, and F.W. Murnau, Kurosawa created lyric, epic, luscious, universally accessible stories from 1943 well into the 1990s -- 30 films in all and all available, thank goodness, on DVD.
Kurosawa made some of my favorite pictures of all time -- Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Ran among them -- and introduced me to the world of Japanese silent and classic film and from there, to the great Hayao Miyazaki, for which I am eternally grateful.
Akira Kurosawa died of a stroke on September 6, 1998 at the age of 88 in Tokyo.