In life we all have those moments that are like awakenings, those moments where we suddenly become aware of an undiscovered country inside (or outside) our previous comprehension of reality. Discovering Kurosawa through Seven Samurai was one of those moments for me. In one respect, it acted as a bridge from the Hollywood “entertainment” films I was used to into world cinema which can often be much more challenging and substantial on numerous levels. But even as my experience with world cinema has increased I continuously return to Kurosawa and find him amongst the most deep and complex of all directors, while also remaining one of the most sheer entertaining from a narrative perspective.
Of course, there’s his dynamic visual language that recalls John Ford (especially) at his best that permeates almost all of his work from the 50s onward. Kurosawa also seems to embody the allegorical, existential angst of post-war Japan, a nation that faced the destruction of its rich traditions in the face of increasing Westernization. His films have the sweep and breadth of Shakespeare, with characters that feel just as monumental, combined with the philosophically dense prose of Dostoevsky.
But he also excelled in intimate dramas that connected on a personal, individualistic level. He’s a director that seems to effortlessly bridge that distance between that elusive, “Eastern” aesthetic and Western storytelling sensibilities. For me, he’s the greatest of them all precisely because he contains all of these things along with a filmography full of gems across five decades that’s as rich as anyone’s in cinematic history.