This post is by Jason Hellerman from No Film School

In the pantheon of cinematic greats, Akira Kurosawa stands as a towering figure, a master storyteller whose influence transcends time and borders. His works, characterized by their epic narratives, exquisite visuals, and emotional depth, continue to inspire filmmakers and audiences alike.

Kurosawa’s unique approach to directing and storytelling has become a subject of study and admiration. As we explore the wisdom distilled from his illustrious career, we find timeless lessons that go beyond the confines of genre and culture. These principles serve not only as a blueprint for aspiring directors but also as a testament to Kurosawa’s enduring legacy in the art of filmmaking.


The Humanistic Cinema of Akira Kurosawa

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      1. Trust Your Gut 

      Toshiro Mifune (L) and Machiko Kyo in Rashomon, 1950

      Kurosawa emphasized the importance of a director’s intuition. This suggests that when faced with creative decisions, it’s often valuable to listen to your gut feeling. This could mean choosing an unconventional shot or narrative direction that feels right, even if it challenges traditional methods or the opinions of collaborators.

      2. Study The Masters 

      Akira Kurosawa working with a cinema camera on the set of

      By examining the works of great directors, one can learn various aspects of filmmaking, such as shot composition, pacing, and storytelling.

      Kurosawa himself was influenced by filmmakers like John Ford and Jean Renoir and believed in the value of understanding their techniques to refine his own work.

      3. Collaborate With Your Actors

      Akira Kurosawa on location for 'Ran' (1985)

      Actors bring characters to life, and Kurosawa believed in giving them space for interpretation. This includes working closely with them, understanding their perspective, and allowing them to bring their own creativity to their roles, which can result in more authentic and compelling performances.

      4. Planning is Paramount 

      Akira Kurosawa manual splicing his film

      Detailed planning and storyboarding were key to Kurosawa’s approach. He would often sketch out every shot before filming.

      This level of preparation ensures that every visual element serves the story and can help in executing complex scenes more efficiently.

      5. It’s all in the Details

      Toshiro Mifune (left), Akira Kurosawa (right) on the set of \u2018Yojimbo\u2019

      In Kurosawa’s view, the minutiae of a film—such as the costumes, set design, and props—were crucial in creating a believable world.

      Attention to these details helps to immerse the audience and can subtly enhance the storytelling.

      6. It’s Okay to be Silent

      Toshiro Mifune as Taketoki Washizu dodging arrows in 'Throne of Blood'

      Silence can be as powerful as dialogue or music. Kurosawa harnessed silence to build suspense and convey emotion, using it to draw the audience in and focus their attention on the visual storytelling.

      7. Learn From Mistakes

      A still from 'High and Low'

      Kurosawa was not afraid to recognize his own mistakes and saw them as learning opportunities. This principle encourages a mindset of continuous improvement and resilience in the creative process.

      8. Keep a Handle on Emerging Technology

      Always curious about the latest developments, Kurosawa integrated new technologies into his filmmaking. This openness to innovation can lead to new ways of storytelling and can give a unique aesthetic to films.

      9. Maintain Your Vision

      A director must have a clear vision for the film and remain true to it throughout the process. This can sometimes mean resisting studio pressure or popular trends to create a work that is authentic and personal.

      10. Let Passion Guide You

      A man lays on flowers in 'Seven Samurai'

      Kurosawa’s passion for filmmaking was evident in his dedication to his craft. This principle suggests that great art comes from a place of deep commitment and enthusiasm, and that passion is infectious, often inspiring the entire cast and crew to strive for excellence.

      In honoring Kuroswas’s legacy, we continue the quest for storytelling that resonates, transforms, and endures. For filmmakers and storytellers looking to craft their own masterpieces, let Kurosawa’s spirit guide your cinematic adventures.

      May your films be as bold, as beautiful, and as profoundly human as the ones he left us.

      Now go make something.