A Dreamer Walking

Akira Kurosawa- An Observation- The Past

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 31, 2013

Akira 1One of the filmmakers I have been most reluctant to study is Akira Kurosawa. Not because he isn’t worth looking into, rather because he is considered such a legend in the great history of filmmaking. He is also the first foreign language director I have studied. The culture of Japan is much different then that of the United States. As a dyslexic who can’t read very fast it has been hard for me to watch some of his films. I hate reading subtitles because I need to pause at times and am hardly able to look up and cherish the visuals unless I do repeat viewings. However, with all these problems studying him has been completely worthwhile. Every movie I have seen is interesting. Three of his films, Ran, Red Beard and Ikiru, are among the greatest films I have ever watched.

Akira Kurosawa was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. He is hailed as a master of the craft of cinema. Many filmmakers have said he is a film school in himself. They say if you want to know about film study Kurosawa. However, Kurosawa would tell you to study the world. He studied the great artists– the filmmakers, poets, and musicians– and allowed them to inform his stories and the way he told them. He also used his personal life to push his storytelling.

As with many of the filmmakers I have studied, school was not Kurosawa’s strong suite. In his biography, Something Like An Autobiography, Kurosawa described himself as too honest and rebellious in school. He said when he did something bad and the teacher asked who did it he would always raise his hand. He talked about giving snarky answers on his exams, forging papers so he could get out of activities, and messing around with dynamite in school. He never got the best grades. He never really cared enough to apply himself in school. When it came to art Akira said the teachers gave the best grade to the student who could copy something the best. He found this incredibly dull. The more I read about his childhood the more I can resonate with it. Kurosawa wasn’t the greatest athlete. He was even sent away after his third year of middle school to his older cousin’s to, as his father put it, “be cured of his physical weakness”.

Cinema was chosen by Kurosawa out of an overwhelming feeling of not belonging. His movies for the longest time concentrated on the outsider, people breaking away from the system. In Japan movies were considered extremely questionable when Kurosawa was a child in the 1910’s and 20’s. Yet, his military father took him to see many films. This was one of the few things his farther broke from tradition to do. I believe there was a tremendous strain between Akira and his father. The strain was great because Akira so badly wanted to be like him and earn his respect. Kurosawa had three sisters. He said he could relate with them way more than his older brother. He played games with them and was much more emotionally vulnerable with them then his brother and father.  Akira lost one of his sisters to illness when he was in fourth grade. His autobiography reveals he had great feelings for this sister and it was a deeply painful loss.

In middle school Kurosawa began to grow up quickly. He observed the great earthquake of 1923. Though nobody close to him was killed his brother took him out to the city and both of them observed the mass damages. He said they went one place where as far as you could see there was, “every type of corpse imaginable”. Akira’s brother ended up committing suicide when Akira was in his early twenties. These things along with the great destruction of the atomic bombs in the 1940’s gives great insight to why Kurosawa’s stories so often revolve around destruction and war. Kurosawa needed to grow up quickly and he began to apply himself physically and built up an appreciation for athletics, military, and discipline.

Through the midst of all the destruction and war Kurosawa has been able to retain a powerful grip on his films emotions and the inner journey of his characters. The plots of his films are only used to dig deeper into his characters emotional conflict. This is what separates his work. Though Akira Kurosawa was forced go grow up at a very early age, he never lost touch with his emotions. This might be due to the fact he developed a relationship with his sisters. It might be due to wanting to reach out to his father. Akira said in his autobiography he believed his father was an sentimentalist at heart. One of the places where his father seemed to be willing to open himself up was in the movie theater. I can see Akira trying to reach that sentimental side of his father with his movies. I can easily say he did it with me.

The Films of Kurosawa touch on powerful inner conflicts. I am constantly stricken by how universal the themes in these conflicts are. Yet they originated from personal memories. It was Kurosawa who said, “Creation is memory”. He believed as artists we must hold on to the present and the past in order to inform our future. As with the great John Ford, in Kurosawa’s later films you see a tremendous desire to hold on to what once was. The great filmmakers have this desire because the past is where their great memories rest and where their greatest creations originate.

The Quiet Moments

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 22, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 7.57.16 AMI am just as big a fan of the epic moments in film as the next person. They are why I first thought I wanted to make movies. There were those moments that truly felt like they were bigger then life– Mr. Smith’s filibuster on the senate floor, Col. Shaw’s men charging up the hill of Fort Wagner, Bambi saving Faline from the hunters and escaping the fiery forest with his father– All these epic scenes played a crucial role in me wanting to become a filmmaker. However, other movies with truly epic moments don’t have the same impact. Look at Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise.  He seems to have several dozen shots in his movies where we see huge explosions, robots kicking each other’s asses, and more explosions. I mean the epic moments and the half-naked woman are why people usually go to Michael Bay films. And man do his films have an audience; Transformers is a billion dollar franchise. I am blown away by some of the shots in those films. Yet, you will have a hard time finding anyone who calls Michael Bay a great director or any of his films memorable. In critical circles his films are compared mostly to junk food. They taste really good when you first sit down to see them, but they end up leaving you wanting more. In short, they create a high but not for long and the only way you can get the high again is if you consume even more explosions and special effects the next time around.

Michael Bay is not the only director who knows how to film things exploding. Almost every trailer I see before a mainstream movie has tons of shots feasting our eyes with huge visual effects, over the top scores and sound effects, and massive amounts of cutting. It’s like the film industry heard we like cake so now they are loading them up and stuffing our face with them. We hardly have time to enjoy one piece before another piece is stuffed into our mouth. It’s making me sick. When I go to movies with my mom she often looks away because the cutting in the trailers overwhelms her. When I go to the movies with my friend she needs to cover her ears during the previews because the trailers are so overloaded with sound effects and over the top scores. This isn’t just a personal problem. The theater is attracting fewer and fewer people. We are seeing the television ratings explode while more and more theater seats are left empty.

One big problem we see in the film industry is a lack of trust in their audience. The powers that be in the movie business do not think audiences are capable of appreciating a trailer without a grand score and butt loads of special effects. They treat you like children and think you will only appreciate something if you are constantly stimulated by a bunch of lights flashing and noises going off. The blockbuster of today cannot sit still; the camera is always moving and we experience dozens of cuts every minute. No longer do we feel suspense in film. No longer are the characters the focus of the blockbuster. No longer are we given the time to appreciate the quiet moments.

Intimacy is found in the moments between the actions. The small moments in film are our true connections. Think of any family event, if you are married think about your honeymoon, or think of a personal adventure you have gone on, what are your fondest memories from those events? My guess is they have more to do with the small things; the personal problems you overcome and the relationships you create. The same goes with film. The main moment I remember from Mr. Smith’s filibuster is the image I chose for this blog, when Mr. Smith whispers, “I guess this is just another lost cause Mr. Paine”. This moment actually comes after Mr. Smith has been defeated and shown all the mail asking him to stop the filibuster. The moment I was most impacted by in Glory was right before the soldiers charged the hill. The music didn’t come in yet and most of the sound went away. In Bambi I remember seeing Bambi jump across the great divide and get shot in mid-air. I remember as a child looking at his lifeless body on the ground. The instant the motion stopped is when I was most entranced. His father shows up. All he says is “Get up”. Bambi slowly getting on his feet made me more excited than any of the action before or after.

We remember these quite moments in film because they speak to the heart the loudest. They are the things we can really relate to. We have no context for big robots blowing each other up. We have no reason to invest ourselves into those kinds of things. My body was never made to live off of the high moments in life or in movies any more than it was made to live off of cake. Film has always been a personal medium. There is nothing more spiritually satisfying to me then having a group of strangers in a theater cry together, or more accurately share the same feeling. Great action can be replicated by other filmmakers the emotions of your heart cannot. To get to these moments filmmakers need to look inside themselves and be willing to bring to screen their most intimate thoughts and feelings. They need to be willing to trust the audience to celebrate the quietness in your film. The reasons for the grand battles and the great stands need to become most important. If you are able to do this, your movie will live forever.