Creative Recommendation: ‘Akira Kurosawa – Composing Movement’

Akira Kurosawa, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas during the production of KAGEMUSHA, 1980.

One of my first posts for this blog was on visionary director Akira Kurosawa, master of the Samurai epic and the genius behind such films as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Ran. He is particularly notable for his groundbreaking use of wide shots and telephoto lenses, his interest in extreme weather and strong sometimes overwrought performances. More than that, it was his signature style that has influenced directors from Altman, to Coppola, to Spielberg and Lucas. He was my favorite filmmaker for a long time. In high school and college, I collected as many of his films on DVD as I could and watched them over and over. He truly was a master of the medium and should not be overlooked in terms of his importance to the history of film both technically and for the many classics he was responsible for.

One of Kurosawa’s most important contributions to modern filmmaking was his use of motion. This extended to the movement of the actors, of the camera, and to his use of editing. It is important to remember that none of this is ever accidental (or usually shouldn’t be anyway). Filmmaker and editor Tony Zhou has an interest series of videos on the way filmmakers tell a story through visuals called ‘Every Frame A Painting.’ His most recent video is on Kurosawa and goes into interesting detail about how Kurosawa used motion as an important storytelling tool.

Zhou explains how Kurosawa, through all of his 30+ films, used the motion to create visual interest, point to characterization and plot, and create a seamless flow. He discusses how Kurosawa used elements such as the power of nature, groups, unrealistic and exaggerated blocking, fluid camera motion, telling a story through a single shot, and cutting on movement to create visual excitement and to help guide the viewer through the story without having to use endless exposition. He also explains how directors could improve their films by following Kurosawa’s example.

I am thankful to Zhou for pointing out how motion is so skillfully used in Kurosawa’s films that I never really noticed it before. I think that’s a real gift: to be able to be so adept at some important element of your creative endeavor that it slips by unseen. Zhou’s breakdown of Kurosawa’s use of motion is a really strong demonstration in craft and I think creative people in many disciplines may find it useful to their own art forms.

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