Posted at 11.03.2018
Since the term 'auteur' was applied to film directors by the cahiers du movie theater journal in the 1950s, there has been much debate by film-makers and critics in regards to what makes an auteur and how accurate the word is when put on some directors. Federico Fellini, in a 1966 interview, said that Akira Kurosawa was 'the biggest living example of what an writer of cinema should be'(Cardullo, 2006, p. 49) and in this essay I would like to explore the exactness of this affirmation based on Kurosawa's period movies and how meaningful the term auteur is.
In his article, Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962, Andrew Sarris (interpreting the Cahiers various articles on what became known as auteurism)describes the auteur as a director who's technically efficient, whose personal style is clear in 'the way a film appears and steps' and who creates an 'interior so this means' from the 'stress between a directors personality and his material'. This last statement, Sarris admits, is ambiguous. Susan Hayward in her book Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (1996) sheds more light on what the cahiers intended by auteur by determining the interior so this means as the mise en picture and the personality of the director. She also details the 'total author'(p. 33), a director who writes their screenplays. Because of the absolute amount of argument encompassing what an auteur is I'll base my discussion on both Sarris and also to a lesser extent Hayward's description of the term auteur. A large part of being an auteur, based on what Sarris defines as an auteur, is the ability of the director to imprint their draw onto a film regardless of the limitations brought on by studio control. This might have had great interpretation in Hollywood at the time this article was written however, not necessarily in the film business of the wider world, specifically Japan.
For Kurosawa in there far fewer limits in how he made motion pictures compared to his Hollywood counterparts. Kurosawa was the rule writer on the majority of his films and the ones which were based on other stories would be modified by him for the screen. He would often quote his mentor, Kajiro Yamamoto, in interviews saying 'if you want to become a film director, first write scripts' (Kurosawa, 2008, p. 10). In this esteem Kurosawa was quite virtually the author/auteur and originator of his films and so would appear to fit into the 'total creator' mould. Where in fact the gray area exists as far as as an auteur is at Kurosawa's use of collaborators in the screenwriting process such as Shinobu Hashimoto who was simply involved in the writing of Seven Samurai (1954), Throne Of Blood(1957) and The Hidden Fortress (1958) to name but a few. This would arguably prevent him from being considered a 'total publisher'. Another area where Kurosawa has total control is editing. In the intro to the booklet Akira Kurosawa: Interviews, Bert Cardullo calls Kurosawa an auteur because he 'edited or strongly supervised the editing and enhancing of most his videos' (p. 10). I am inclined to agree with Cardullo that would add to the degree of authorship over a film as Kurosawa will have the final decision on exactly what the cinemagoer will see. This could be seen as complex proficiency however Sarris' article bases technological skills on directing skills, editing and enhancing skills aren't even considered. Overall it seems that the amount of control Kurosawa acquired over non-directorial aspects of his videos would take away the impact of his autuerism because so a lot of what makes an auteur is the ability to push through industrial control to acquire your own words heard. With Kurosawa it was his own tone right from the start in the freelance writers room and it could end as his voice in the editing room with no real struggle involved.
Because Kurosawa published the script it was all exclusively personal to him which is one of the main element elements of auteurism. In Notes AROUND THE Auteur Theory In 1962 Andrew Sarris possessed said that 'a director spends the majority of his life on one film'. For Kurosawa that you film may be the period film, something he worked on again and again. The setting of medieval Japan was the most well-liked setting up for Kurosawa then one which was very personal to him:
Kurosawa's intense thoughts for pre-modern Japan, his perceptions of himself and his family in these terms, disclose a view of days gone by as a living sensuous simple fact (Prince, 1999, p. 203)
His dad was of samurai descent and Kurosawa himself romanticised days gone by in lots of ways, finding solace in it where there is none in the present. The first samurai motion pictures show his younger looking exuberance with videos such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo(1961)showing a confident vision of days gone by 'heroism has been transformed into acts of every day charity' (Prince, 1999, p. 241). In stark comparison to the positive dynamics of these movies the later samurai videos are significantly more bleak in aspect. These films followed years of major depression, attempted suicide and struggles to find money. For example Ran(1985) Kurosawa's previous samurai epic, the name of which means turmoil or chaos, is a downward spiral of misery from begin to finish with virtually all people having distinctly bad habits. Prince describes the period of both ran and the sooner Kagemusha(1980) as defining 'a amount of melancholy and bitterness and a questioning of more youthful idealism' (p. 293). Further types of Kurosawa's own values and personality lay in the styles of the films. When asked what he thought were the common styles in his movies Kurosawa replied 'the only theme I can think of is actually a question: why can't people be more comfortable together'(Kurosawa, 2008, p. 162). In many ways the real repeating theme of Kurosawa's videos is humanism, he regularly explores human nature whether it's an individual taking on arms from the corrupt (Yojimbo), people working along for the higher good (Eight Samurai) or the hopelessness of conflict (Went). All suggest that the planet would be a much better place if we all acquired along. These movies show the personality, thoughts and thoughts of the director throughout their production that i would claim is a excellent example of what an auteur is, someone who's videos reveal them.
Kurosawa was a highly visible film-maker. In his junior he had wanted to be an artist and its clear from the structure of many of his images that he retained the sensibilities associated with an artist. From your interviews conducted over time in Kurosawa: The Interviews it is clear that Kurosawa maintains the maximum amount of control over every shot as you can from structure to selection of camera. Stephen Prince explains the technical knowledge of Kurosawa and his 'reliance after telephoto lens and techniques of multi-camera filming'(p. 18) as well as his use of anamorphic frame in later films such as Kagemusha. Kurosawa understood how to get the best images out of every world even if it supposed using unconventional techniques and new technology. He lives up to the amount of technical competence Sarris had believed was essential for a true auteur. This did not however mean that Kurosawa was his own camera operator, indeed he couldn't be because from Seven Samurai onwards he jammed to using multi-cameras no matter what kind of scene was being filmed. He thought this meant that celebrities would be less conscious of acting to a camera and instead would have to placed on a good performance that might be seen at all angles. Kurosawa have his utmost to ensure that his perspective was achieved and would regularly manage his own camera however he explained the process of getting others to accomplish shots:
I explain the required image at length not and then the cameraman but also every employee and have them do their utmost to produce the best possible likeness to it (Kurosawa, 2008, p. 27)
So despite having his understanding of camera lenses there is still a collaborative issue so far as utilizing a cinematographer and indeed Kurosawa got several regular cinematographers such as Asakazu Nakai who worked on movies such as Seven Samurai and Went. Kurosawa's technical proficiency is also clear in his framing decisions. For example in Seven Samurai Kikuchiyo is plainly the outsider of the group which Kurosawa stresses by how 'the framing consistently isolates him from the rest of the samurai who are clustered collectively as a group'(prince, 1999, p. 214).
The way fight scenes are shot in Kagemusha with huge amounts of soldiers at either end of the screen is a view to behold, even more so in the manner Kurosawa handles to retain a sense of beauty in the battle. Francis Ford Coppola on the making of Kagemusha identified the way Kurosawa presented struggle scenes and assault as 'almost poetic. . . stunning and remarkable and embodying the moment that was said to be expressed'. The stylistic dynamics of the fight displays became a brand for the director from Seven Samurai onwards. His potential to make use of camera and edit ways to portray assault in an exciting, heroic way were area of the style then one that might be recognised within a distinctly Kurosawa film. Not just that but the introduction of colour only to improve his perspective of struggle with Kurasawa frequently choosing 'drab backgrounds'(Ebert, online) to show of the colourful costumes which effectively stick out from the backdrop and clash collectively in challenge. Another notable Kurosawa strategy is the utilization of cutting between similar shots to emphasize drama, 'Kurosawa loved to intercut two or three images whose compositions were exactly aligned with the axis of view established in the original camera position' (Prince, 1999, p. 299). Types of this exist in a variety of Kurosawa motion pictures. In Seven Samurai it is used on the fire engulfed house following a initial bandit assault and the broken lock in Yojimbo which is utilized by Sanjuro to prevent the kidnappers. This system focuses the viewers on the remarkable or emotional factor and creates a anxiety. With so much more stylistic calling cards than could possibly be named in one essay, Kurosawa has a clear style and so fits in to the auteur theory.
The auteur theory however obviously has many failings even when applied to a person who seems to cover all the bases (writing, directing, editing) of what makes a film-maker an auteur. Several failings have already been discussed but in essence each of them come down to one thing, film is a collaborative work. Would Kurosawa be able to achieve the shots he do without the task of some of the world's best cinematographers? It's highly unlikely. Do he write most of his screenplays by itself? Certainly not. Would many of his films have been as interesting without some great acting from the ensemble, particularly regular collaborator Toshiro Mifune? No. Within an interview Kurosawa discusses the collaborative mother nature of his work with Mifune, specially the different walk Mifune has in Yojimbo, 'Mifunes walk is his own technology. To be able to stress it, I carefully picked camera framings and lens'. This apparently insignificant example is a snapshot of all that is incorrect with the auteur theory. The next a director promises a film is all theirs these are disrespecting the fantastic people they have worked with. As for Kurosawa being an auteur, even ignoring the flaws for the reason that theory, Mutsuhiro Yoshimoto in his publication Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema says:
Kurosawas videos are too worldly and historical to be contacted as mere visual objects where his personal vision is inscribed or as a composition or textual system that unveils his unconscious desire (p. 239)