Something Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa

Something Like an AutobiographySomething Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa (trans. by Audie E. Bock)

A short, entertaining and informative book by the iconic director, Something Like an Autobiography is a good read for anyone interested in Kurosawa’s films – provided they’re interested in the early years of his works.

Indeed, his book – which reads a little like the first volume of a two-volume set – only covers the years leading up to Rashomon, when Kurosawa exploded into international attention. Still, while the career it covers is comparatively short, it’s packed with information on his early life and early films that are still criminally overlooked.

As a filmmaker, his early period had some of his most audacious, angry movies. Stray Dog is a tense, nervous ride through the seedy, bombed-out ruins of post-war Japan, following a young detective (played by the one-and-only Toshiro Mifune) trying to track down his stolen sidearm. In lesser hands, it could’ve been a pulpy gangster flick, but between Kurosawa’s script and Mifune’s acting, it’s a landmark of Japanese movies: you can feel it’s influence in the Nikkatsu Noir set, consisting of movies released well over a decade later.

Also covered are Drunken Angel, an even darker ride through post-war Japan that follows a dying criminal and an alcoholic doctor, and the early samurai flick The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail. As a source on these early films, not to mention on how he got started in making movies, Something Like An Autobiography in invaluable for fans.

But where it’s really fascinating is it’s look at his life away from movies: his relationship with his troubled older brother Heigo, the tragic earthquake of 1923 and his long friendship with Uekusa Keinosuke, who eventually became his writing partner on movies like Drunken Angel.

It’s a fascinating history: he battled Japanese censors during the war, American ones right after it and studio bosses throughout. And he’s frank, often holding himself accountable when something doesn’t come out as he planned – his movie Scandal comes to mind right away – and explains not only his ideas for how to film a movie, but how to work with actors and how important a strong script is. There’s a lot to chew on here: it’s part remembrance, part manifesto and part how-to-guide.

The only problem is how quickly this book wraps up: it ends right around the release of Rashomon, meaning some of his best films – Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Ikiru – aren’t discussed (and let’s not forget Dodes’ka-den, maybe his most personal movie). It’s too bad, I would have loved to hear him open up on his later classics.

Rating: 7/10. If you’re a fan of his works, this book is great and shows a new look into how his movies came about. It’s brevity aside, this lucid, honest and entertaining autobiography is good to have. Recommended.





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