With Rashomon proving the breakthrough film internationally for both Japanese cinema and Akira Kurosawa, it is easy to forget that it was his 12th film. In this mini-season we present six films made during and shortly after the Second World War, five made before he began his legendary collaboration with Toshiro Mifune.
Judo Story / Sanshiro Sugata
Akira Kurosawa | Japan | 1943 | 79 minutes
Kurosawa’s effortless debut is a thrilling martial arts action tale, but it’s also a moving story of moral education that’s quintessential Kurosawa. The popularity of the film led to a sequel.
The Most Beautiful / Ichiban utsukushiku
Akira Kurosawa | Japan | 1944 | 85 minutes
This portrait of female volunteer workers at an optics plant during World War II, shot on location at the Nippon Kogaku factory, was created with a patriotic agenda. Yet it anticipates the aesthetics of Japanese cinema’s postwar social realism.
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail / Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi
Akira Kurosawa | Japan | 1945 | 59 minutes
The fourth film from Akira Kurosawa is based on a legendary twelfth-century incident in which the lord Yoshitsune and a group of samurai retainers dressed as monks in order to pass through a dangerous enemy checkpoint.
Judo Story 2 / Sanshiro Sugata 2
Akira Kurosawa | Japan | 1945 | 83 minutes
Kurosawa’s first film was such a success that the studio leaned on the director to make a sequel. The result is a hugely entertaining adventure, reuniting most of the major players from the original and featuring a two-part narrative in which Sanshiro first fights a pair of Americans and then finds himself the target of a revenge mission undertaken by the brothers of the original film’s villain.
No Regrets for Our Youth / Waga seishun ni kuinashi
Akira Kurosawa | Japan | 1946 | 110 minutes
In Akira Kurosawa’s first film after the end of World War II, future beloved Ozu regular Setsuko Hara gives an astonishing performance as Yukie, who transforms herself from genteel bourgeois daughter to independent social activist during a tumultuous decade in Japanese history.
One Wonderful Sunday / Subarashiki nichiyôbi
Akira Kurosawa | Japan | 1947 | 109 minutes
This affectionate paean to young love is also a frank examination by Akira Kurosawa of the harsh realities of postwar Japan. During a Sunday trip into war-ravaged Tokyo, Yuzo and Masako look for work and lodging, as well as affordable entertainments to pass the time.
The Idiot / Hakuchi
Akira Kurosawa | Japan | 1951 | 166 minutes
The Idiot, an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece about a wayward, pure soul’s reintegration into society—updated by Kurosawa to capture Japan’s postwar aimlessness—was a victim of studio interference and public indifference. Today, this “folly” looks ever more fascinating.