Ed note: For the next several weeks, composer and film aficionado Lewis Saul has agreed to supply us with in-depth commentary about the films of Akira Kurosawa, now showing in an extended festival at the Film Forum. Even if you're unable to stop by the Forum, we think Lew's insights will deepen your appreciation of these important movies.
PLAYING January 28th at The Film Forum
This is Kurosawa's 28th film.
I cannot think of another Kurosawa film which engenders such wildly divergent feelings as this one.
For example, personally speaking, of the eight dreams, I can watch four of them endlessly. I find them beautiful and like to linger in their colorful worlds over and over again. I never get tired of them!
That leaves four additional dreams. I cannot put it any other way -- I detest these four sections, and at times like these, when I feel I must watch them again in order to write something coherent -- I realize just why I dislike them so much. I notice myself squirming in my seat waiting for it to be over and for one of my "favorites" to come up!
I'll let you know which is which in a few more sentences -- my opinions are far from universal; many of my favorite critics love the episodes I hate and vice versa.
As usual, the story behind the making of the film is pretty fascinating, and again it involves Kurosawa's nephew, Mike Inoue: "One day I got a call from my uncle, who said, 'I need your help. Why don't you come over?' He said to me, 'I received a letter from Steven Spielberg which doesn't make any sense.' So I went over to his home and he said that he had written a script called 'Such Dreams I Have Dreamed' and that he had sent a translation of that script to Spielberg for possible financing. I read Spielberg's reply, which said, 'Thank you for sending the synopsis, and if you do a script, please send it to me.' I said, 'Uncle, what did you send to him?' And he said, '[I didn't send a synopsis.] I finished the whole script and sent it to a translation company, and they sent it on.' I read the translation he sent. It was terrible and missing many important nuances from Kurosawa's original Japanese script. I then volunteered to re-translate. It took me over a month to complete my translation as I had to commute to his home frequently to ask him about the nuances he intended to express between the lines. A few days after we sent my translation to Spielberg, we received a fax from him stating that he was highly impressed with this script and offering his help to find a financier. He brought in Warner Brothers who gave us a Negative-Pickup guarantee for the film to be directed by Kurosawa." (Negative pickup means that WB bought the finished film but did not finance it. Kurosawa did so with bank loans) [Galbraith, p. 603].
- "Inoue and Kurosawa decided to meet with Spielberg at Universal Studios. When they greeted each other, they kept bowing, and Spielberg refused to sit down before Kurosawa did" [p. 604].
- The film cost $12 million.