Something Like An Autobiography ペーパーバック – 1983/5/12
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Translated by Audie E. Bock.
"A first rate book and a joy to read.... It's doubtful that a complete understanding of the director's artistry can be obtained without reading this book.... Also indispensable for budding directors are the addenda, in which Kurosawa lays out his beliefs on the primacy of a good script, on scriptwriting as an essential tool for directors, on directing actors, on camera placement, and on the value of steeping oneself in literature, from great novels to detective fiction."
"For the lover of Kurosawa's movies...this is nothing short of must reading...a fitting companion piece to his many dynamic and absorbing screen entertainments."
--Washington Post Book World
Akira Kurosawa was born in 1910, to an old samurai family. He received many awards for his work including the 1980 Grand Prize at Cannes for Kagemusha. Kurosawa died in 1998.
After reading this book, I cannot persuade myself that I know about Kurosawa as a director than I knew before, but I have learned a lot about Kurosawa as a person, which I would not have done, if I had not read this book.
Kurosawa says, “I have come this far in writing something resembling an autobiography, but I doubt that I have managed to achieve real honesty about myself in its pages. I suspect that I have left out my uglier traits and more or less beautified the rest.”
In so saying, there is his frankness. I am not sure about his having written this book in complete honesty, but I bet that it was written with frankness so rare to famous people like him.
He ascribed some good points of his movies to members of his staff, and he had no intention of ascribing everything to himself, unlike many other directors.
He was only thinking of making as good movies as possible, and he lost temper, got exasperated, and flew into a rage, but it was all because of movies.
Kurosawa was a genuine man who only loved movies and wanted to make good movies.
The book is an autobiography of sorts written in 1982, in the waning years of Kurosawa's life and career. It seems it was dictated to another person since it follows a train of thought progression. Either that or Kurosawa penned it this way. Either way, there is a purity to the storytelling that feels as if the reader is sitting across from the director, conversing over tea.
A lot of the book focuses on his early life, and the reader empathizes greatly with the young Kurosawa. There was much tragedy in his young life, both within his family, but also with the nation of Japan during the years leading up to and including the war. Much of his early career was spent trying to work on and create good films while appeasing the Japanese censors. Then post war, the American military was censoring the films. The guy couldn't win!
A lot of the book also praises a lot of the directors, actors, and staff that Kurosawa worked for or worked with. He gives somber praise to his predecessors, especially his mentor, Kajiro Yamamoto. Kurosawa is very self deprecating at times, looking back and considering his actions at the time or decisions he made in his youth. But with those he admired, he gives credit where credit is due.
Which is not to say this is a look back in regret. Instead Kurosawa touches on times, events, and emotions from the past. His laments are brief and heartfelt. In a few chapters he admits that he had a fiery temper, so he often writes about regret at letting his anger get the better of him.
This isn't truly a look at Kurosawa's films, but instead a look at his life and the events surrounding his career. I would say this is not the same style of biography as Bergmann's "A Life in Film" which focuses on the films themselves. Much of this book also touches on the events surrounding life in Japan during Kurosawa's life. We feel the horror he felt after the great Kanto earthquake or the helplessness of the life of an artist leading up to World War 2. We sense that his films had depth and impact because Kurosawa worked so hard to get results during such trying times. It is a testament to his stubbornness, ambition, and dedication that he was able to craft the best films of his career during these times (pre-war, during war, and post-war).
If you are a fan of Kurosawa and want to know more about the life and mind of this genius director, then this is a wonderful book to read. If you are expecting a point by point synopsis of his films, there are better texts out there (often much more expensive), such as 'The Films of Kurosawa' by Donald Richie (which is excellent by the way!).
To say that this autobiography moved me is an understatement. It is written with great beauty, intellect, wit and humility. Reading the first portion, I had completely forgotten about Kurosawa the director and was enthralled by the story of this boy growing up in Tokyo. His experiences in the disaster of 1929, the death of close kin and his relationship with teachers and mentors is an incredible story that I cannot do justice with in such a short review.
Even if you are not as keen on Kurosawa and film, I recommend this book. It is a page turner and I promise you that you will find yourself both laughing and crying by the end.
The translation is, overall, very good. I did not find any startling errors or awkward sentences which disturbed my reading. The actual physical product is of high quality as well. The text is clear and easily read, and the cover is strong, too.
Overall, I definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about Kurosawa Akira and his work. It is an excellent quasi-autobiography.
The Japanese style of film production was so different than ours... particularly compared to Hollywood today... anyhow, if you like Kurosawa's work, you'd probably really enjoy reading his autobiography.
"During youth the desire for self-expression is so overpowering that most people end up by losing all grasp on their real selves." (pg.88)
He recalls his spartan childhood, his supportive parents, an eye-opening earthquake, his brother's suicide, and his final arrival on the Toho studio lot. Interspersed with stories about fellow professionals and self-realization, Kurosawa delves into the creation of his films and screenplays. He tells of throwing a lightbulb at a director, his problems with alcohol, and his affection for his crew. In fact the least talked about aspect of his life if his family who obviously took second seat to his love affair with film.
"My films emerge from my own desire to say a particular thing at a particular time." (pg.192)
The book is chock full of good advice for aspiring directors and even includes an addendum with related notes on filmmaking. While you may not agree with all of Kurosawas theories, I think everyone can learn something from his experiences.
"I am not a special person. I am not especially strong; I am not especially gifted. I simply do not like to show my weakness, and I hate to lose, so I am a person who tries hard. That's all there is to me." (pg.159)