As the 1950s progressed, and an economically revived Japan fell further and further away from the ideals of sincere postwar resolutions, Kurosawa's films turned darker. Kurosawa's samurai films from this later era are essays in mock-heroism: The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and Sanjuro. His parallel films set in contemporary Japan - I Live in Fear (1955), The Bad Sleep Well (1960) and High and Low - are scathing satires of a modern Japan that live less and less up to the ideals expressed in Stray Dog, Ikuru and the codas to Rashomon and Seven Samurai. This period - perhaps Kurosawa's most interesting, as he engages with an increasingly corrupt Japan with fewer and fewer illusions - is book-ended by two other period, but non-samurai, films: The Lower Depths (1957), cleverly paired in the Criterion Collection edition with Jean Renoir's 1936 version of the same Maxim Gorky play, and Red Beard (1965). Red Beard is a rare example of a successful film about a genuinely good man, the gruff doctor (Toshiro Mifune) of the title.
Throne of Blood
Kurosawa was long the west's favorite Japanese director. He returned the favor; throughout his career Kurosawa evinced a great admiration for foreign literature, specifically Shakespeare's plays and Russian literature - The Lower Depths, and his adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot (1951), which is (unjustly) widely disliked. But Kurosawa's Shakespearean adaptations are generally admired. Throne of Blood (1957) may well be the best filmic adaptation of any Shakespeare play, dispensing as it does with the playwright's words but finding images worthy of the Bard's poetry. His industrial drama The Bad Sleep Well borrows from Hamlet while Ran successfully transposes King Lear to medieval Japan. The dynamic High and Low, meanwhile, is a successful transferal of one of Ed McBain's American police dramas to Japan.
Many of Kurosawa's films were remade abroad: Rashomon as The Outrage (1964), Seven Samurai as John Sturges's expansive western The Magnificent Seven (1960), and, infamously, Yojimbo as the first of Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name" spaghetti westerns, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), which made Clint Eastwood an international star. Leone's producers never bothered to pay Kurosawa's production company for the rights to his film, which held up distribution of Dollars in the US until 1967 and, truth be told, Leone's amorally cynical take on Kurosawa's morally cynical samurai film does betray the spirit of the original. Given that Kurosawa was influenced by American western filmmakers, notably John Ford, it is appropriate, however, that The Outrage, The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars are all Westerns.
But if you want to see how East and West diverge, compare Kurosawa's sequel to Yojimbo, the class-based Sanjuro, to Leone's follow-up, For a Few Dollars More (1965) - they're wholly different. It's worth mentioning as well that Yojimbo owes more than a little to the one Dashiell Hammett detective novel which has never been filmed, Red Harvest (1927), which involves a good bad man selling his services to both sides of a battle between two equally corrupt gangs. Red Harvest (an American crime novel) is the source material, then, for not only Yojimbo (Japanese samurai) and A Fistful of Dollars (Italian western) but the Coen Brothers' Millers Crossing (1990) and an acknowledged remake of Yojimbo, Last Man Standing (Walter Hill, 1996), with Bruce Willis, both crime dramas set at the time of Hammett's original. (Only Last Man Standing acknowledges the debt to Kurosawa.)
Other Kurosawa remakes arguably include George Lucas's original Star Wars (1977), which draws heavily upon The Hidden Fortress for inspiration, including the device of telling much of an epic story of a princess's escape across hostile territory from the perspective of two outsiders (cowardly peasants in the Kurosawa version, robots in Lucas's). A screenplay Kurosawa developed in the late 1960s was eventually filmed by a Soviet filmmaker in the US as Runaway Train (Andrei Konchalovsky, 1985). The great catastrophe of Kurosawa's career was his failed involvement in a Japanese-American co-production about Pearl Harbor, Tora! Tora! Tora! (1968), from which Kurosawa was dismissed as co-director in pre-production (he retains a screenwriting credit). The American studio and jealous enemies of Kurosawa in Japan spread rumors about Kurosawa's competence, a contributing factor to a 1971 suicide attempt.
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