The best-known Japanese director in the West, Akira Kurosawa has achieved an international popularity. Revered by other filmmakers, his films remain faithful to the Japanese tradition, yet at the same time bear a strong similarity to American movies. There has seldom been more cross-fertilization in film than in the work of Kurosawa. Three of his films have been adapted easily into Hollywood Westerns. Rashomon (1950), the first Japanese film to be shown widely in the West, became The Outrage (1964); Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai, 1954) was turned into The Magnificent Seven (1960); and The Bodyguard (Yojimbo, 1961) into A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Some of his features pay homage to American film, while others have literary sources: Hakuchi (1951) is based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot; Donzoko (1957) on Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths; and Kumonosu J? (1957) and Ran (1985) on William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear respectively.
The films make for easy viewing, although tragic contemporary tales like To Live (Ikiru, 1952), about a man dying of cancer, and I Live in Fear (Ikimono no Kiroku, 1955), a family drama, delve much deeper. Kurosawa’s flamboyant samurai adventures mix comedy and rich imagery, as in films such as The Hidden Fortress (Kakushitoride no San-akunin, 1958), and Sanjuro (Tsubaki Sanj?r?, 1962). Widescreen and color are used magnificently to frame the epic grandeur of Dersu Uzala (1975), as well as Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985), with their glorious red sunsets, vivid rainbows, and multicolored flags.