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Sunday, September 6, 1998 Published at 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Master director dies

'The Emperor' of Japanese cinema was known for his perfectionist's approach

Japan's most famous film director, Akira Kurosawa, has died at his home in Tokyo at the age of 88.

Juliet Hindell: " His trademark became lavish epics with casts of thousands"
Kurosawa rose to fame in the early 1950s with Rashomon - the first Japanese film to win an international prize (at the 1951 Venice film festival).

The film told the story of a murder from varying perspectives. Film critics say it is still the best dramatisation of the inability to know the truth.

His work influenced many other film-makers worldwide, including the makers of westerns and the science fiction blockbuster, Star Wars.

His film Seven Samurai, about villagers hiring sword fighters to protect them from a gang of bandits, won widespread acclaim and became the model for the Hollywood western The Magnificent Seven, starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen.


But it was his 28th film, Ran, which Kurosawa described as his life's work. Based on Shakespeare's King Lear, it won a special award at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.

He was the only director to have won two Oscars for best foreign film, and in 1990 he won an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement.

Yet he said he had not yet earned it.

"What I promise you is that from now on I will work as hard as I can at making movies, and maybe by following this path I will receive an understanding of the true essence of cinema and earn this award," he told the audience at the award ceremony.

'The Emperor'

[ image: Kurosawa, left, with US directors George Lucas, right, and Francis Ford Coppola]
Kurosawa, left, with US directors George Lucas, right, and Francis Ford Coppola

His trademark became lavish epics with casts of thousands - often going over budget.

On film sets he was a perfectionist, earning the nickname of "The Emperor".

When making the film Ran, he ordered extras to line up to march back to their makeshift dressing rooms on location at the foot of Mount Fuji.

Actor Hisashi Igawa, who played in several of Kurosawa's later films including Ran, said the ageing director came to life when he was making movies.

"Kurosawa had the heart of a boy and the mind of a genius," he said.

Director by chance

Akira Kurosawa was born in Tokyo in 1910 to a family that had held Samurai rank.

He was the youngest of eight children of a military school administrator.

He refused to undergo military training and he spent his spare time reading Western writers. He was particularly fascinated by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

He stumbled into films after failing to get into art school and not making enough money as a painter.

In 1936, he applied successfully for a position as an assistant film director under the late Kajiro Yamamoto, at that time a dominant figure in the industry.

Yamamoto said about him: "He was familiar with music, literature, fine arts and sports - in fact, everything but films."

At the age of 61, Kurosawa attempted suicide, after the company that produced Rashomon went bankrupt, amid the severe decline of the Japanese film industry after its heyday in the late 1950s.

He was married to a former actress and has a son, Hiroshi, who is a film producer.

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