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Sunday, 30 December, 2001, 09:00 GMT
NFT marks 50 with Kurosawa season
Kurosawa, Coppola and Lucas
Kurosawa with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas
The National Film Theatre is about to turn 50 - and BBC News Online's Robert White is looking forward to the celebrations.

The NFT is not normally an institution to rest on its laurels.

So it comes as a surprise to learn that it plans to celebrate its 50th year by indulging in some good old, middle-aged retrospection.

Akira Kurosawa
"The emperor of Japanese cinema" died in 1998

Throughout 2002, London's temple to celluloid will be showing some of the greatest films to grace its screens over the past half-century.

Cinephiles in most major cities in the UK will also be able to catch many of the films.

The celebrations begin, in January and February, with a major retrospective of the films of the late Akira Kurosawa - arguably the greatest of all Japanese directors.

The choice is apt - the Rashomon director was there at the very start. Well, almost.

In 1957 when the five-year-old NFT moved to its new location, under Waterloo Bridge, Kurosawa was one of the guests of honour at the opening night - along with fellow cinema legends John Ford, Vittorio de Sica, Gina Lollobrigida and Laurence Olivier.

Kurosawa at the NFT in 2002
Throne of Blood
The Hidden Fortress
Drunken Angel
Stray Dog
Rashomon
Living
Seven Samurai
I Live in Fear
The Bad Sleep Well
Yojimbo
Sanjuro
Red Beard

Three Kurosawa films were among those screened in the NFT's pioneering season of Japanese cinema, in 1959.

But there is another reason Kurosawa is an inspired choice as the NFT's curtain-raiser.

His films stand as a monument to the unrivalled ability of cinema, of all the arts, to combine true artistry and blockbusting popular appeal.

It was the growing appreciation of the possibilities of mass culture, in the newly democratic climate of the postwar, that provided much of the impetus for founding a National Film Theatre in the first place.

'Universality'

Star Wars director George Lucas says of Kurosawa: "There are few filmmakers whose films are such a triumph of art and entertainment.

"Kurosawa's genius lies in his ability to combine brilliant craftsmanship with entertainment."

Lucas describes the director's appeal to western audiences as a "testament to his universality".

This is something Lucas should know all about, having based Star Wars on Kurosawa's film The Hidden Fortress.

But his point is an important one.

Kurosawa is largely responsible for opening Western eyes to the wider cinematic world, and has wielded enormous influence over US and European directors.

Hollywood remade his Seven Samurai as The Magnificent Seven, and Yojimbo inspired Sergio Leone to make A Fistful of Dollars.

But the traffic does not only run from east to west.

The NFT's 10 most popular films
Some Like It Hot
Kind Hearts and Coronets
The Third Man
It's A Wonderful Life
The Singing Ringing Tree
The Exorcist
Singin' in the Rain
Citizen Kane
Les Enfants du Paradis
Lawrence of Arabia

Kurosawa's literary adaptations include Dostoyevsky's The Idiot and Gorky's The Lower Depths.

Shakespeare's Macbeth was transformed into Throne of Blood, while, towards the end of his career, King Lear became Ran.

Kurosawa's prominence in the year-long programme of retrospectives highlights the NFT's role in bringing the world's cinema to the UK.

Godard, Truffaut, Bertolucci, Fassbinder, Fellini and Visconti are among the foreign directors introduced to these shores by the NFT.

In February and April, the NFT will be looking back at the work of British director Alan Clarke, whose feature films include Scum, and Rita, Sue and Bob Too.

April, May and June sees a complete restrospective of Eric Rohmer's work.

In July, the spotlight falls on Satyajit Ray, and in September on Erich von Stroheim.

October finds the NFT celebrating Alec Guinness, whose acting career spanned almost the entire 50 years of the film theatre's existence.

And in November and December, the NFT is screening the films of Hollywood star James Stewart, including Harvey, It's a Wonderful Life, The Shop Around the Corner, The Philadelphia Story and Vertigo.

See also:

06 Sep 98 | Asia-Pacific
Akira Kurosawa Filmography
06 Sep 98 | Asia-Pacific
Master director dies
27 Sep 01 | Film
Woody Allen takes centre stage
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