How Star Wars Borrowed From Akira Kurosawa’s Great Samurai Films

Hollywood has a long history poaching from abroad. Ask Orson Welles, who along with cinematographer Gregg Toland, incorporated the look of German Expressionist cinema into Citizen Kane. Ask Quentin Tarantino who cribbed much of Ringo Lam’s City on Fire for his breakout debut Reservoir Dogs. And ask George Lucas who was so greatly influenced by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa that he lifted large chunks of his Hidden Fortress for Star Wars.




Above is a video that (if you can get past the bro-tastic narration and mangled Japanese pronunciation) neatly unpacks how Lucas’s seminal space opera owes a lot to Kurosawa. It doesn’t take too much imagination to connect a light saber with a samurai’s katana. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s robes look like something that Toshio Mifune might wear in one of Kurosawa’s epics. Lucas even uses Kurosawa’s trademark screen wipe. Below is an interview with Lucas where he describes how Kurosawa’s visual style influenced him.

Hollywood generally has a better track record with borrowing from foreign filmmaking geniuses than actually working with them. Fritz Lang and John Woo were seduced into coming to America only to be forced by overbearing studios into making anodyne versions of their previous works. Kurosawa himself had a deeply troubling experience in Hollywood; cultural differences, studio politics and Kurosawa’s autocratic directing style – he wasn’t nicknamed ‘The Emperor’ for nothing – got him axed after three weeks from the 20th Century Fox movie Tora! Tora! Tora!. Kurosawa took the blow very personally and, following the box office flop of his next movie Dodesukaden, attempted suicide.

Yet the spectacular success of Star Wars proved to be an unexpected boon to Kurosawa. With his newfound influence in Hollywood, Lucas managed to strong arm 20th Century Fox, the same studio that axed Kurosawa a decade before, into funding Kagemusha. The movie proved to be a commercial and critical hit, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes. The film also gave Kurosawa the clout to raise the money for his last masterpiece Ran.

Of course, Lucas wasn’t the only filmmaker influenced by Kurosawa. Check out Kurosawa: The Last Emperor below -- a documentary about the director featuring a host of filmmakers who have been influenced by him, including Bernardo Bertolucci, John Woo and Francis Ford Coppola.

Related Content:

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The Kurosawa Digital Archive

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

In Basho’s Footsteps: Hiking the Narrow Road to the Deep North Three Centuries Later

Bashophoto

Matsuo Basho (1644–1694) lived his peculiar life on the conviction that art could create an awareness that allowed one to see into and communicate the essence of experience. Throughout his life he searched for the state of being one with the object of his poems, something he believed a poet needed to reach in order to write truthfully. This life-long search brought Basho to wandering. He thought that travelling would lead to a state of karumi (lightness), essential for art. In May 1689, when he was already a renowned poet in Japan, he sold his house and embarked on his greatest trip. Basho travelled light, always on foot and always slowly, looking carefully and deeply. He sought to leave everything behind (even himself) and have a direct experience with the nature around him, and he saw Zen Buddhism and travelling as the way to achieve this. He walked 2000 kilometers around the northern coast of Honshu (Japan’s main island), writing prose and poetry along the way, and compiling it all in a book that changed the course of Japanese literature, The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

We are Pablo Fernández (writer) and Anya Gleizer (painter), the adventurers and artists behind In Basho’s Footsteps. 325 years have passed since Basho began hiking the Narrow Road.  This summer, we will retrace his trail, in an effort to come in contact with Basho’s approach to art and travelling. We will hike for three months, camping on the way, travelling as lightly and austerely as possible. We will write and paint along the route, and compile what we produce in an artist’s book. It will be hard, but art avails no compromises. Of course, apart from the physical and mental hardships, there are financial ones (flights and food for three months, and publishing costs). To make the project possible, we have used Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform. With Kickstarter people are able to fund the projects they like, and receive a reward in exchange (we are giving our backers copies of our book, silk-screen prints and even paintings, depending on the pledge).  This is a great way of creating an audience involved in the creation process. We don’t only receive financial support, but also very useful feedback, and we will be able to show our audience how the book is coming together. Because we want our art to reach as many people as possible, we are giving a digital edition of the book to everyone who backs the project with more than $5, before the book is accessible to the general public. Our Kickstarter campaign ends on June 4th. It has been a great success so far: We have already covered the travelling costs and now we are funding the publishing costs. For us, crowd-funding has opened up the traditional obstacles between creators and readers. This summer, with the help of all our supporters, we will retrace Basho’s Footsteps.

Editor's note: This has been a guest post by Pablo Fernández and Anya Gleizer. Please consider supporting their great project here. Also find translations of Basho's poetry in our collection, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

The Acid Test Reels: Ken Kesey & The Grateful Dead’s Soundtrack for the 1960s Famous LSD Parties

“If you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t there.” The quote was supposedly uttered by Grace Slick. Or Paul Kantner. Or Dennis Hopper. The truth is no one really remembers who said it first.

Of course, the “60s” was not simply the decade that came between the ‘50s and the ‘70s but a shorthand for a generational revolt fueled in part by one stupid war and a general disillusionment with consumer capitalism. The ground zero for the “60s,” at least in the United States, was in San Francisco and, at the center of the scene, there was Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters and their legendary counterculture bacchanalias called Acid Tests. These happenings featured groovy flashing lights, live music from the likes of The Grateful Dead, and copious amounts of LSD. Up top, Kesey explains the meaning of the Acid Tests for you:

Thanks to the internet, you can experience a bit of what these original hippie fests were like. Above is audio from two shows in January 1966 which had Kesey and longtime Merry Prankster Ken Babbs cracking jokes and dropping truth bombs in between songs from the Grateful Dead. Below is the set list of that show along with the audio of two more shows with Kesey and the Dead. Some of the track listings might be incomplete probably because everyone was having too much fun to take notes. So crank it up and turn on, tune in and drop out.

The Fillmore Acid Test

Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
January 8, 1966
1. Stage Chaos/More Power Rap
2. King Bee
3. I'm A Hog For You Baby
4. Caution: Do Not Step On Tracks >
5. Death Don't Have No Mercy
6. Star Spangled Banner / closing remarks

The Sound City Acid Test
363 6th Street, San Francisco, CA
January 29, 1966
7. Ken Kesey interviewed by Frank Fey
8. Ken Babbs and harmonica
9. Take Two: Ken Kesey
10. Bull
11. Peggy The Pistol
12. One-way Ticket
13. Bells And Fairies
14. Levitation
15. Trip X
16. The End

The Pico Acid Test
Danish Center, Los Angeles, CA
March 12, 1966
1. Viola Lee Blues
2. You See A Broken Heart
3. In The Midnight Hour
[mis-dated, according to David Lemieux, and not corresponding to the vault copy's setlist; these are probably from 3/19/1966]

The San Francisco State Acid Test
Whatever It Is Festival
San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
Stereo Control Room Master (rec. 4:00AM - 6:00AM)
October 2, 1966
4. The Head Has Become Fat Rap
5. A Mexican Story: 25 Bennies
6. A Tarnished Galahad
7. Get It Off The Ground Rap >
8. It's Good To Be God Rap >
9. Nirvana Army Rap >
10. The Butcher Is Back
11. Acid Test Graduation Announcement
12. Send Me To The Moon >Closing Rap
Credits on 10/2/66:
Voices: Ken Kesey and Hugh Romney
Guitar: Ken Kesey
Violin: Dale Kesey
Organ: Jerry Garcia
Engineering: Steve Newman, Ken Kesey, Mountain Girl

The San Francisco State Acid Test
Whatever It Is Festival
San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
October 2, 1966
1. Ken Kesey's dialogue (isolated remix)

Merry Prankster Sound Collage Sequences
October 2, 1966
2. Prankster Music/Sound Collage #1(sequence 1)
3. Kesey Rap > Prankster Music/Sound Collage #2 (sequence 2)
4. Prankster Sound Collage #3 > Prankster Raga(sequence 3)
Prankster Recordings broadcast over the P.A.

End of Whatever It Is Festival
October 2, 1966
5. Closing Jam
6. Prankster Electronics

Acid Test Graduation Jam
Winterland, San Francisco, CA
October 31, 1966
7. Jam Session (musicians unknown)
from The World Of Acid film soundtrack

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

Visit The Museum of Online Museums (MoOM): A Mega Collection of 220 Online Exhibitions

MOOM rijks

It is my habit, when travel looms, to case the Internet for obscure museums my destination might have to offer. Once loaded, I fixate. Chat me up about my itinerary, and you will definitely come away with the impression that these offbeat locales are the trip's primary raison d'être.

It's shocking how rarely I actually make it to one of these off-the-beaten path gems. Time flies and I rarely travel alone these days.

Take a recent family trip to London. Every time I brought up the Museum of Brands, my husband expressed reservations. "But what is it, exactly, other than a bunch of old labels?" he'd press.

I hemmed and hawed, realizing on the cellular level that neither he nor the kids could see the beauty in old labels. Dinosaurs, maybe. Vespas, no doubt. But old labels? This is how I found myself giving the British Museum nearly three times the Museum of Brand's admission charge to join a mighty throng of pensioners, squinting at a handful of boring button fragments and a chunk of wood that no longer resembled a Viking Ship.

Next time, I swear…

01-1926-Hahn--Albert-alcohol-increases-risk-of-accidents

How fortunate for me and my ilk that Chicago design firm Coudal Partners is committed to laboring far outside its expected scope. In addition to championing Stanley Kubrick and poetry, they've taken it upon themselves to consolidate a panoply of digital collections into the Museum of Online Museums. (The preferred acronym is MoOM, FYI.)

Unlike that of certain of my traveling companions, Coudal Partners' definition of what constitutes a museum is democratic. Generous, even. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Rijksmuseum, and the Musée d'Orsay share space with such non-brick-and-mortar companions as the Busy Beaver Button Museum, the Grocery List Collection, and Toaster Central.

Raincoat

Like any major institution, MoOM touts their current exhibitions, a seasonal sampling of five. This spring brings together the Rijksmuseum's Studio Project, NASA's Space Food Hall of Fame, a collection of Dutch safety posters from 50 Watts, 40 retro-groovy Japanese ads compliments of Voices of East Anglia, and a photographic survey of eggnog cartons. (That last one really deserves a brick and mortar home. Location is immaterial. I'd just like to fantasize about visiting it someday.)

egg nog

Meanwhile, the talk of the town here in New York City is the reappearance of Mmuseumm, an eclectic, non-profit housed in a 60-square-foot Tribeca elevator shaft. MoOM, take note.

Find more online exhibitions at the Museum of Online Museums.

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Ayun Halliday wrote about her experiences as a museum guard in her 3rd book, Job Hopper. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Ray Bradbury on Zen and the Art of Writing (1973)

ray-bradbury-zen

The prolific Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451The Martian Chronicles, and many other works both inside and outside the realm of science fiction, apparently suffered no shortage of creativity. Prolific in his fiction writing, he also proved generous in his encouragement of younger writers: we've previously featured not just his twelve essential pieces of writing advice but his secret to life and love. He even wrote enough on the subject of writing to constitute an entire book, the collection Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity. In the 1973 title piece, Bradbury, hardly known as a Buddhist, explains his use of the term zen for its "shock value": "The variety of reactions to it should guarantee me some sort of crowd, if only of curious onlookers, those who come to pity and stay to shout. The old sideshow Medicine Men who traveled about our country used calliope, drum, and Blackfoot Indian, to insure open-mouthed attention. I hope I will be forgiven for using ZEN in much the same way, at least here at the start. For, in the end, you may discover I'm not joking after all."

He breaks down his own idea of zen in his writing process by first asking himself, "Now while I have you here before my platform, what words shall I whip forth painted in red letters ten feet tall?" He paints the following, and after each we include selections from the essay:

  • WORK. "It is, above all, the word about which your career will revolve for a lifetime. Beginning now you should become not its slave, which is too mean a term, but its partner. Once you are really a co-sharer of existence with your work, that word will lose its repellent aspects. [ ... ] We often indulge in made work, in false business, to keep from being bored. Or worse still we conceive the idea of working for money. The money becomes the object, the target, the end-all and be-all. Thus work, being important only as a means to that end, degenerates into boredom. Can we wonder then that we hate it so?"
  • RELAXATION. "Impossible! you say. How can you work and relax? How can you create and not be a nervous wreck? [ ... ] Tenseness results from not knowing or giving up trying to know. Work, giving us experience, results in new confidence and eventually in relaxation. The type of dynamic relaxation again, as in sculpting, where the sculptor does not consciously have to tell his fingers what to do. The surgeon does not tell his scalpel what to do. Nor does the athlete advise his body. Suddenly, a natural rhythm is achieved. The body thinks for itself."
  • DON'T THINK! "The writer who wants to tap the larger truth in himself must reject the temptations of Joyce or Camus or Tennessee Williams, as exhibited in the literary reviews. He must forget the money waiting for him in mass-circulation. He must ask himself, 'What do I really think of the world, what do I love, fear, hate?' and begin to pour this on paper. Then, through the emotions, working steadily, over a long period of time, his writing will clarify; he will relax because he thinks right and he will think even righter because he relaxes. The two will become interchangeable. At last he will begin to see himself."
  • FURTHER RELAXATION. "We should not look down on work nor look down on the forty-five out of fifty-two stories written in our first year as failures. To fail is to give up. But you are in the midst of a moving process. Nothing fails then. All goes on. Work is done. If good, you learn from it. If bad, you learn even more. Work done and behind you is a lesson to be studied. There is no failure unless one stops. Not to work is to cease, tighten up, become nervous and therefore destructive of the creative process. [ ... ] Isn't it obvious by now that the more we talk of work, the closer we come to Relaxation."
  • "Have I sounded like a cultist of some sort? A yogi feeding on kumquats, grapenuts and almonds here beneath the banyan tree? Let me assure you I speak of all these things only because they have worked for me for fifty years. And I think they might work for you. The true test is in the doing. Be pragmatic, then. If you're not happy with the way your writing has gone, you might give my method a try. If you do, I think you might easily find a new definition for Work. And the word is LOVE."

You can read much more about Bradbury's method of working, relaxing, not thinking, and relaxing further still — and his thoughts on the joy of writing, keeping the muse fed, establishing a thousand-or-two-words-a-day habit, and "how to climb the tree of life, throw rocks at yourself, and get down without breaking your bones or your spirit" — in the book, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity.

Related Content:

Ray Bradbury Gives 12 Pieces of Writing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

The Secret of Life and Love, According to Ray Bradbury (1968)

Ray Bradbury: Literature is the Safety Valve of Civilization

Ray Bradbury: “The Things That You Love Should Be Things That You Do.” “Books Teach Us That”

Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer 1963 Film Captures the Paradoxical Late Sci-Fi Author

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Lewis Carroll’s Photographs of Alice Liddell, the Inspiration for Alice in Wonderland

One of the great polymaths of the 19th century, Lewis Carroll (pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) —mathematician, logician, author, poet, Anglican cleric—took to the new medium of photography with the same alacrity he applied to all of his pursuits. Though he may be described as a hobbyist in the sense that he never pursued the art professionally, he nonetheless “became a master of the medium, boasting a portfolio of roughly 3,000 images and his very own studio.”




So says a recent article by Gannon Burgett on Carroll’s “24-year career as a photographer,” during which he made a number of portraits, including one of then-poet laureate of England Alfred, Lord Tennyson. His subjects also included “landscapes, dolls, dogs, statues, paintings, trees and even skeletons.”

Hallam_Tennyson_child

Carroll excelled at a developing method called the wet collodion process, which replaced the daguerreotype as the primary means of photographic image-making. This process seems to have been something like painting in oils, requiring a great deal of dexterity and chemical know-how, and similarly subject to decay when done improperly. Carroll particularly valued this method for its difficulty (he described it in detail in some lines added to a poem called “Hiawatha’s Photographing”)—so much so that once a dry developing process came into being, he abandoned the medium altogether, complaining that it became so easy anyone could do it. Carroll’s obsessive focus on process mirrored an obsession with his favorite photographic subjects, young children, including Tennyson’s son Hallam (above). Most famously, Carroll obsessively photographed the young Alice Liddell (top and below as "The Queen of May"), daughter of family friend Henry George Liddell and inspiration for Carroll’s most famous fictional character.

Liddell,_Alice_P._-_'The_Queen_of_May'_(Lewis_Carroll,_05_or_06.1860)

Many of Carroll’s photographs of Alice and other children can seem downright prurient to our eyes. As Carroll’s biographer Jenny Woolf writes in a 2010 essay for the Smithsonian, “of the approximately 3,000 photographs Dodgson made in his life, just over half are of children—30 of whom are depicted nude or semi-nude.”

Some of his portraits—even those in which the model is clothed—might shock 2010 sensibilities, but by Victorian standards they were… well, rather conventional. Photographs of nude children sometimes appeared on postcards or birthday cards, and nude portraits—skillfully done—were praised as art studies […]. Victorians saw childhood as a state of grace; even nude photographs of children were considered pictures of innocence itself.

Woolf admits that Carroll’s interest, as scholars have speculated for decades, may have been less than innocent, prompting Vladimir Nabokov to propose “a pathetic affinity” between Carroll and the narrator of Lolita. The evidence for Carroll’s possible pedophilia is highly suggestive but hardly conclusive. Burgett summarizes the claims as only speculative at best: “The entire controversy is an almost century-long debate, and one that doesn’t seem to be making any major progress in either direction.” In a Slate review of Woolf’s Lewis Carroll biography, Seth Lerer also acknowledges the controversy, but reads the photographs of Alice, her sisters, and friends as representative of larger trends, as “brilliant testimonies to the taste, the sentiment, and perhaps the sexuality of mid-Victorian England.”

Lorina_and_Alice_Liddell.Chinamen

A great part of this Victorian sensibility consists of the “recognition that all life involves role-playing,” hence the recurring photos of the girls in dress-up—as figures from myth and literature and exotic Orientalist characters, such as the photo above of Alice and her sister Lorina as “Chinamen.” “These are the tableaux of Victorian melodrama,” writes Lerer, “images on stage-sets of the imagination.” We see another of Carroll’s favorite photographic subjects, Alexandra “Xie” Kitchin, daughter of a colleague, also given the Orientalist treatment below, posed as an off-duty tea merchant.

Carroll’s carefully staged child photographs are very much like those of other photographers of the period like Mary Cowden Clarke and Julia Margaret Cameron, who also photographed Alice Liddell, even into her adulthood. Cameron’s photographs also included child nudes, to a similar effect as Carroll’s—the depiction of a “state of grace” in which children appear as nymphs, “gypsies” or other such types supposedly belonging to Edenic worlds untouched by adult cares. Given the context Woolf, Lerer and others provide, it’s reasonable to view Carroll’s child photography as consistent with the tastes of the day. (Though no one suggests this as an alibi for Carroll's possibly troubling proclivities.)

As it stands, the photographs of Alice and other children open a fascinating, if sometimes discomfiting, window on an age that viewed childhood very differently than our own. They also give us a view of Carroll’s strange inner world, one not unlike the unsettling fantasy realm of 20th century folk artist Henry Darger. Unlike Darger, Carroll’s work brought him widespread fame in his lifetime, but like that reclusive figure, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass was a shy, introspective man whose imaginative landscape possessed a logic all its own, charged with magic, threat, and longing for lost childhood innocence.

See a galleries of Carroll’s photographs of Alice and other children here and here, and see this site for more general info on Carroll’s photography.

Related Content:

See The Original Alice In Wonderland Manuscript, Handwritten & Illustrated By Lewis Carroll (1864)

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Free Audio: Alice In Wonderland Read by Cory Doctorow

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Morgan Freeman & Fake Neil deGrasse Tyson Teach Physics While High on Helium and Grass

Viral video #1: In a new ad for the Science Channel's series, Through the Wormhole, actor Morgan Freeman uses helium to entice viewers into thinking about how physicists are studying gravity in places where it acts quite strangely. It's kind of a cryptic message, but it grabs your attention, doesn't it? Through the Wormhole returns to the airwaves, with Season 5, on June 4th.

Viral Video #2 asks you to imagine what happens when you put the grass in Neil deGrasse Tyson. "Everything is star stuff. This pizza, this cheese, this pepperoni." That's a reboot of Cosmos that may actually get ratings.

via io9 

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