The highly auteur-respecting Criterion Collection has, as you might expect, done quite well by the work of Akira Kurosawa, director of Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Ikiru, and Ran — to name just a few out of his many films in their catalog. Given all the time and attention Criterion puts into not just the pictures themselves but the wealth of supplemental material that goes with them, you could potentially become a Kurosawa expert from only what you can learn through Criterion releases. That includes an understanding of the 21 Criterion films that Kurosawa included on his list of favorite movies. Find them listed right below.
You'll notice that Kurosawa's Criterion selections, a subset of his list of 100 favorite movies we featured here on Open Culture a few years ago, include more than just pictures to which he would have thrilled during his formative years in Japan in the 1920s and 30s. In fact, it skews toward much more recent and international productions, right up to Paris, Texas (1984) by German New Wave star Wim Wenders, who once interviewed Kurosawa for a magazine. The younger filmmaker asked the elder only technical questions such as "'Mr. Kurosawa, you let it rain really beautifully. How do you shoot it?" "To be honest," Kurosawa admitted, "for me also such topics are more welcome, and we discussed it further. But the editors were pretty embarrassed."
- The Gold Rush, by Charlie Chaplin (1925)
- The Threepenny Opera, by G. W. Pabst (1931)
- Ivan the Terrible, by Sergei Eisenstein (1944-58)
- Bicycle Thieves, by Vittorio De Sica (1948)
- The Third Man, by Carol Reed (1949)
- Late Spring, by Yasujiro Ozu (1949)
- Orpheus, by Jean Cocteau (1950)
- The Life of Oharu, by Kenji Mizoguchi (1952)
- La strada, by Federico Fellini (1954)
- Godzilla, by Ishiro Honda (1956)
- Les cousins, by Claude Chabrol (1959)
- The 400 Blows, by François Truffaut (1959)
- Breathless, by Jean-Luc Godard (1960)
- Purple Noon, by René Clément (1960)
- Zazie dans le métro, by Louis Malle (1960)
- Last Year at Marienbad, by Alain Resnais (1961)
- Red Desert, by Michelangelo Antonioni (1964)
- Solaris, by Andrei Tarkovsky (1972)
- The Spirit of the Beehive, by Víctor Erice (1973)
- Fanny and Alexander Box Set, by Ingmar Bergman (1982)
- Paris, Texas, by Wim Wenders (1984)
Throughout his long life and career, Kurosawa enjoyed opportunities to meet more than a few of the other filmmakers whose work he admired as well. Last year we featured the story of his first meeting with Andrei Tarkovsky, at a screening of the latter's Solaris. "We were very good friends. He was like a little brother for me," Kurosawa remembered, recalling in particular one incident when the two of them got drunk together and ended up singing the Seven Samurai theme. His other Criterion selections reveal a love for the work of others in what we might call the Tarkovsky class of late 20th-century auteurs as well, from François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard to Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni.
At the top of the post you can watch the first film on Kurosawa's Criterion list, Charlie Chaplin's 1925 The Gold Rush, free online. (The version up top, we should note, is not the Criterion release itself. It's another version.) "Chaplin was very talented as an actor as well," said Kurosawa. "Do you know, comedies are most difficult to make. It's much easier to jerk tears from the audience. He, of course, was gifted as a director as well, well-versed in music. I think he was so gifted that he himself didn't know what he should do with his own talents." But Kurosawa, gifted as he was, couldn't say the same of himself, knowing as he always did exactly what movie he wanted to make next, even in periods when he couldn't shoot a single frame, working right up until the end of his days. Even the title of his final film expresses that sensibility, one that surely resonates with every lover or maker of film who knows how much of cinema always remains to explore: Madadayo, or "Not yet!"
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.