Akira Kurosawa to Ingmar Bergman: “A Human Is Not Really Capable of Creating Really Good Works Until He Reaches 80”


In July of 1988, Ing­mar Bergman—retired from film—turned 70. He had every rea­son to believe that his best work lay behind him. After all, he had won three Acad­e­my Awards (and the Irv­ing G. Thal­berg Memo­r­i­al Award), two BAF­TAs, sev­en Cannes prizes, six Gold­en Globes, and a host of oth­er hon­ors. His oeu­vre includ­ed such seem­ing­ly unsur­pass­able achieve­ments as Wild Straw­ber­ries, The Sev­enth Seal, Fan­ny and Alexan­der, and too many more to name, and that year he pub­lished his mem­oirs, The Mag­ic Lantern, in which he con­fessed “I prob­a­bly do mourn the fact that I no longer make films.”

But no!, writes the Swedish director’s Japan­ese coun­ter­part, Aki­ra Kuro­sawa, the “real work is just begin­ning.” At least that’s how Kura­sawa, then 77, felt about his “sec­ond baby­hood.” Kuro­sawa wrote the let­ter above to Bergman on his birth­day, pro­fess­ing his deep admi­ra­tion. The feel­ing went both ways. The typ­i­cal­ly self-dep­re­cat­ing Bergman once called his The Vir­gin Spring a “a lousy imi­ta­tion of Kuro­sawa” and added, “at the time my admi­ra­tion for the Japan­ese cin­e­ma was at its height. I was almost a samuri myself!” Read the full tran­script of Kurosawa’s birth­day wish­es to Bergman below (orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Chap­lin mag­a­zine).

Dear Mr. Bergman,

Please let me con­grat­u­late you upon your sev­en­ti­eth birth­day.

Your work deeply touch­es my heart every time I see it and I have learned a lot from your works and have been encour­aged by them. I would like you to stay in good health to cre­ate more won­der­ful movies for us.

In Japan, there was a great artist called Tes­sai Tomio­ka who lived in the Mei­ji Era (the late 19th cen­tu­ry). This artist paint­ed many excel­lent pic­tures while he was still young, and when he reached the age of eighty, he sud­den­ly start­ed paint­ing pic­tures which were much supe­ri­or to the pre­vi­ous ones, as if he were in mag­nif­i­cent bloom. Every time I see his paint­ings, I ful­ly real­ize that a human is not real­ly capa­ble of cre­at­ing real­ly good works until he reach­es eighty.

A human is born a baby, becomes a boy, goes through youth, the prime of life and final­ly returns to being a baby before he clos­es his life. This is, in my opin­ion, the most ide­al way of life.

I believe you would agree that a human becomes capa­ble of pro­duc­ing pure works, with­out any restric­tions, in the days of his sec­ond baby­hood.

I am now sev­en­ty-sev­en (77) years old and am con­vinced that my real work is just begin­ning.

Let us hold out togeth­er for the sake of movies.

With the warmest regards,

Aki­ra Kuro­sawa

Via Cinephil­ia and Beyond

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stan­ley Kubrick to Ing­mar Bergman: “You Are the Great­est Film­mak­er at Work Today” (1960)

Ing­mar Bergman Eval­u­ates His Fel­low Film­mak­ers — The “Affect­ed” Godard, “Infan­tile” Hitch­cock & Sub­lime Tarkovsky

Watch Kurosawa’s Rashomon Free Online, the Film That Intro­duced Japan­ese Cin­e­ma to the West

Dick Cavett’s Wide-Rang­ing TV Inter­view with Ing­mar Bergman and Lead Actress Bibi Ander­s­son (1971)

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

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