Akira Kurosawa & Gabriel García Márquez Talk About Filmmaking (and Nuclear Bombs) in Six Hour Interview

marquez kurosawa

You know you’re doing some­thing right in your life if the Nobel Prize-win­ning author of 100 Years of Soli­tude talks to you like a gid­dy fan boy.

Back in Octo­ber 1990, Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez sat down with Aki­ra Kuro­sawa in Tokyo as the Japan­ese mas­ter direc­tor was shoot­ing his penul­ti­mate movie Rhap­sody in August — the only Kuro­sawa movie I can think of that fea­tures Richard Gere. The six hour inter­view, which was pub­lished in The Los Ange­les Times in 1991, spanned a range of top­ics but the author’s love of the director’s movies was evi­dent all the way through. At one point, while dis­cussing Kurosawa’s 1965 film Red Beard, Gar­cía Márquez said this: “I have seen it six times in 20 years and I talked about it to my chil­dren almost every day until they were able to see it. So not only is it the one among your films best liked by my fam­i­ly and me, but also one of my favorites in the whole his­to­ry of cin­e­ma.”

One nat­ur­al top­ic dis­cussed was adapt­ing lit­er­a­ture to film. The his­to­ry of cin­e­ma is lit­tered with some tru­ly dread­ful adap­ta­tions and even more that are sim­ply inert and life­less. One of the Kurosawa’s true gifts as a film­mak­er was turn­ing the writ­ten word into a vital, mem­o­rable image. In movies like Throne of Blood and Ran, he has proved him­self to be arguably the finest adapter of Shake­speare in the his­to­ry of cin­e­ma.

Gar­cía Márquez: Has your method also been that intu­itive when you have adapt­ed Shake­speare or Gorky or Dos­to­evsky?

Kuro­sawa: Direc­tors who make films halfway may not real­ize that it is very dif­fi­cult to con­vey lit­er­ary images to the audi­ence through cin­e­mat­ic images. For instance, in adapt­ing a detec­tive nov­el in which a body was found next to the rail­road tracks, a young direc­tor insist­ed that a cer­tain spot cor­re­spond­ed per­fect­ly with the one in the book. “You are wrong,” I said. “The prob­lem is that you have already read the nov­el and you know that a body was found next to the tracks. But for the peo­ple who have not read it there is noth­ing spe­cial about the place.” That young direc­tor was cap­ti­vat­ed by the mag­i­cal pow­er of lit­er­a­ture with­out real­iz­ing that cin­e­mat­ic images must be expressed in a dif­fer­ent way.

Gar­cía Márquez: Can you remem­ber any image from real life that you con­sid­er impos­si­ble to express on film?

Kuro­sawa: Yes. That of a min­ing town named Ili­dachi [sic], where I worked as an assis­tant direc­tor when I was very young. The direc­tor had declared at first glance that the atmos­phere was mag­nif­i­cent and strange, and that’s the rea­son we filmed it. But the images showed only a run-of-the-mill town, for they were miss­ing some­thing that was known to us: that the work­ing con­di­tions in (the town) are very dan­ger­ous, and that the women and chil­dren of the min­ers live in eter­nal fear for their safe­ty. When one looks at the vil­lage one con­fus­es the land­scape with that feel­ing, and one per­ceives it as stranger than it actu­al­ly is. But the cam­era does not see it with the same eyes.

When Kuro­sawa and Gar­cía Márquez talked about Rhap­sody in August, the mood of the inter­view dark­ened. The film is about one old woman strug­gling with the hor­rors of sur­viv­ing the atom­ic attack on Nagasa­ki. When it came out, Amer­i­can crit­ics bris­tled at the movie because it had the audac­i­ty to point out that many Japan­ese weren’t all that pleased with get­ting nuked. This is espe­cial­ly the case with Nagasa­ki. While Hiroshi­ma had numer­ous fac­to­ries and there­fore could be con­sid­ered a mil­i­tary tar­get, Nagasa­ki had none. In fact, on August 9, 1945, the orig­i­nal tar­get for the world’s sec­ond nuclear attack was the indus­tri­al town of Kita Kyushu. But that town was cov­ered in clouds. So the pilots cast about look­ing for some place, any place, to bomb. That place proved to Nagasa­ki.

Below, Kuro­sawa talks pas­sion­ate­ly about the lega­cy of the bomb­ing. Inter­est­ing­ly, Gar­cía Márquez, who had often been a vocif­er­ous crit­ic of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­i­cy, sort of defends America’s actions at the end of the war.

Kuro­sawa: The full death toll for Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki has been offi­cial­ly pub­lished at 230,000. But in actu­al fact there were over half a mil­lion dead. And even now there are still 2,700 patients at the Atom­ic Bomb Hos­pi­tal wait­ing to die from the after-effects of the radi­a­tion after 45 years of agony. In oth­er words, the atom­ic bomb is still killing Japan­ese.

Gar­cía Márquez: The most ratio­nal expla­na­tion seems to be that the U.S. rushed in to end it with the bomb for fear that the Sovi­ets would take Japan before they did.

Kuro­sawa: Yes, but why did they do it in a city inhab­it­ed only by civil­ians who had noth­ing to do with the war? There were mil­i­tary con­cen­tra­tions that were in fact wag­ing war.

Gar­cía Márquez: Nor did they drop it on the Impe­r­i­al Palace, which must have been a very vul­ner­a­ble spot in the heart of Tokyo. And I think that this is all explained by the fact that they want­ed to leave the polit­i­cal pow­er and the mil­i­tary pow­er intact in order to car­ry out a speedy nego­ti­a­tion with­out hav­ing to share the booty with their allies. It’s some­thing no oth­er coun­try has ever expe­ri­enced in all of human his­to­ry. Now then: Had Japan sur­ren­dered with­out the atom­ic bomb, would it be the same Japan it is today?

Kuro­sawa: It’s hard to say. The peo­ple who sur­vived Nagasa­ki don’t want to remem­ber their expe­ri­ence because the major­i­ty of them, in order to sur­vive, had to aban­don their par­ents, their chil­dren, their broth­ers and sis­ters. They still can’t stop feel­ing guilty. After­wards, the U.S. forces that occu­pied the coun­try for six years influ­enced by var­i­ous means the accel­er­a­tion of for­get­ful­ness, and the Japan­ese gov­ern­ment col­lab­o­rat­ed with them. I would even be will­ing to under­stand all this as part of the inevitable tragedy gen­er­at­ed by war. But I think that, at the very least, the coun­try that dropped the bomb should apol­o­gize to the Japan­ese peo­ple. Until that hap­pens this dra­ma will not be over.

The whole inter­view is fas­ci­nat­ing. They con­tin­ue to talk about his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry, nuclear pow­er and the dif­fi­cul­ty of film­ing rose-eat­ing ants. You can read the entire thing here. It’s well worth you time.

via Thomp­son on Hol­ly­wood H/T Sheer­ly

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

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

Andy Warhol Inter­views Alfred Hitch­cock (1974)

Lis­ten to François Truffaut’s Big, 12-Hour Inter­view with Alfred Hitch­cock (1962)

Aki­ra Kuro­sawa & Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la Star in Japan­ese Whisky Com­mer­cials (1980)

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.

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  • Bagley says:

    “I have seen it six times in 20 years and I talked about it to my chil­dren almost every day until they were able to see it. So not only is it the one among your films best liked by my fam­i­ly and me, but also one of my favorites in the whole his­to­ry of cin­e­ma.”

    I feel the exact same about Red Beard. It real­ly is an excep­tion­al work of cin­e­ma.

  • xp0z3d says:

    Thanks for shar­ing this. I am big fan of Kuro­sawa. My fav film mak­er.

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