The Geometric Beauty of Akira Kurosawa and Wes Anderson’s Films

Last month, we fea­tured Every Frame a Paint­ing, Tony Zhou’s series of video essays exam­in­ing the film­mak­ing tech­niques of direc­tors like Mar­tin Scors­ese, Edgar Wright, Steven Spiel­berg, and David Finch­er. His newest piece looks at just one ele­ment of just one scene, but one direct­ed by one of the high­est fig­ures, if not the high­est fig­ure, in the cin­e­mat­ic pan­theon: Aki­ra Kuro­sawa. Zhou, as any cinephile might expect, has a full-length exam­i­na­tion of “the Emper­or” of Japan­ese film in the works, but for now he’s put out a short video essay on the geom­e­try of a cou­ple min­utes from The Bad Sleep Well (1960).

That 1960 release, a non-peri­od piece not quite as well known as Kuro­sawa films like Sev­en Samu­raiRashomon, and Kage­musha, tells a Ham­let-like tale against the cul­tur­al back­drop of post­war Japan­ese cor­po­rate cor­rup­tion.

Despite its non-epic nature, it has drawn my own atten­tion again and again over the years, just as it seems to have drawn Zhou’s. Here, he uses it to illus­trate Kuro­sawa’s pen­chant for con­struct­ing scenes not out of, as Hitch­cock once put it, “pho­tographs of peo­ple talk­ing” — a dull prac­tice that more than per­sists on screens today — but out of geo­met­ri­cal shapes.

You might like to com­pare this brief study of Kuro­sawa’s geom­e­try with video essay­ist Kog­o­na­da’s look at the geom­e­try of Wes Ander­son­’s movies. Just as you can’t watch the Every Frame a Paint­ing mini-episode on The Bad Sleep Well with­out look­ing for shapes in the next Kuro­sawa pic­tures you watch, you can’t watch “Cen­tered” with­out draw­ing a men­tal line down the cen­ter of your next screen­ing of Bot­tle Rock­etRush­moreThe Roy­al Tenen­baums, or their Ander­son­ian suc­ces­sors. Zhou says he feels bored when sub­ject­ed to the undis­ci­plined visu­al com­po­si­tion in most major films, but here we have two film­mak­ers one can always rely on for the anti­dote.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Frame a Paint­ing Explains the Film­mak­ing Tech­niques of Mar­tin Scors­ese, Jack­ie Chan, and Even Michael Bay

Sig­na­ture Shots from the Films of Stan­ley Kubrick: One-Point Per­spec­tive

Watch 7 New Video Essays on Wes Anderson’s Films: Rush­more, The Roy­al Tenen­baums & More

The Per­fect Sym­me­try of Wes Anderson’s Movies

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma 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.

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  • Sven Lutz says:

    If Ander­sons movies aren’t the best exam­ple of sta­t­ic “pho­tographs of peo­ple talk­ing”, i don’t know what is. He sure has a unique and maybe com­pelling com­po­si­tion style, but the sense of move­ment and shift­ing rela­tions in space Zhou refers to can’t real­ly be found in Ander­sons films.

  • Paul Tatara says:

    Yeah. Don’t go putting Ander­son and Kuro­sawa in the same sen­tence, please. I’ve nev­er want­ed to stran­gle Kuro­sawa.

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