Akira Kurosawa Painted the Storyboards For Scenes in His Epic Films: Compare Canvas to Celluloid

Kurasawa 1


Appre­ci­a­tors of the finest works in cin­e­ma his­to­ry often liken their images to paint­ings. In the case of Aki­ra Kuro­sawa, mak­er of quite a few entries on that grand list of the finest works in cin­e­ma his­to­ry, that makes pro­fes­sion­al sense: he began as a painter, only lat­er turn­ing film­mak­er. “When I changed careers,” he writes, “I burnt all the pic­tures that I had paint­ed up until then. I intend­ed to for­get paint­ing once and for all. As a well-known Japan­ese proverb says, ‘If you chase two rab­bits, you may not catch even one.’ I did no art work at all once I began to work in cin­e­ma. But since becom­ing a film direc­tor, I have found that draw­ing rough sketch­es was often a use­ful means of explain­ing ideas to my staff.”

Kurasawa 2

Kurasawa 3

That comes quot­ed on “Aki­ra Kuro­sawa: From Art to Film,” a roundup of such paint­ings by the Emper­or (a nick­name Kuro­sawa earned through his on-set man­ner), set beside the result­ing frames from his movies. “As a painter and film­mak­er, Kuro­sawa stuck to his own style,” writes Pop­mat­ters’ Ian Chant in an exam­i­na­tion of this facet of his career, “informed heav­i­ly by tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese paint­ing as well as Euro­pean impres­sion­ists and expres­sion­ists, anoth­er are­na of art where he answered to both east­ern and west­ern influ­ences. These painstak­ing­ly craft­ed paint­ings formed the visu­al back­bone of some of Kurosawa’s most last­ing achieve­ments.”

Kurasawa 4

Kurasawa 5

The most vivid exam­ples of can­vas-turned-cel­lu­loid come from Kuro­sawa’s lat­er works, such as 1980’s Kage­musha, 1985’s Ran, 1990’s Dreams, and 1993’s Mada­dayo, selec­tions from each of which you see in this post. “I can­not help but be fas­ci­nat­ed by the fact that when I tried to paint well, I could only pro­duce mediocre pic­tures,” con­tin­ues the Emper­or him­self. “But when I con­cen­trat­ed on delin­eat­ing the ideas for my films, I uncon­scious­ly pro­duced works that peo­ple find inter­est­ing.” Hold­ing the paint­ed work up against his film work, only the strictest cin­e­ma purist could deny that, ulti­mate­ly, Kuro­sawa caught both rab­bits.

Kurasawa 6

Kurasawa 7

Jux­ta­pose more paint­ed sto­ry­boards and frames from films here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Paint­ings of Aki­ra Kuro­sawa

Aki­ra Kurosawa’s 80-Minute Mas­ter Class on Mak­ing “Beau­ti­ful Movies” (2000)

Aki­ra Kurosawa’s List of His 100 Favorite Movies

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

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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