Akira Kurosawa’s Advice to Aspiring Filmmakers: Write, Write, Write and Read

We should all learn from the best, and in the domain of cin­e­ma, that means study­ing under mas­ters like Aki­ra Kuro­sawa. Though now near­ly twen­ty years gone, the Japan­ese film­mak­er known as “the Emper­or” left behind not just one of the most impres­sive bod­ies of direc­to­r­i­al work in exis­tence — RashomonSev­en Samu­raiThrone of BloodRan, and much else besides — but a gen­er­ous quan­ti­ty of words. In addi­tion to the volu­mi­nous mate­ri­als relat­ed to the films them­selves, he wrote the book Some­thing Like an Auto­bi­og­ra­phy, gave in-depth inter­views, and offered film­mak­ing advice to estab­lished col­leagues and young aspi­rants alike.

“If you gen­uine­ly want to make films,” Kuro­sawa tells the next gen­er­a­tion of direc­tors in the clip above, “then write screen­plays. All you need to write a script is paper and a pen­cil. It’s only through writ­ing scripts that you learn specifics about the struc­ture of film and what cin­e­ma is.”

This brings to mind the sto­ry of how, long unable to find fund­ing for Kage­musha, he wrote and re-wrote its screen­play, then, still unable to go into pro­duc­tion, paint­ed the entire film, shot by shot. Such per­sis­tence requires no lit­tle strength of patience and dis­ci­pline, the very kind one builds through rig­or­ous writ­ing prac­tice. Kuro­sawa quotes Balzac: “The most essen­tial and nec­es­sary thing is the for­bear­ance to face the dull task of writ­ing one word at a time.”

Take it one word at a time: appar­ent­ly cre­ators as osten­si­bly dif­fer­ent as Balzac, Kuro­sawa, and Stephen King agree on how to han­dle the writ­ing process. And to write, Kuro­sawa adds, you must read. “Young peo­ple today don’t read books,” he says, echo­ing an oft-heard com­plaint. “It’s impor­tant that they at least do a cer­tain amount of read­ing. Unless you have a rich reserve with­in, you can’t cre­ate any­thing. Mem­o­ry is the source of your cre­ation. Whether it’s from read­ing or from your own real-life expe­ri­ence, you can’t cre­ate unless you have some­thing inside your­self.” Or, as Wern­er Her­zog more recent­ly put it: “Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read… read, read… read.” But per Kuro­sawa, don’t for­get to write — and when the writ­ing gets tough, do any­thing but give up.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Aki­ra Kurosawa’s List of His 100 Favorite Movies

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

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

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

How Aki­ra Kuro­sawa Used Move­ment to Tell His Sto­ries: A Video Essay

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.

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