When Akira Kurosawa Watched Solaris with Andrei Tarkovsky: I Was “Very Happy to Find Myself Living on Earth”


Image of Kuro­sawa and Tarkovsky via NPR

Though Aki­ra Kuro­sawa and Andrei Tarkovsky occu­py the same plane in the pan­theon of auteurs — the high­est one — nei­ther their lives nor their films had much obvi­ous­ly in com­mon. The old­er, longer-lived Kuro­sawa start­ed his career ear­li­er and end­ed it lat­er, but dur­ing those cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly glo­ri­ous decades of the 1960s and 70s, the two brought into the world such pic­tures as Yojim­bo, Ivan’s Child­hoodHigh and LowRed Beard, Andrei Rublev, Dodesukaden, Solaris, The Mir­ror, Der­su Uza­la (Kuro­sawa’s sole Japan­ese-Sovi­et co-pro­duc­tion, though Tarkovsky was­n’t involved), and Stalk­er.

They actu­al­ly met around the mid­dle of that peri­od, when Kuro­sawa came to vis­it the set of Solaris (watch Solaris online along with many oth­er major Tarkovsky films). “Tarkovsky guid­ed me around the set, explain­ing to me as cheer­ful­ly as a young boy who is giv­en a gold­en oppor­tu­ni­ty to show some­one his favorite toy­box,” Kuro­sawa writes in an essay orig­i­nal­ly run in the Asahi Shin­bun in 1977 and repub­lished at Cinephil­ia & Beyond.

“[Direc­tor Sergei] Bon­darchuk, who came with me, asked him about the cost of the set, and left his eyes wide open when Tarkovsky answered it. The cost was so huge: about six hun­dred mil­lion yen as to make Bon­darchuk, who direct­ed that grand spec­ta­cle of a movie War and Peace, agape in won­der.”

But the work, as Kuro­sawa soon found out, mer­it­ed the cost and then some:

Mar­velous progress in sci­ence we have been enjoy­ing, but where will it lead human­i­ty after all? Sheer fear­ful emo­tion this film suc­ceeds in con­jur­ing up in our soul. With­out it, a sci­ence fic­tion movie would be noth­ing more than a pet­ty fan­cy.

These thoughts came and went while I was gaz­ing at the screen.

Tarkovsky was togeth­er with me then. He was at the cor­ner of the stu­dio. When the film was over, he stood up, look­ing at me as if he felt timid. I said to him, “Very good. It makes me feel real fear.” Tarkovsky smiled shy­ly, but hap­pi­ly. And we toast­ed vod­ka at the restau­rant in the Film Insti­tute. Tarkovsky, who didn’t drink usu­al­ly, drank a lot of vod­ka, and went so far as to turn off the speak­er from which music had float­ed into the restau­rant, and began to sing the theme of samu­rai from Sev­en Samu­rai at the top of his voice.

As if to rival him, I joined in.

For I was at that moment very hap­py to find myself liv­ing on Earth.

Solaris makes a view­er feel this, and even this sin­gle fact shows us that Solaris is no ordi­nary SF film. It tru­ly some­how pro­vokes pure hor­ror in our soul. And it is under the total grip of the deep insights of Tarkovsky.

Kuro­sawa pays spe­cial atten­tion to the sequence, which you can watch above ana­lyzed by film schol­ars Vida John­son and Gra­ham Petrie, filmed in his own home­land: “What makes us shud­der is the shot of the loca­tion of Akasakamit­suke, Tokyo, Japan. By a skill­ful use of mir­rors, he turned flows of head lights and tail lamps of cars, mul­ti­plied and ampli­fied, into a vin­tage image of the future city. Every shot of Solaris bears wit­ness to the almost daz­zling tal­ents inher­ent in Tarkovsky.”

Like all of Tarkovsky’s fea­tures, Solaris only holds up more firm­ly with time and thus still enjoys revival screen­ings all over the world, but you can also watch it free online right now. Just get ready, when you descend to Earth after­ward, to feel your own grat­i­tude at find­ing your­self back here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

Watch Aki­ra Kuro­sawa & Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la in Japan­ese Whiskey Ads from 1979: The Inspi­ra­tion for Lost in Trans­la­tion

Watch Solaris (1972), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Haunt­ing Vision of the Future

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Shot by Shot: A 22-Minute Break­down of the Director’s Film­mak­ing

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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