Akira Kurosawa’s List of His 100 Favorite Movies

In movies like Sev­en Samu­rai and High and Low, direc­tor Aki­ra Kuro­sawa took the cin­e­mat­ic lan­guage of Hol­ly­wood and improved on it, cre­at­ing a vig­or­ous, mus­cu­lar method of visu­al sto­ry­telling that became a styl­is­tic play­book for the likes of Mar­tin Scors­ese, George Lucas and Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la. In movies like Ikiru, The Bad Sleep Well and The Low­er Depths, Kuro­sawa relent­less­ly strug­gled to find the rays of light among the shad­ows of the human soul. This philo­soph­i­cal urgency com­bined with his visu­al bril­liance is what gives his work, espe­cial­ly his ear­ly films, such vital­i­ty.

“One thing that dis­tin­guish­es Aki­ra Kuro­sawa is that he didn’t just make a mas­ter­piece or two mas­ter­pieces,” Cop­po­la said dur­ing an inter­view. “He made eight mas­ter­pieces.”

So when Kuro­sawa comes out with a rec­om­mend­ed view­ing list, movie mavens every­where should take note. Such a list was pub­lished in his posthu­mous­ly pub­lished book Yume wa ten­sai de aru (A Dream is a Genius). His daugh­ter Kazuko Kuro­sawa described the list’s selec­tion process:

My father always said that the films he loved were too many to count, and to make a top ten rank. That explains why you can­not find in this list many of the titles of the films he regard­ed as won­der­ful. The prin­ci­ple of the choice is: one film for one direc­tor, entry of the unfor­get­table films about which I and my father had a love­ly talk, and of some ideas on cin­e­ma that he had cher­ished but did not express in pub­lic. This is the way I made a list of 100 films of Kurosawa’s choice.

Orga­nized chrono­log­i­cal­ly, the list starts with D.W. Griffith’s Bro­ken Blos­soms and ends with Takeshi Kitano’s Hana-Bi. In between is a remark­ably thor­ough and diverse col­lec­tion of films, mix­ing in equal parts Hol­ly­wood, art house and Japan­ese clas­sics. Many of the movies are exact­ly the ones you would see on any Film Stud­ies 101 syl­labus — Truffaut’s 400 Blows, Car­ol Reed’s The Third Man and DeSica’s Bicy­cle Thieves. Oth­er films are less expect­ed. Hayao Miyazaki’s utter­ly won­der­ful My Neigh­bor Totoro makes the cut, as does Ishi­ro Hon­da’s Goji­ra and Peter Weir’s Wit­ness. His pol­i­cy of one film per direc­tor yields some sur­pris­ing, almost will­ful­ly per­verse results. The God­fa­ther, Part 2 over The God­fa­ther? The King of Com­e­dy over Good­fel­las? Ivan the Ter­ri­ble over Bat­tle­ship Potemkin? The Birds over Ver­ti­go? Bar­ry Lyn­don over pret­ty much any­thing else that Stan­ley Kubrick did? And while I am pleased that Mikio Naruse gets a nod for Ukigu­mo – in a just world, Naruse would be as read­i­ly praised and cel­e­brat­ed as his con­tem­po­raries Yasu­jiro Ozu and Ken­ji Mizoguchi – I am also struck by the list’s most glar­ing, and curi­ous, omis­sion. There’s no Orson Welles.

You can see his 100 essen­tial movies below. Above we have the sec­ond film on the list, The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari, which you can oth­er­wise find in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

1. Bro­ken Blos­soms or The Yel­low Man and the Girl (Grif­fith, 1919) USA
2. Das Cab­i­net des Dr. Cali­gari [The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari] (Wiene, 1920) Ger­many
3. Dr. Mabuse, der Spiel­er – Ein Bild der Zeit (Part 1Part 2) [Dr. Mabuse, the Gam­bler] (Lang, 1922) Ger­many
4. The Gold Rush (Chap­lin, 1925) USA
5. La Chute de la Mai­son Ush­er [The Fall of the House of Ush­er] (Jean Epstein, 1928) France
6. Un Chien Andalou [An Andalu­sian Dog] (Bunuel, 1928) France
7. Moroc­co (von Stern­berg, 1930) USA
8. Der Kongress Tanzt (Charell, 1931) Ger­many
9. Die 3groschenoper [The Three­pen­ny Opera] (Pab­st, 1931) Ger­many
10. Leise Fle­hen Meine Lieder [Lover Divine] (Forst, 1933) Austria/Germany
11. The Thin Man (Dyke, 1934) USA
12. Tonari no Yae-chan [My Lit­tle Neigh­bour, Yae] (Shi­mazu, 1934) Japan
13. Tange Sazen yowa: Hyaku­man ryo no tsubo [Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Mil­lion Ryo] (Yamana­ka, 1935) Japan
14. Akan­ishi Kaki­ta [Capri­cious Young Men] (Ita­mi, 1936) Japan
15. La Grande Illu­sion [The Grand Illu­sion] (Renoir, 1937) France
16. Stel­la Dal­las (Vidor, 1937) USA
17. Tsuzurika­ta Kyoshit­su [Lessons in Essay] (Yamamo­to, 1938) Japan
18. Tsuchi [Earth] (Uchi­da, 1939) Japan
19. Ninotch­ka (Lubitsch, 1939) USA
20. Ivan Groznyy I, Ivan Groznyy II: Boyarsky Zagov­or [Ivan the Ter­ri­ble Parts I and II] (Eisen­stein, 1944–46) Sovi­et Union
21. My Dar­ling Clemen­tine (Ford, 1946) USA
22. It’s a Won­der­ful Life (Capra, 1946) USA
23. The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1946) USA
24. Ladri di Bici­clette [The Bicy­cle Thief] [Bicy­cle Thieves] (De Sica, 1948) Italy
25. Aoi san­myaku [The Green Moun­tains] (Imai, 1949) Japan
26. The Third Man (Reed, 1949) UK
27. Ban­shun [Late Spring] (Ozu, 1949) Japan
28. Orpheus (Cocteau, 1949) France
29. Karu­men kokyo ni kaeru [Car­men Comes Home] (Kinoshi­ta, 1951) Japan
30. A Street­car Named Desire (Kazan, 1951) USA
31. Thérèse Raquin [The Adul­tress] (Carne 1953) France
32. Saikaku ichidai onna [The Life of Oharu] (Mizoguchi, 1952) Japan
33. Viag­gio in Italia [Jour­ney to Italy] (Rosselli­ni, 1953) Italy
34. Goji­ra [Godzil­la] (Hon­da, 1954) Japan
35. La Stra­da (Felli­ni, 1954) Italy
36. Ukigu­mo [Float­ing Clouds] (Naruse, 1955) Japan
37. Pather Pan­chali [Song of the Road] (Ray, 1955) India
38. Dad­dy Long Legs (Neg­ule­sco, 1955) USA
39. The Proud Ones (Webb, 1956) USA
40. Baku­mat­su taiy­o­den [Sun in the Last Days of the Shogu­nate] (Kawashima, 1957) Japan
41. The Young Lions (Dmytryk, 1957) USA
42. Les Cousins [The Cousins] (Chabrol, 1959) France
43. Les Quarte Cents Coups [The 400 Blows] (Truf­faut, 1959) France
44. A bout de Souf­fle [Breath­less] (Godard, 1959) France
45. Ben-Hur (Wyler, 1959) USA
46. Oto­to [Her Broth­er] (Ichikawa, 1960) Japan
47. Une aus­si longue absence [The Long Absence] (Colpi, 1960) France/Italy
48. Le Voy­age en Bal­lon [Stow­away in the Sky] (Lam­or­isse, 1960) France
49. Plein Soleil [Pur­ple Noon] (Clement, 1960) France/Italy
50. Zazie dans le métro [Zazie on the Subway](Malle, 1960) France/Italy
51. L’Annee derniere a Marien­bad [Last Year in Marien­bad] (Resnais, 1960) France/Italy
52. What Ever Hap­pened to Baby Jane? (Aldrich, 1962) USA
53. Lawrence of Ara­bia (Lean, 1962) UK
54. Melodie en sous-sol [Any Num­ber Can Win] (Verneuil, 1963) France/Italy
55. The Birds (Hitch­cock, 1963) USA
56. Il Deser­to Rosso [The Red Desert](Antonioni, 1964) Italy/France
57. Who’s Afraid of Vir­ginia Woolf? (Nichols, 1966) USA
58. Bon­nie and Clyde (Penn, 1967) USA
59. In the Heat of the Night (Jew­i­son, 1967) USA
60. The Charge of the Light Brigade (Richard­son, 1968) UK
61. Mid­night Cow­boy (Schlesinger, 1969) USA
62. MASH (Alt­man, 1970) USA
63. John­ny Got His Gun (Trum­bo, 1971) USA
64. The French Con­nec­tion (Fried­kin, 1971) USA
65. El espíritu de la col­me­na [Spir­it of the Bee­hive] (Erice, 1973) Spain
66. Sol­yaris [Solaris] (Tarkovsky, 1972) Sovi­et Union
67. The Day of the Jack­al (Zin­ne­man, 1973) UK/France
68. Grup­po di famiglia in un inter­no [Con­ver­sa­tion Piece] (Vis­con­ti, 1974) Italy/France
69. The God­fa­ther Part II (Cop­po­la, 1974) USA
70. San­dakan hachiban­shokan bohkyo [San­dakan 8] (Kumai, 1974) Japan
71. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (For­man, 1975) USA
72. O, Thi­as­sos [The Trav­el­ling Play­ers] (Angelopou­los, 1975) Greece
73. Bar­ry Lyn­don (Kubrick, 1975) UK
74. Daichi no komo­ri­u­ta [Lul­la­by of the Earth] (Masumu­ra, 1976) Japan
75. Annie Hall (Allen, 1977) USA
76. Neokonchen­naya pye­sa dlya mekhanich­esko­go piani­no [Unfin­ished Piece for Mechan­i­cal Piano] (Mikhalkov, 1977) Sovi­et Union
77. Padre Padrone [My Father My Mas­ter] (P. & V. Taviani, 1977) Italy
78. Glo­ria (Cas­savetes, 1980) USA
79. Haruka­naru yama no yobi­goe [A Dis­tant Cry From Spring] (Yama­da, 1980) Japan
80. La Travi­a­ta (Zef­firelli, 1982) Italy
81. Fan­ny och Alexan­der [Fan­ny and Alexan­der] (Bergman, 1982) Sweden/France/West Ger­many
82. Fitz­car­ral­do (Her­zog, 1982) Peru/West Ger­many
83. The King of Com­e­dy (Scors­ese, 1983) USA
84. Mer­ry Christ­mas Mr. Lawrence (Oshi­ma, 1983) UK/Japan/New Zealand
85. The Killing Fields (Joffe 1984) UK
86. Stranger Than Par­adise (Jar­musch, 1984) USA/ West Ger­many
87. Dong­dong de Jiaqi [A Sum­mer at Grand­pa’s] (Hou, 1984) Tai­wan
88. Paris, Texas (Wen­ders, 1984) France/ West Ger­many
89. Wit­ness (Weir, 1985) USA
90. The Trip to Boun­ti­ful (Mas­ter­son, 1985) USA
91. Otac na sluzbenom putu [When Father was Away on Busi­ness] (Kus­turi­ca, 1985) Yugoslavia
92. The Dead (Hus­ton, 1987) UK/Ireland/USA
93. Khane-ye doust kod­jast? [Where is the Friend’s Home] (Kiarosta­mi, 1987) Iran
94. Bagh­dad Cafe [Out of Rosen­heim] (Adlon, 1987) West Germany/USA
95. The Whales of August (Ander­son, 1987) USA
96. Run­ning on Emp­ty (Lumet, 1988) USA
97. Tonari no totoro [My Neigh­bour Totoro] (Miyaza­ki, 1988) Japan
98. A un [Bud­dies] (Furuha­ta, 1989) Japan
99. La Belle Noiseuse [The Beau­ti­ful Trou­ble­mak­er] (Riv­ette, 1991) France/Switzerland
100. Hana-bi [Fire­works] (Kitano, 1997) Japan

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in Jan­u­ary 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Did Aki­ra Kuro­sawa Make Such Pow­er­ful & Endur­ing Films? A Wealth of Video Essays Break Down His Cin­e­mat­ic Genius

David Lynch Lists His Favorite Films & Direc­tors, Includ­ing Felli­ni, Wilder, Tati & Hitch­cock

Andrei Tarkovsky Cre­ates a List of His 10 Favorite Films (1972)

Stan­ley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films (The First and Only List He Ever Cre­at­ed)

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. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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