Akira Kurosawa Appears in a Rare Television & Tells Dick Cavett about His Love of Old Tokyo & His Samurai Lineage (1981)

There was a time in Amer­i­ca when you could sit down in the evening, turn on a tele­vi­sion talk show, and hear a con­ver­sa­tion with Aki­ra Kuro­sawa. That time was the ear­ly 1980s, and that talk show came host­ed, of course, by Dick Cavett, to whom no cul­tur­al cur­rent — and indeed no cul­ture — was too for­eign for broad­cast. With pic­tures like RashomonIkiruSev­en Samu­rai, and Throne of Blood, Kuro­sawa estab­lished him­self in the 1950s as the most acclaimed Japan­ese auteur alive, with promi­nent admir­ers all over the world, Cavett includ­ed. Kuro­sawa no dai-fan desu,” he says in the film­mak­er’s native lan­guage before liv­ing the Kuro­sawa dai-fan’s dream of hav­ing a chat with the mas­ter him­self.

Kuro­sawa, Cavett also notes, had nev­er been inter­viewed on tele­vi­sion in Japan, a fact that might have struck a West­ern cinephile as indica­tive of the bewil­der­ing lack of sup­port he suf­fered in his home coun­try. “Why does he think he is so revered in the West as a film­mak­er,” Cavett asks his inter­preter (Japan­ese Film Direc­tors author Audie Bock), yet “has trou­ble get­ting mon­ey up in Japan to make a film?”

To this inquiry, which must have struck him as unusu­al­ly or even refresh­ing­ly direct, Kuro­sawa first replies thus: “I cer­tain­ly can’t explain that either.” In fact his then-most recent film Kage­musha had tak­en years to reach pro­duc­tion; while unable to shoot, a despair­ing but unde­terred Kuro­sawa hand-paint­ed its every scene.

Only with the sup­port of George Lucas and Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la (who went on to co-star with Kuro­sawa in a Sun­to­ry whiskey com­mer­cial) could Kage­musha even­tu­al­ly be real­ized. The pic­ture thus escaped the realm of such unmade Kuro­sawa as an adap­ta­tion of Masu­ji Ibuse’s nov­el Black Rain, which would at the end of the 1980s pass into the hands of his more eccen­tric but also-acclaimed con­tem­po­rary Shohei Ima­mu­ra. Kuro­sawa tells the sto­ry when asked if he’d ever con­sid­ered mak­ing a film about Hiroshi­ma, just one aspect of the direc­tor’s mind and expe­ri­ences about which Cavett express­es curios­i­ty. Oth­ers include the pre­war Tokyo in which he grew up, his fam­i­ly’s samu­rai lin­eage, his paci­fist detes­ta­tion of vio­lence (per­haps the source of his own films’ vio­lent pow­er), and his West­ern influ­ences. “Would he like to have made a film with John Wayne and Toshi­ro Mifu­ne?” Cavett asks.  Though the notion strikes Kuro­sawa as “very dif­fi­cult,” it’s sure­ly the stuff of a dai-fan’s dreams.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

Hayao Miyaza­ki Meets Aki­ra Kuro­sawa: Watch the Titans of Japan­ese Film in Con­ver­sa­tion (1993)

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

Aki­ra Kuro­sawa & Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la Star in Japan­ese Whisky Com­mer­cials (1980)

How Dick Cavett Brought Sophis­ti­ca­tion to Late Night Talk Shows: Watch 270 Clas­sic Inter­views Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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