Akira Kurosawa is regarded as one of the most important filmmakers in the history of cinema. In a career that spanned 57 years, Kurosawa directed over 30 films including Rashomon (1951), Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961).

After years of working on several movies as a scriptwriter and assistant director, he made his debut as a director during World War II with the popular action film “Sanshiro Sugata.” Along with fellow Japanese filmmakers Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujirō Ozu, and Mikio Naruse, he became part of what was known as the “golden age” of Japanese film.

In this article, we will share our favorite quotes from the Japanese film director on filmmaking, covering everything from screenwriting to cinematography to editing and much more.

Akira Kurosawa Quotes

For me, film-making combines everything. That’s the reason I’ve made cinema my life’s work. In films painting and literature, theatre and music come together. But a film is still a film.

A film must be made with the heart, not the mind. I think today’s young filmmakers have forgotten this and instead they make films through their calculations. That is why Japanese films no longer have an audience. In all honesty, films must be made to target the hearts. During the time of Yasujirô Ozu, my mentor, and also in my time, no filmmaker made films based on theory and calculation, and that was why Japan’s cinema was capable of shaping its golden years. Young filmmakers use techniques to humiliate the audience. This is wrong. We must serve cinema and make a film that would stimulate the audience. Ultimately, the aim should be to make an artistic film. That’s simple, isn’t it?

Movie directors, or should I say people who create things, are very greedy and they can never be satisfied… That’s why they can keep on working. I’ve been able to work for so long because I think next time, I’ll make something good.

There is something that might be called cinematic beauty. It can only be expressed in a film, and it must be present in a film for that film to be a moving work. When it is very well expressed, one experiences a particularly deep emotion while watching that film. I believe it is this quality that draws people to come and see a film, and that it is the hope of attaining this quality that inspires the filmmaker to make his film in the first place. In other words, I believe that the essence of the cinema lies in cinematic beauty.

Kurosawa on the Script and Writing

With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece; with the same script a mediocre director can make a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. That is what makes a real movie. The script must be something that has the power to do this.

In order to write scripts, you must first study the great novels and dramas of the world. You must consider why they are great. Where does the emotion come from that you feel as you read them? What degree of passion did the author have to have, what level of meticulousness did he have to command, in order to portray the characters and events as he did? You must read thoroughly, to the point where you can grasp all these things. You must also see the great films. You must read the great screenplays and study the film theories of the great directors. If your goal is to become a film director, you must master screenwriting.

Human beings share the same common problems. A film can only be understood if it depicts these properly.

The characters in my films try to live honestly and make the most of the lives they’ve been given. I believe you must live honestly and develop your abilities to the full. People who do this are the real heroes.

Good Westerns are liked by everyone. Since humans are weak, they want to see good people and great heroes. Westerns have been done over and over again, and in the process a kind of grammar has evolved. I have learned much from this grammar of the Western.

When I start on a film I always have a number of ideas about my project. Then one of them begins to germinate, to sprout, and it is this which I take and work with. My films come from my need to say a particular thing at a particular time. The beginning of any film for me is this need to express something. It is to make it nurture and grow that I write my script – it is directing it that makes my tree blossom and bear fruit.

A good structure for a screenplay is that of the symphony, with its three or four movements and differing tempos. Or one can use the Noh play with its three-part structure: jo (introduction), ha (de­struction) and kyu (haste). If you devote yourself fully to Noh and gain something good from this, it will emerge naturally in your films.

Kurosawa Quotes on Directing

The role of a director encompasses the coaching of the actors, the cinematography, the sound recording, the art direction, the music, the editing and the dubbing and sound-mixing. Altough these can be thought of as separate occupations, I do not regard them as independent. I see them all melting together under the heading of direction

Unless you know every aspect and phase of the film-production process, you can’t be a movie director. A movie director is like a front-line commanding officer. He needs a thorough knowledge of every branch of the service, and if he doesn’t command each division, he cannot command the whole.

During the shooting of a scene the director’s eye has to catch even the minutest detail. But this does not mean glaring at the set. While the cameras are rolling, I rarely look directly at the actors, but focus my gaze somewhere else. By doing this I sense instantly when something isn’t right. Watching something does not mean fixing your gaze on it, but being aware of it in a natural way. I believe this is what the medieval Noh playwright and theorist Zeami meant by “watching with a detached gaze.”

I begin rehearsals in the actors’ dressing room. First I have them repeat their lines, and gradually proceed to the movements. But this is done with costumes and makeup on from the beginning; then we repeat everything on the set. The thoroughness of these rehearsals makes the actual shooting time very short. We don’t rehearse just the actors, but every part of every scene – the camera movements, the lighting, everything.

Although the most natural way to approach the actor with the camera is to move it at the same speed he moves, many people wait until he stops moving and then zoom in on him. I think this is very wrong. The camera should follow the actor as he moves; it should stop when he stops. If this rule is not followed, the audience will become conscious of the camera.

I have no imagination at all. I see beauty in the world and frame it correctly.

Akira Kurosawa

Working with three cameras simultaneously is not so easy as it may sound. It is extremely difficult to determine how to move them. For example, if a scene has three actors in it, all three are talking and moving about freely and naturally. In order to show how the A, B and C cameras move to cover this action, even complete picture continuity is insufficient. The three camera positions are completely different for the beginning and end of each shot, and they go through several transformations in between. As a general system, I put the A camera in the most orthodox positions, use the B camera for quick, decisive shots and the C camera as a kind of guerilla unit.

Akira Kurosawa Quotes on Editing

The most important requirement for editing is objectivity. No matter how much difficulty you had in obtaining a particular shot, the audience will never know. If it is not interesting, it simply isn’t interesting. You may have been full of enthusiasm during the filming of a particular shot, but if that enthusiasm doesn’t show on the screen, you must be objective enough to cut it.

In all my films, there’s three or maybe four minutes of real cinema.

I changed my thinking about musical accompaniment from the time Hayasaka Fumio began working with me as composer of my film scores. Up until that time film music was nothing more than accom­paniment – for a sad scene there was always sad music. This is the way most people use music, and it is ineffective. But from Drunken Angel onward, I have used light music for some key sad scenes, and my way of using music has differed from the norm – I don’t put it in where most people do. Working with Hayasaka, I began to think in terms of the counterpoint of sound and image as opposed to the union of sound and image.

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Something Like An Autobiography – Akira Kurosawa, 1983
Akira Kurosawa: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers), 2007

Akira Kurosawa Quotes Final Words

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