Essential Kurosawa: Selected by David Stratton

Sydney Film Festival in association with ACMI, the National Film and Sound Archive and The Japan Foundation present Essential Kurosawa: Selected by David Stratton. 

Sydney Film Festival 2017 will feature a retrospective of ten of the finest films made by one of cinema’s great directors, Akira Kurosawa. A master of action, Kurosawa was influenced by directors like John Ford and in turn influenced a younger generation of filmmakers, like George Lucas and Martin Scorsese.

“I want to make westerns like Akira Kurosawa makes westerns.” – Sam Peckinpah 

During the ‘golden era’ of Japanese cinema, Akira Kurosawa was by far the best-known Japanese director internationally. His films were not only accessible, they were marvellously executed. He made no secret of his love of Hollywood cinema, especially the work of John Ford, but his lyrical, dazzling, breathtaking style in turn influenced a younger generation of Americans – Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese among them. But he was also a great humanist, and his films explore the problems and concerns of ‘ordinary’ people as much as they do the exploits of the warriors for which he is so celebrated.
Akira Kurosawa
He was born in Tokyo in 1910, the son of an aristocratic father whose family had been samurai (warriors). As a young man, he became interested in art and studied painting, but he was drawn to cinema and joined the Toho Company in the mid-1930s. He wrote several scripts and assisted on the films of Toho contract directors before he made his first film, the two-part Judo Saga in 1943. Already his dynamic yet painterly style was in evidence. For the next seven years he made a series of films with contemporary settings, but it was the screening of the 15th Century drama, Rashomon, at the Venice Film Festival in 1951 that brought him, and Japanese cinema in general, to world attention.

Two of the actors from Rashomon had already featured in earlier Kurosawa films and would be given key roles in many more to come. Toshiro Mifune, one of the cinema’s most physical actors, who was capable of bringing an almost balletic style to his action scenes, played the bandit, while Takashi Shimura, as the woodcutter, was an actor with a wonderfully calm, introspective presence. Shimura would portray the dying bureaucrat in Living and the leader of the Seven in Seven Samurai, demonstrating remarkable versatility. Mifune, until he quarrelled with Kurosawa during the making of Red Beard, played the leading role in almost all the director’s films of this period.

Given the international acclaim and commercial success of so many of the director’s films it still seems astonishing that he was only able to make two features during the 1970s. The first was his personal production, Dodeska-den (1970), his first fi lm in colour – and its failure at the box-office led to a period of ill-health and depression, followed by an attempt at suicide.

This is why Kurosawa was unable to attend the retrospective of his films that was held during the 1971 Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals in conjunction with the Australian premiere of Dodeska-den. He subsequently made Dersu Uzala (1975), a film produced by the Soviet Union on location in Siberia. During the 1980s, Kurosawa made two expensive and lavish epics – Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985) – with the help of foreign producers.

The best of Kurosawa’s films possess a grandeur combined with a common touch. No-one filmed action scenes like he did – his use of multiple camera, long lenses and intricate editing combined to make these sequences unforgettable. And who else ever filmed rain in the same way Kurosawa did? The elements play a key role in his work, alongside his extraordinary actors and the sheer brilliance of his eye behind the camera.

Welcome to this exciting retrospective of ten of this great director’s finest films.

David Stratton , Guest ProgrammerDavid Stratton headshot

Film critic, lecturer and author David Stratton AM is a former director of Sydney Film Festival and former host of ABC TV’s At the Movies. He is a recipient of the Raymond Longford Award and was named Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He has served on the juries in Venice and Berlin and as President of the FIPRESCI (International Film Critics) jury in Cannes.



Please note that the discount package for all ten films has now sold out but individual tickets can still be purchased to available sessions. 

Presented by

 Japan Foundation logo Creative Victoria ACMI logo      National Film and Sound Archive of Australia logo

Mifune: The Last Samurai

A documentary portrait of Kurosawa's muse, Toshiro Mifune, who reinvented the modern movie samurai hero. Narrated by Keanu Reeves.


An innovative murder mystery that explores the subjective nature of truth. Toshiro Mifune plays a bandit accused of murdering a samurai and raping his wife – but what actually happened?

Seven Samurai

Farmers from a remote village, who are regularly attacked and robbed by bandits, seek help from seven warriors in this celebrated action epic.


A middle-aged bureaucrat discovers he has terminal cancer and determines to do something useful with the remainder of his life. Kurosawa's most humanistic and ironic film.

The Throne of Blood

'Macbeth' is brilliantly re-invented with elements of Noh theatre incorporated into the drama. A great screen adaptation of Shakespeare - beautiful and ominous.

The Hidden Fortress

The widescreen adventure that inspired Star Wars features a princess on the run from her enemies and the brave warrior who comes to her aid.


Toshiro Mifune is the fastest sword in the East in an exciting and entertaining film that inspired Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars.

High and Low

An Ed McBain thriller (King's Ransom) is transformed into an epic moral tale in which a man is faced with a terrible dilemma when his son is kidnapped.

Red Beard

A young doctor becomes intern at a public clinic and learns life lessons from the title character, a man who believes in personal sacrifice for the common good.


At the time, the most expensive Japanese film ever made, this epic unfolds during a period of clan warfare and questions the very nature of power.


Kurosawa’s last great epic is a re-working of ‘King Lear’ with sons replacing the original’s daughters. The battle scenes are magnificently staged with impressive use of colour.