THIS THE FIRST DOCUMENTARY YOU'VE MADE?
No - I made a short documentary for BBC2 about
the Kennedy assassination which played on "Moving Pictures" when the JFK film came
out. And I shot documentary footage of Salvadorian guerrillas
who had had limbs blown off by land mines and had sought sanctuary
in San Salvador's cathedral.
WHAT'S THAT DOCUMENTARY CALLED?
I don't know. I shot all this footage of the guys in the
cathedral, talking about their experiences, arm-wrestling with
their stumps, sleeping and keeping watch - the place was ringed
by cops and army troops. This was before the peace agreement
between the guerrillas and the government. The guerrilla
wounded had occupied the cathedral to draw attention to their status
as war-wounded: who are, under the terms of the Geneva Convention,
to be allowed to leave a war zone unmolested in order to seek medical
AND DID THEY?
Yes. After a few weeks they were allowed to leave El Salvador
for Cuba, where they were treated, and I, think went to work in
a prosthetic limb factory. A number of Europeans and Americans
stayed with them while they were in the cathedral, in the hope
of deterring the government or the American embassy from ordering
another massacre - this is the same cathedral where Archbishop
Romero had been murdered only a few years before. It was
a very interesting subject. I gave all the footage
to the FMLN before I left, and I never saw what - if anything -
they made of it.
So KUROSAWA is the third documentary I've
been involved in, and also the longest.
WHY DID YOU MAKE A FILM ABOUT KUROSAWA?
Because he is my maestro. Buñuel and Kurosawa
are the greatest of directors, for me. Buñuel for
his sense of humour and his stories, Kurosawa for his technical
mastery and epic despair. (Tod Davies - who produced the
film for Exterminating Angel - and Andrei Konchalovsky - who directed
Kurosawa's script RUNAWAY TRAIN - would say that his most
important theme is that you can have no freedom without individuals
and individual responsibility.) No one but him could
have made RAN, or SEVEN SAMURAI, or IKIRU -- or MADADAYO, his last
film, which has been generally disparaged or misunderstood. I
wanted to make a documentary about him for many years - just as
an excuse to meet him, really. But it wasn't until he died
that we found a sympathetic ear at Channel 4 and were able to go
to Japan and interview some of his family and associates...
WHO'S IN IT?
His daughter, Kasuko Kurosawa, his childhood
friend Senkichi Taniguchi, his "script woman" Teruyo Nogami, his producers Masato
Hara and Yoichi Matsue, his friend and biographer Donald Richie,
one of his cameramen, several actors - including Tatsuya Nakadai,
the "Japanese Olivier" who was in RAN, and KAGEMUSHA
and played the rock-n-roll samurai in YOJIMBO.
There's a selection of directors
who talk about Kurosawa's influence on their work - John
Woo, Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Coppola, Paul Verhoeven, Arturo
Ripstein, Andrei Konchalovsky... plus the inimitable Mike Hodges,
who was young Kurosawa's fencing teacher in turn-of-the-century
And there are sections on TORA TORA TORA,
the film he didn't make; on the making of AME AGARU (one of his
last screenplays) by his former collaborators; and on MADADAYO
- his last film, the story of an intensely tedious and sentimental
IF IT'S INTENSELY TEDIOUS HOW CAN IT BE GOOD?
I didn't say it was intensely tedious, I
said the central character was. He's called Hyakken Uchida, a real person brilliantly
played by the actor Tatsuo Matsumura. Uchida was a writer
of books which were allegedly universally popular. In
the film he's an appalling old man whose wife treats him like a
big baby, but who is held in manic, astonished reverence by his
Kurosawa depicts him as a pointless character,
writing sentimental books about stray cats who come to stay,
weeping unconsolably when one of his damned pussies gets lost,
constantly attending elaborate parties and roasts in his inestimable
honour. Uchida is as
deluded and foolish as the King Lear character in RAN -- perhaps
the way Kurosawa felt himself in later years, flying to film festivals
around the globe, attending banquets in his honour, hailed
like royalty, at the same time disliking mobs of any kind and possessed
of an extreme cynicism and ironic distance.
Kurosawa films and choreographs MADADAYO's
party scenes like battles - endless stylized movement, switches
of direction, a uniformity of grey suits sweeping past.
It probably says more to a Japanese audience; in the way the Second
World War takes place off screen without comment; in the gradual
appearance of American street scenes; in Uchida's and his students'
relentless enthusiasms as they drift into a miasma of forgetfulness...
Kurosawa's films were often said to be "western" in
style; sometimes they were more popular internationally than
in Japan. MADADAYO seems to me very important, in the
canon of RAN. It's unfortunate that it was made at a time
when there is little market for "foreign language" films
in the west, and that it hasn't been distributed in the cinema
in Britain or the US. But at least in the documentary
we have at least a little taste of it.
DO YOU SHOW MUCH OF "MADADAYO"?
Are you kidding? KUROSAWA - THE LAST EMPEROR is fifty minutes
long! We're making the mini-bio of one of the world's greatest
filmmakers, who lived to be 88 years old, and made maybe a dozen
classic films. No, there are just three extracts from MADADAYO:
part of the mad militarist dance number, and the disappearance
and subsequent lamenting of the cat.
WHAT OTHER FILMS ARE IN IT?
Paul Verhoeven does a mini-lecture about
RASHOMON, Ms. Nogami shows how they did the final "Arrows" scene in THRONE
OF BLOOD, the actors talk about SEVEN SAMURAI and RAN, Nakadai-san
discusses the creation of his character in YOJIMBO, there's IKIRU,
KAGEMUSHA, RED BEARD, RAN... I realize there's a preponderance
of samurai and period films, but that's the way it is. I
would have liked to include THE BAD SLEEP WELL and more of the
early films, and a scene from SANSHIRO SUGATA. But así es.
HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO "A.K."?
They are quite different. Chris Marker's documentary
is an epic -- a portrait of Kurosawa during the making of his most
ambitious and expensive picture. You see the Sensei director
in front of JCBs, great earth-moving machines... You
see massive sets, hundreds of extras, the Plains of Gotenba...
Ours, though it has a rather grand title,
is more about the personal. The
guide through it is his daughter, Kasuko, who is now a costume
designer. She has the first and last word. In
that way our documentary is a bit like EL PATRULLERO. As
much about the domestic life as about the other stuff. People
can be incredibly commanding in public and pathetic and cranky
at home. They can be both noble and ignoble, and at the same
time be worthy of respect. I like that dichotomy, and hope
it comes across.