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Kurosawa Akira

(1910-98). Film director and scriptwriter. Born in Tokyo. He first sought success as a painter but abandoned that career, joining PCL Studios (a company that merged with others to form Tōhō Co., Ltd.) as an assistant director in 1936. In 1950, Kurosawa directed Rashomon, a story set in medieval Japan. Based on two stories by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, its plot revolves around a murder case in which four involved parties -- among them a murderer, his victim, and a witness -- present different descriptions of the crime, each of them insisting that his or her self-serving version is "the truth." With each sequence filmed to accord perfectly with its narrator's version of the facts, this chilling meditation on how human subjectivity shapes reality was awarded the grand prize at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, becoming the first Japanese film to win an international award. Subsequent films Hakuchi (1951, The Idiot) and Ikiru (1952, To Live) both exemplify Kurosawa's ongoing preoccupation with the question of how man ought to live, an issue that assumes crisis proportions for the latter film's rather ordinary protagonist, a middle-aged civil servant who learns he will die of cancer within six months. His next film, Shichinin no samurai (1954, Seven Samurai), may be the best-known Japanese film ever made. The human dimensions of the story, in which the residents of a village besieged by bandits hire seven masterless samurai to protect them, are handled with humor and moral insight, while the battle scenes are among the most exciting ever filmed. Other works include Kumonosujō (1957, Throne of Blood), Yōjimbō (1961), Akahige (1965, Red Beard), Ran (1985), Yume (1990, Dreams), and Hachigatsu no kyōshikyoku (1991, Rhapsody in August). In 1990, at the 62nd Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, Kurosawa received a special honorary Oscar for his lifetime achievements as a cinematic artist. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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