THE MOVIE BRATS SERVE THE EMPEROR
Akira Kurosawa was for decades the best-known Japanese director, and his work had a considerable impact on Western filmmakers. Seven Samurai (1954) was remade as The Magnificent Seven (1960), and Rashomon (1950) was remade as The Outrage (1964). His use of slow-motion for scenes of violence left a legacy stretching from Bonnie and Clyde (1967) to The Wild Bunch (1969) to contemporary action pictures. U. S. filmmaker Sidney Lumet called Kurosawa the Beethoven of directors.
In the 1970s, however, Kurosawa fell on hard times. The Japanese industry was in a slump, and studios didn't want to work with such a stubborn and expensive artist. But among the new Hollywood generation of the era, Kurosawa was a god. George Lucas's Star Wars (1977) based its robot couple on two cowardly commoners in The Hidden Fortress (1958). Francis Ford Coppola was equally admiring.
At the height of their fame, Coppola and Lucas teamed up to support Kurosawa's plan for an epic film. Lucas, fresh from Star Wars, persuaded Twentieth Century-Fox and the Japanese firm Toho to finance Kagemusha ("The Shadow Warrior," 1980). Coppola joined as co-executive producer, also appearing with Kurosawa in a series of whisky commercials on Japanese television. Kagemusha went on to win worldwide commercial success and festival prizes. Reestablished as a major director, Kurosawa turned to a project he had nursed for many years, a Japanese version of King Lear to be called Ran ("Chaos," 1985).
For Dreams (1990), Kurosawa again could not find a Japanese studio to back him. This time Steven Spielberg came to the rescue, inducing Warner Bros. to buy the finished film for distribution. Lucas's firm, Industrial Light & Magic, provided the dazzling, stylized optical effects. And, perhaps as a tribute to the younger generation that had revived his career, Kurosawa cast Martin Scorsese as painter Vincent van Gogh.
The alliance of the Movie Brats with "the Emperor," as Kurosawa was known in Japan, encapsulates several currents of film history. Like other postwar auteurs (Chapter 19), he had to face the changed conditions of the 1970s, when most major films outside the U. S. had to find international funding. Coproductions were now the name of the game. Moreover, Kurosawa's prominence made him a prime candidate for backing; less famous Asian directors would not have attracted the interest of Americans. There were more specific factors at work as well. Hollywood directors of the studio era had been largely unaware of Asian filmmaking, but the young men of the 1970s had a passion for international cinema that was nourished by the postwar festivals, arthouse theaters, and film journals. That same cultural climate made it thinkable that American studios might back films like Kagemusha and Dreams. In addition, the rise of the blockbuster in the 1970s gave Coppola, Spielberg, and Lucas a degree of power within the studio system that very few American directors had ever enjoyed.
Perhaps as well there were unexpected affinities between the Emperor and the Brats. Asked which of his American admirers films he most admired, he replied with a grin, "I liked Star Wars."
For a detailed account of Kurosawa's relation to younger American directors, see Stuart Galbraith IV's The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune (New York: Faber, 2001). The quotation from Kurosawa comes from p. 557.
A NEW WAVE OF ARCHIVES
In the West, the first film archives were founded in the 1930s and 1940s. In Asia, mainland China established an archive in 1958, India did in 1964, and Japan did in 1969. As other film cultures in the region gained prominence, and as their economies became more prosperous, they too started to conserve their cinematic legacies. The period discussed in this chapter saw a great growth in archives in Asia and Oceania. Archives sprang up in South Korea (1974), Indonesia (1975), Taiwan (1979), Vietnam (1979), Thailand (1980s), New Zealand (1981), Hong Kong (1993), the Philippines (1994), and Singapore (2005). Australia's collecting agency, dating back to 1935, was reorganized substantially in 1985.
Many of these archives were underfunded, but they rescued thousands of films—over 7000 in Hong Kong, over 14,000 in Taiwan. Yet all archives do more than find and conserve films. They typically run screening programs, publish documentation, and energize local film culture. In this region particularly, which produced films that were largely unknown in the rest of the world, it was important to lay the foundations of national film traditions. Thus catalogues that documented domestic output were urgently needed. A remarkable example is the Hong Kong Filmography, published by the archive from 1997 onward, which provides production and release information for every Hong Kong film made.
Regional archives have recorded oral histories, collected artifacts, established databases, and traced the history of local theatres. Some have made films available in video copies. The Korean archive has published a handsome DVD series of rare classics. The expansion of the Internet allowed these archives to provide documents and video extracts online. At the Australian site (australianscreen.com.au), one can watch clips ranging from the 1906 Story of the Kelly Gang (Film History: An Introduction, p. 41) to 2001's Moulin Rouge! By 2000, even comparatively small producing nations were acutely conscious of the value of their film output. In tandem with the emergence of consumer video formats, the emergence of ambitious young archives after the 1970s helped sensitize historians, and general audiences, to the vast variety of the world's filmmaking.