He brought painting to the cinema like no other director.
By Philip Brubaker @lens_itself Akira Kurosawa’s first color film was in the traditional Academy aspect ratio, despite that being an outdated format in 1970. His previous films were in TohoScope, a truly cinematic format unique to movies. After spreading his compositions wide across an anamorphic screen for 1965’s Red Beard, Kurosawa chose a conservative near-square format for Dodes'ka-den. The aspect ratio resembles that of a painter’s canvas, and the film is nothing if not painterly. After making twenty-four films in stark black and white, Kurosawa decided to explore the world of color on film. He received training as a painter before venturing into the cinema, and his later works would benefit from his keen intuition about hues and their impact on the eyes and mind. By the time of Ran, the fourth color film he directed, Kurosawa had mastered the color palette for film. He'd painted every frame of the film ten years earlier, and when his eyesight failed him on location, his cinematographers needed only look at his paintings to depict his vision. The four films collected here are treasures of cinematic beauty and some of the most breath-taking examples of color film in movie history. The films I did not include in my video essay are the other, lesser-known color films in the canon of Akira Kurosawa. They include my favorite Kurosawa film of all time, Dersu Uzala, a visually beautiful film that makes gorgeous use of natural light and autumn foliage. Despite my love for the film, and it being one of seven feature films directed by the master in color, I omitted it from consideration for this video essay. I chose to do so because the film is in dire need of remastering (are you listening, Criterion?) and it’s impossible to tell how deliberate Kurosawa’s color choices were when watching the foggy and washed-out version that circulates today. Also, it's not in the same category as Dodes'ka-den, Kagemusha, Ran, and Dreams, which all make very stylized and expressionistic use of color. Kurosawa’s two final films, Rhapsody in August and Madadayo are also omitted here, as they employ an almost completely naturalistic color palette and would not fit into a comparative video essay about the aforementioned four films.