Japan 360: The Films of Kurosawa Akira

Professor Ted Mack
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 1:30-2:50 PAR 106

Many famous directors have acknowledged Kurosawa Akira's influence on them. Francis Ford Coppola: "One thing that distinguishes [him] is that he didn't make one masterpiece or two masterpieces. He made, you know, eight masterpieces." Steven Spielberg: "I have learned more from him than from almost any other filmmaker on the face of the earth." Martin Scorcese: "Let me say it simply: Akira Kurosawa was my master, and... the master of so many other filmmakers over the years." We will watch 13 films by the director, including "Seven Samurai" (1954), which is his best known work. His films, made between 1943 and 1993, reflect on (among other things) the ethical options available to individuals amid a world that either already is, or threatens to become, dystopic.

Though the unifying focus of the course is Kurosawa as a director, we will also dedicate time to various actors who appear repeatedly in his films (or were otherwise significant), including: Chiaki Minoru, Fujita Susumu, Fujiwara Kamatari, Hara Setsuko, Kagawa Kyôko, Katô Daisuke, Kimura Isao, Kôdô Kokuten, Mori Masayuki, Mifune Toshirô, Miyaguchi Seiji, Miyoshi Eiko, Nakadai Tatsuya, Nakamura Nobuo, Ryû Chishû, Sengoku Noriko, Shimizu Masao, Shimura Takashi, Sugimura Haruko, Tokoro George, Tôno Eijirô, and Yamada Isuzu.

As we go through this "auteur" survey, we will also be reading criticism written about the films. Our central text will be Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto's book from 2000, Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema (Duke University Press). This text will provide the basis for our discussion not only of the films themselves, but also of the various presumptions we bring to our viewing of the films (including an emphasis on Kurosawa Akira as an auteur.) The goal will be to come to a better understanding of these films specifically, and the way we view "Japanese" (or even "foreign") films in general. Alongside Yoshimoto's book, we will also read selections from other texts on Kurosawa, including Stephen Prince's The Warrior's Camera (Princeton, 1991 and 1999) and Donald Richie's The Films of Akira Kurosawa (California, 1965, 1984, and 1996). Although these last two titles will be available on reserve in the East Asia Library, I recommend you consider buying your own copies.

Students are expected to watch the films and complete the readings on their own prior to class discussion.

All but one* of the films you will be responsible for are available through Hulu Plus, which is a for-profit website that is not affiliated with the University of Washington. *"Ran" is currently streaming on both Netflix and for Amazon Prime members. Again, these are for-profit websites that are not affiliated with the University of Washington. Both have free trial periods. All films are also held by the Media Center in Odegaard Library.

Japan 360 may be acceptable for the national cinema requirement for the Cinema Studies degree in the Department of Comparative Literature. Please contact that department for more information.

The following assignments and schedule are tentative and subject to change.



September 24 Introduction  
Discuss "The Most Beautiful" (1944; 85 min.)
Discuss Richie 26-29, Prince 54-55, and Yoshimoto 81-88.
October 1 Discuss "Drunken Angel" (1948; 98 min.)

Discuss Richie 47-53, Prince 78-90, and Yoshimoto 138-39.

Optional: McDonald 33-48.

Discuss "Rashomon" (1950; 83 min.)
8 Discuss Richie 70-80, Prince 127-35, and Yoshimoto 182-89.
Discuss "Ikiru" (1952; 134 min.)
12 Discuss Richie 86-96, Prince 100-13, and Yoshimoto 194-204.
15 Discuss "Seven Samurai" (1954; 184 min.)
Discuss Richie 97-108, Prince 200-19, and Yoshimoto 205-45.
19 Discuss "I Live in Fear" (1955; 113 min.)

Discuss Richie 109-14, Prince 155-70, and Yoshimoto 246-49,

Optional: Shapiro 251-306.

Discuss "The Hidden Fortress" (1958; 139 min.)
Discuss Richie 134-39, Prince 351-53, and Yoshimoto 272-73.
29 Review  
Midterm Examination  
November 2
Discuss "The Bad Sleep Well" (1960; 151 min.)
5 Discuss Richie 140-46, Prince 170-87, and Yoshimoto 274-88.
Discuss "Yojimbo" (1961; 110 min.)
9 Discuss Richie 147-55, Prince 220-33, and Yoshimoto 289-92.
12 NO CLASS: Veteran's Day  
Discuss "Sanjuro" (1962; 96 min.)

Discuss Richie 156-62, Prince 233-49, and Yoshimoto 293-302.

Optional: Desser 54-65.

19 Discuss "High and Low" (1963; 143 min.)
Discuss Richie 163-70, Prince 188-99, and Yoshimoto 303-31.
NO CLASS: Thanksgiving  
26 Discuss "Ran" (1985; 160 min.)*
28 Discuss Richie 214-19, Prince 282-91, and Yoshimoto 355-58.


Discuss "Madadayo" (1993; 134 min.)
December 3 Discuss Richie 227-28, Prince 329-39, and Yoshimoto 372-74.
5 Extra day (if necessary)  


Review (Test preparation sheet is available here.)  
10 Final Exam: Monday, December 10, 2:30-4:20, PAR 106  




Some of the readings will be available as PDF files to students in the class through links in the syllabus above; others can be found in the following required text:

Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema (Duke University Press, 2000).

The following texts are recommended:

Stephen Prince, The Warrior's Camera, revised edition (Princeton University Press, 1999).

Donald Richie, The Films of Akira Kurosawa, expanded and updated edition with new epilogue (University of California Press, 1998).

The Criterion Collection has valuable information about Kurosawa on their website.

Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (Off-campus link)
The online guide contains more than 240 alphabetically arranged entries on critics and theorists, critical schools and movements, and the critical and theoretical innovations of specific countries and historical periods.

Additional resources:


PARTICIPATION: Participation in classroom discussions is central to successful performance in the class. We will dedicate two class sessions to each film. The first of these sessions will be a student-centered discussion of the film, led by pre-selected student instructors. The second of these sessions will focus on one or more readings on the film in question.

GRADING: Grades will be determined through a combination of the student's preparation for and participation in classroom discussions (50%), their leading of a film discussion (10%), a midterm examination (20%), and a final examination (20%).

STUDY GROUPS: I encourage students to meet outside of class to discuss the films and problems they have encountered in interpreting them.

CHEATING AND PLAGIARISM: The presentation of another's words and ideas as one's own is a serious offense; violations will be dealt with according to the University codes of conduct, which stipulate sanctions up to and including expulsion.

ACADEMIC ACCOMMODATIONS: I will do everything I can to accommodate students with particular needs. To request such an accommodation, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY). If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating that you require such accommodation, we can discuss ways to meet those needs.

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