Wednesday 5 August 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 9 - Samurais in Space

Image result for lucas and kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa and George Lucas
If you remember my brief rundown of some of the early influences on George Lucas, you may remember that one of my selections was Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Hidden Fortress’ that acted as a key influence for ‘Star Wars’. Of course, if you look at the whole Kurosawa culture, his influence stretches far beyond one film, and there may be more distinct reasons for one filmmaker having such a profound effect on the other.
Let’s take trip back in time, to 1920s Japan when a schoolteacher decides to omit his son from the Japanese films that were available and instead takes him to American Westerns and silent movies. Of course, back then foreign films would be brought over rather than officially distributed, and therefore lacked translation and as a result Japanese cinemas came with a narrator (called a Benshi). At the time the son’s older brother was a Benshi, resulting in an early appreciation of cinema.
Then in 1940, the son enters the film industry and writes an essay that exenterates the Japanese film industry from a western outlook. This gains him some recognition and eventually he works his way up to working as a director. But by now Japan is at war with the west, so any evident western influences are, shall we say, frowned upon, with prison sentences and bullets. So this director can’t make the films he wants and instead makes some propaganda films to try and scrape a living and hope that eventually he can make his passion project. When he is finally ready to make his own films, Japan loses the war, typical. America is now keeping a close eye on Japan so now the director’s pretty much back at square one and is artistically limited by the political climate.
America themselves are doing pretty well. Hollywood is in its golden age as every studio is vertically integrated meaning that they control the production, distribution and exhibition of every movie. So the next time your film snob friend starts prattling on about the golden age, remind them that this ‘golden age’ was a tyrannical monopoly. The US Courts thought the same thing as in 1948 vertical integration came to an end. Things only got worse as now that the war was over and the economy was recovering people moved into the suburbs and filled their houses with television that eliminated the need for them to drive to movie theatres.
Back in Japan censorship has been lifted so now studios can finally make the films they want to. Directors like our old friend (if you haven’t guessed who the mystery Japanese director was by now) Akira Kurosawa start to flourish. Akira’s career takes off following his 1950 period piece ‘Rashomon’. Most American studios don’t want to hear about it (or see it, because it’s a film) but when it’s entered at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, it wins it. Now everyone’s paying attention to Japanese cinema and in particular, what Kurosawa will do next. What he does do next is several other masterpieces such as ‘Throne of Blood’, ‘Seven Samurai’ and ‘The Hidden Fortress’ which is about two peasants that stumble across secret plans to aid a rebel force, a captured princess and an ageing warrior… this sounds familiar right.
In Hollywood studios are recovering but know that if they want to avoid another catastrophe they have to think outside the box and bring in a new perspective to attract audiences, they need new filmmakers. Meanwhile an aspiring race car driver called George gets into a near fatal motor accident. He gives up on cars and instead get into films. Eventually he discovers the work of Akira Kurosawa and because they both loved the same westerns and silent films Akira’s films have a special appeal to George Lucas.
As I said before Hollywood wanted something new so they went straight to the youngest and craziest filmmakers they had at the time. The four biggest players now were Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Hollywood gave them a chance and they delivered as Coppola makes ‘The Godfather’ (which becomes the highest grossing film of all time), Scorsese makes ‘Taxi Driver’, Spielberg makes ‘Jaws’ (which takes over from ‘The Godfather’ as the highest grossing film of all time)and Lucas… he starts rambling about some sort of space concept.
But studios trust him, and he starts writing, using Akira as inspiration. He takes samurai armour and turns it into Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers, models his Jedi masters after aged Samurai mentors, the Cantina scene in ‘A New Hope’ is based on a scene from another Kurosawa classic ‘Yojimbo’. Then take a look at one of the Imperial officers in ‘A New Hope’ he states that the Rebels are in some kind of HIDDEN FORTRESS, before he is choked by Vader. The two bickering peasants from ‘Hidden Fortress’ are turned into bickering droids C3-P0 and R2-D2 and even the classic ‘Star Wars’ scene transition style is from Kurosawa. When ‘Star wars is released, guess what? It takes over from ‘Jaws’ to become the highest grossing film of all time.
This is not a criticism of Lucas, homage has been a part of art since the beginning of time. The point of this is that this massive post is set to describe just ONE influence from the several listed in Part 6, this only scrapes the surface of the inexplicable artistic pileup that is ‘Star Wars’.

Those are more ramblings on ‘Star Wars’, leave some of yours in the comment section below, please recommend this blog on google with the icon at the top, find me on Twitter with @JoshuaPrice97. Thanks and bye.    

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