The great Akira Kurosawa, who passed away in 1998, is one of the few Japanese filmmakers to become famous in the west. His credits include Seven Samurai (1954), Kagemusha (1980), and The Hidden Fortress (1958).
1. Yojimbo / The Bodyguard
As a free-roaming samurai enters a desolate town overrun by horrible criminals, the whistling wind blows tumbleweed-like elements along deserted streets. Nobody dares leave their house. A dog runs down the street, its jaws clenching a severed human hand. This movie is less than two hours long, but it feels like you’ve watched it for an eternity. The next film Kurosawa directed in Japan was 15 years later.
2. No Regrets for Our Youth (1946)
This is a balanced, smart drama inspired by several real-life stories. In it, wavering ideologies are offset by human relationships in Japan’s pre-WWII years. It tells the tale of Yukie, the daughter of a law professor who loses his job at Kyoto University because of his anti-fascist and anti-military beliefs. She maintains relationships with two former students of his for quite some time, who are competing for her attention. Ultimately, she marries one of them; he’s later arrested for anti-government actions and drops out of sight.
This movie counts as Kurosawa’s only portrayal of a believable female character and his most overtly political work.
3. Rashomon (1950)
In 1951, this film won the Golden Lion Award in Venice, making the director famous outside Japan. It introduced a generation of postwar audiences to the intricacies of Japanese cinema. The film also introduced the concept of a narrator who is not as reliable as he believes, with contradictory accounts of a terrible crime committed against a samurai’s wife.
4. Scandal (1950)
This entertaining social drama tells the story of a celebrity caught with a famous singer by the paparazzi, who later proceeds to drag him through the press. He won’t accept defeat and threatens to have the magazine’s editor sued.
5. Seven Samurai (1954)
This frighteningly influential magnum opus portrays a group of unemployed samurai that is ultimately hired by some farmers to protect their community from a gang of bandits. This was the most expensive Japanese film at that time in history. It featured all the elements that later came to be associated with this director’s name: farmer training, recruitment of the samurai, and the fortification of the village.