Welcome to our third installment of our series discussing Japanese influence in the world of Star Wars! If you missed our previous posts, head on over to our brief discussion on the Japanese design elements with Padmé Amidala as well Japanese influence on the creation of the Jedi.
Today, we'll be discussing, at a high-level, the impact of the world-renowned Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, on the galaxy of Star Wars. If you've already watched any of the "Disney Gallery: Star Wars: The Mandalorian" behind the scenes episodes on Disney+, you certainly heard the name "Kurosawa" dropped many times by creator/director Jon Favreau, so let's dive a little more into Kurosawa and his inedible impact on Star Wars.
Who was Akira Kurosawa?
Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) was a Japanese filmmaker who directed 30 films across his 57 year career, beginning in 1936. He began his work as a painter, attending art school where it learned to paint in a more "Western" style versus a more traditional Japanese style. While he was a talented painter, he gave up this path and instead took a position as an assistant director.
It was in 1943 that he was promoted to director and created his first film, "Sanshiro Sugata." After World War II and the surrender of Japan, Kurosawa's films criticized Japan's militarism and focused on characters dealing with post-war Japan.
The films that made Kurosawa the most famous across the world were those that focused on samurai (see our post here discussing the link between samurai and the Jedi) such as 1958's "The Hidden Fortress" (Kakushi toride no san akunin), 1962's "Sanjuro" (Tsubaki Sanjuro), and 1961's "Yojimbo." These films have become an enduring part of Kurosawa's legacy due to his ability to combine "elements of Japanese art - in the subtlety of their feeling and philosophy, the brilliance of their visual composition, and their treatment of samurai and other historic Japanese themes - with a distinctly Western feeling for action and drama" (source).
How did the works of Kurosawa impact Star Wars?
While much of Star Wars was and is highly original, it naturally still borrows from the movies and literature that came before it. The film that many look to as having some of the most influence on Star Wars is "The Hidden Fortress."
"The Hidden Fortress" tells the story of two peasants who agree to escort a man and woman across enemy lines in return for gold without knowing that the man they're escorting is a general and the woman is a princess (sound a bit familiar already?). The film opens with the two peasants trying to escape the war, a war in which they believe they have no part in (C3P0 and R2-D2, anyone?), with the rest of the film generally told from the perspective of these two "lowly characters." George Lucas has explicitly stated how heavily influenced he was by "The Hidden Fortress," in particular using lower characters to set the story's perspective.
Beyond the similarity in the general storyline between the two films, influence was clearly taken from the general ways in which the films (in this case, "A New Hope") were shot. If you watch the video below, you can see some direct comparisons between the two films. Notice the use of the shot "wipes" between scenes, the similarity in how some movements are tracked (especially with C3P0 and R2-D2), and how some of the shots were ordered.
Today, Star Wars is still heavily impacted by the career of Kurosawa. As mentioned earlier, "The Mandalorian" draws from his influence which is especially highlighted in Chapters 4 and Chapter 13, "The Jedi." So many of the shots have the same feeling and aesthetic of Kurosawa's samurai-focused films, especially with the fight between Ahsoka Tano and The Magistrate in Chapter 13. Chapter 4 almost plays out like the movie "Seven Samurai."
The video below highlights some of the inspiration (along with other homages paid) within the series for Season 2 - we suggest watching this quick video!
Obviously with this analysis, we aren't saying George Lucas or any other Star Wars creator stole from Akira Kurosawa. Instead, Kurosawa's reach within the filmmaking business has been so far-reaching that so many films and TV shows have drawn inspiration from his work. We feel this inspiration has been a credit to the Star Wars galaxy and helped create the long-lasting legacy that the films, TV shows, and books have had since 1977.
We hope this gave you a little taste of Japanese influence within Star Wars! We'll be covering more aspects leading up to the release of "Visions," ending this series on September 21.