The first Japanese film director to be known worldwide, Akira Kurosawa was an artist and an intellectual. Whereas other well-known Japanese filmmakers such as Ozu and Mizoguchi focus on human relations and nature, Kurosawa's more stylistic approach often encompasses exquisite action and battle scenes as well as capturing humanity. Known as the Emperor on set for his dictatorial directorial style, Kurosawa was a perfectionist who went to pain staking lengths to achieve his desired visual effect. In Ran, an entire castle set was constructed on the slopes of Mt. Fuji only to be burned to the ground in a climactic scene. Other stories include demanding a stream be made to run in the opposite direction, and having the roof of a house removed, later to be replaced, because he felt the its presence to be unattractive in a short sequence filmed from a train.
Rare indeed is the 'best films ever' list that doesn't include Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai somewhere in its top 10; rarer still the 'best films ever' list that doesn't include a half dozen additional films by Akira Kurosawa. In fact over 6 decades, Kurosawa made 30 outstanding films.
Whether it's The Hidden Fortress (said to have been an influence on the original Star Wars trilogy), Throne of Blood (Kurosawa's masterful rewriting of Shakespeare's Macbeth, precursor to Kurosawa's equally masterful rewriting of King Lear with Ran), Rashomon (which bagged him his first international award - the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951), Yojimbo (which formed the basis of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns), Ikiru (author Kasuo Ishiguro's favourite film and arguably the closest Kurosawa gets to fashioning his own It's a Wonderful Life) or Red Beard (a medical drama that featured Kurosawa's last collaboration with his long-time alter ego, Toshiro Mifune), each film is an undoubted masterpiece. Few people actively disagree.
More interesting, though, is what happens when you dig below the surface of the 'golden age' Kurosawa. There are other treasures out there: Sanshiro Sugata, for example, an early 'action' Kurosawa that shows off the talents that will later come to fruition in Yojimbo; High & Low, Kurosawa's genius adaptation of – of all things – an Ed McBain novella; The Idiot, Kurosawa's adaptation of Dostoevsky and Dersu Uzala, the film he made in Russia with Russian finance when his native Japan turned its back on him; and, of course, there is Kagemusha, his late-period war epic, which shared the 1980 Palme D'or with Bob Fosse's All That Jazz.
There are few directors you would be recommended to see everything by; Kurosawa is one of the exceptions. Although there are undoubtedly lesser Kurosawa's (No Regrets for our Youth, for example, or Dreams), the gold far outweighs the silver and, in these credit crunching times, we all know that gold is just about the only thing that isn't losing any value.