Tuesday, 18 May 2010

KUROSAWA Remakes: they aren't all bad...

The news that Chris Rock is re-writing Akira Kurosawa's 'High and Low' (one of my favourite movies of all-time) for Mike Nichols to direct, has made me think about remakes. Usually, and probably rightly, remakes are dismissed as rubbish before they have even been released. There is this idea that they are terrible movies by default: that no movie should ever be remade at all. I wish to refute that logic here and now, looking specifically at remakes of Kurosawa films, which generally seem to be quite good...

Remade at the hands of John Sturges and starring Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner (among others), Kurosawa's 'The Seven Samurai' (1954) became 'The Magnificent Seven' in 1960.

Kurosawa would again see one of his finest Samurai pictures turned into a western, when 'Yojimbo' (1961) was unofficially (but blatantly) remade by Sergio Leone a few years later as 'A Fistful of Dollars' in 1964. Some scenes are shot-for-shot reproductions of those from the earlier movie, with the long "three coffins" tracking shot through the town virtually identical in both. Clint Eastwood has also admitted that he heavily based his depiction of the "the man with no name" on Toshiro Mifune's.

It is often said that Kurosawa's 'The Hidden Fortress' (1958) was the main source of inspiration for George Lucas' first 'Star Wars' film in 1977. Lucas has said that the two comedy-relief peasants from the Japanese film were the direct inspiration for R2-D2 and C3P0, as he liked the fact the narrative seemed to be told from the point of view of the lowliest characters. There is also a Princess in peril who the band of heroes must rescue and add to that Toshiro Mifune as 'the General', who is very much a model for Han Solo (an antagonistic rouge with a good heart who wins the Princess with whom he argues - although Lucas tried to cast Mifune as Obi-Wan Kenobi). From a technical point of view, Lucas also borrowed Kurosawa's use of screen wipes and the horse chase sequence seems to have been an inspiration for the speeder bike sequence in the later 'Star Wars' sequel: 'Return of the Jedi' (1983). Lucas' love of Kurosawa movies was made even clearer in 1980, when he and Francis Ford Coppola helped the Japanese master fund his epic 'Kagemusha'.

Of course, there have been some less good ones too...

In 1996 'Last Man Standing', starring Bruce Willis, was a direct remake of 'Yojimbo' which fared rather less well than Leone's:

Many films have been inspired by Kurosawa's 1950 film 'Rashomon', with the so-called 'Rashomon effect' being when the same story is told from multiple, changing points of view, shedding new light on an event. However, one film, 1964's 'The Outrage'
(starring Paul Newman as a Mexican bandit, no less)...

Here is how all that should have looked:


  1. You forgot to mention A Bugs Life! :P I agree though, some remakes of Kurosawa's works have been great and I'm not generally against remakes at all (it's more prequels and unnecessary sequels that piss me off). Some notable remakes which pwned:

    The Thing
    Red Dragon
    Vanilla Sky
    Dawn of the Dead
    Funny Games
    King Kong
    The Hills Have Eyes
    The Fly
    Night of the Living Dead
    Cape Fear

  2. Good shout on 'The Fly' and 'The Thing'!