March 23: Akira Kurosawa

AkiraOn this day in 1910, one of the greatest film directors of all time, Akira Kurosawa was born. Over a 57 year career, Kurosawa directed 30 films, and greatly influenced Hollywood movie making without ever making a film in the U. S.

Most people know Kurosawa for his amazing samurai films which in many ways set the template for many American blockbusters. Any movie in which a ragtag bunch of heroes team up to fight the forces of evil owes a debt to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. George Lucas has cited The Hidden Fortress (in which a wise general must help a rebel princess, while being followed by two bumbling robots peasants) as a key influence on the first Star Wars film. Perhaps Kurosawa’s most entertaining film is Yojimbo, in which frequent Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune stars as a crafty lone samurai, trying to rid a small village of two rival criminal syndicates by pitting them against each other using only his wits and occasionally his blade. Additionally, Kurosawa made two masterful Shakespearean adaptations, Throne Of Blood (based on Macbeth) and Ran (based on King Lear). The latter is one of the most artfully filmed war movies ever made and earned Kurosawa an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, a rarity for a director of a foreign language film.

However, Kurosawa did more than just samurai epics. Many critics, including the late Roger Ebert, believe Ikiru (To Live) to be Kurosawa’s masterpiece. It’s the simple story of a government bureaucrat who discovers he has an incurable stomach cancer. While looking back on his career, he realizes that he hasn’t done anything with his life. So, he sets out to do one good deed with the rest of his life and takes up the cause of a group of mothers who want to turn a mosquito ridden cesspool into a playground. It’s a beautiful, humanistic work anchored by a stunning performance by Takashi Shimura and featuring one of cinema’s most iconic closing scenes.

On what would have been Kurosawa’s birthday, why not watch one of his many classic films and enjoy a Samurai cocktail? This citrusy cocktail comes to us from Bar 190 at London’s Gore Hotel. It’s a nice warming drink that utilizes chilled tea and sake.

Samurai

  • Half a squeezed orange
  • 1 ounce White Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Sake
  • 1/3 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 2/3 ounce Japanese mandarin tea
  • 1 dash lemon juice

Shake all ingredients together with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange zest.

Tomorrow: The great escape artist.

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