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I watched my first Akira Kurosawa movie during my student days. It was ‘Rashomon‘. My college film club screened it. It was amazing. I have wanted to read Kurosawa’s memoir since then. I finally got a chance to read it.

In his autobiography, Kurosawa-San starts by describing his earliest memory. He goes on to tell us about his family, his favourite brother and sister (his family was big – he had seven siblings), his favourite aunt who looked like a person from the Meiji era, his childhood, his favourite teacher in school, his love for reading, how he got into writing and painting, some of the big events that impacted his life like the earthquake in Tokyo in 1923, how he was a left-leaning radical person for a few years and how he was part of the underground. All these form the first part of the book. In the second part, Kurosawa-San describes how he got into the film industry, and describes his time there. He describes events till the time his most famous film ‘Rashomon’ won the Golden Lion in the Venice Film Festival. The end of the book has an eight-page chapter in which Kurosawa-San shares his thoughts on filmmaking. It is an eight page education on the art of filmmaking and it is fascinating.

I loved the book very much. But I loved the first part more. Because in that part Kurosawa-San describes his family, his childhood, his teachers, and takes us to the Japan of that era. It is fascinating! Many readers would be more interested in the second part however, because of the insights it offers on filmmaking. Kurosawa-San’s prose is simple and spare. This enhances the impact of some of the moving scenes that he describes – the way his brother is protective towards him, how his favourite sister showers her love on him, the letter his favourite schoolteacher writes to him after he becomes a famous film director (I cried after I read that letter). Kurosawa-San is very frank and doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind on different things. He doesn’t hesitate to cast the same frank, critical eye on himself (In one place, while talking about his Luddite self, he says – “My son tells me that when I use the telephone it’s as if a chimpanzee were trying to place a call.” I laughed when I read that 🙂 ) It is very refreshing. One more thing I love about the book is that in many places Kurosawa-San talks about his favourite books or mentions writers in context. I discovered many Japanese writers through these passages. I am hoping to read some of them, especially Shiba Ryotaro, who has written many epic historical novels.

The book ends in 1950. Kurosawa-San made films till around 1995 – that is nearly 45 years after the events in the book end. I wish there was a second part of this book, which covers that period.

Reading the book gave me goosebumps. Here was a person, who was from a middle-class family, who didn’t go to college, who struggled with finances and who was drifting one way and then another till he was twenty-six, who learnt every aspect of filmmaking on the job – this person became one of the greatest film directors of alltime. It is such an amazing story and it is so hard to believe. Kurosawa-San tells how it all happened in his inimitable style.

I loved Kurosawa-San’s book. It will definitely be one of my favourite books of the year and one of my alltime favourite memoirs. It is a book I’ll be reading again.

Have you read Akira Kurosawa’sSomething Like an Autobiography‘? What do you think about it?

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