A Lesson from Kurosawa


The Great A.K. filmed a fight scene in a wind storm for SANSHIRO SUGATA. Normally the wind would have been produced by wind machines, traditionally aircraft propellers, but this was wartime, and the propellers were all in use, keeping planes in the air to kill us, so he had to wait for real storms. He wrote later that the trouble with filming in inclement weather is that your mind tricks you into believing you’ve got all the coverage you need before you really do. He really struggled to cut the sequence together.

The way I described it today, after filming in rain, snow and icy winds, with no shelter and no toilet facilities and clothing that proved less waterproof than I’d hoped (including the footwear), is that your brain tells you to prioritize getting somewhere warm ahead of all other considerations. The trouble is you then have the rest of your life to look at your film and ask, “Why didn’t I spend five more minute on that?”

Kurosawa says that when you are tired and uncomfortable, the solution is just to carry on and film twice as much material as reason tells you is needed. He applied this lesson to the battle in the rain on SEVEN SAMURAI and his toes turned permanently black from frostbite. Kurosawa was a tough S.O.B. Unfortunately, I am a wimp.


What came to my rescue is another feature of the Scottish climate in January – dawn isn’t until 8.45 a.m. and it gets dark at 4 p.m. So a long day isn’t an option. We filmed as fast as possible, having to make up a new plan since the original wasn’t workable under such conditions, and stopped when we absolutely had to. If we’d had more daylight I wouldn’t be typing now.

My cast and crew are heroic. More than one person remarked that I seemed completely unbothered by the discomfort — that I seemed comfortable, in fact. I am still in agony now, but it’s much easier for the director than for anyone else, because a director is always distracted from the physical conditions. The camera crew are the next busiest, but they have to touch cold metal with bare hands. Anyone who has off-time but no shelter is going to suffer, and this team of stoic, good-humoured young folks, a mixture of pros and students, bore up amazingly well.

3 Responses to “A Lesson from Kurosawa”

  1. I wish I could redo the one night shoot in film school, and the one scene that required a group of extras. I was tired and not thinking properly, and the extras had finished all the beer–not nearly enough–that I had bought for them…

  2. Just back from the best night shoot of my life! It was so laid back! We had the shoot from hell the day before so it being late and slightly cold felt like nothing at all. And I did most of my thinking beforehand, which helped.

  3. Yep, been there, done that.

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