Note : this review is a contribution to Symbiotic Collaborations blogathon hosted by CineMaven’s Essays From the Couch.
Takashi Shimura and Akira Kurosawa
While Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa doesn’t need an introduction amongst cinephiles, actor Takashi Shimura is a more obscure actor name for the majority of film fans. The actor who is generally linked with Kurosawa is Toshiro Mifune, especially as the samurai archetype. Well, Takashi Shimura made 21 films under the directing mastery of Akira Kurosawa while Mifune did 16 and a bunch of them were overlapping the two actors. Shimura was the lead actor in Drunken Angel, Ikiru, and Seven Samurai. Not a bad resume a all.
Born in 1905 at Ikuno in the Prefecture of Hyogo in Japan as Shimazaki Shoji. In school, he excelled in literary English and it influenced Shimura’s interest for drama especially with the study of the works of Shakespeare. In 1932, he joined the Kyoto studios but it was not until 1943 that he first collaborated with Akira Kurosawa for Sanshiro Sugata. From there, both names were linked until 1980 for almost every project the director ever made.
The list goes like this : The Most Beautiful (1944), The Men Who Tread On the Tiger’s Tail (1945), No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), Drunken Angel (1948), The Quiet Duel (1949), Stray Dog (1949), Scandal (1950), Rashomon (1950), The Idiot (1951), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), I Live in Fear (1955), Throne of Blood (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Yojimbo (1961), Sanjuro (1962), High and Low (1963), Red Beard (1965), and Kagemusha (1980). Impressive, I know this is what you are all thinking. It is indeed.
The presence of Shimura in Kurosawa’s films is one of wisdom and often represents a counter balance to the aforementioned Mifune that has this raw, mysterious, bestial youth presence. If they could be elements, Shimura would be the water in Stray Dog or Seven Samurai as a quiet witted leader that takes under his wing the young talented Mifune that would be the fire that needs to be controlled by the edler man. They had a strong balance that gave so much depth to Kurosawa’s movies.
Shimura with his looks of a mature man has more often than not played the master and the wisdom of knowledge and experience. It represented Kurosawa’s own quiet side of things. In fact, Shimura was the ultimate alter ego for Kurosawa just like Marcello Mastroianni was with Federico Fellini.
What makes this relationship of the star and director so symbiotic in this case is how Takashi Shimura became a staple of Akira Kurosawa’s films. Like a signature in the sets or like Kurosawa painter hability to always place his camera at the perfect location. Well, Shimura was always on the right tone and he was used properly to all the plots he was engaged in. This might not be the most obvious collaboration between an actor and a director like John Wayne and John Ford or Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich but it is a fascinating one.