How Akira Kurosawa and Takashi Shimura's movies shaped 1950s cinema

Dan Norman October 4, 2020
How Akira Kurosawa and Takashi Shimura's movies shaped 1950s cinema
Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

In this series we look at the past 100 years of cinema as seen through ten of the industry’s most fruitful actor/director partnerships. Here is how Akira Kurosawa and Takashi Shimura’s movies shaped 1950s cinema.

A film set is a busy place and every movie relies on the efforts of many different people. On top of that, every time you begin work on a film you’re entering a new workplace. In those conditions, a familiar face can be a welcome sight.

Photo by Kurita KAKU/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons film-makers might reunite. There could be a mutual recognition they bring the best out of one another. It might make sense for the biggest action director to keep working with the biggest action star. It may be an order from the studio, believing the pairing is what the public wants to see.

Film history is littered with director-actor pairings that were more than the sum of their parts. It’s impossible to decide on the best but, in this series, we’ve decided to pick a pair for each of the past ten decades.

Each duo made at least three films together in that time, although some collaborations lasted longer. Put together, they tell a story of cinema during the past 100 years.

In this article, we look at the 1950s and how the actor-director partnership between Akira Kurosawa and Takashi Shimura and their movies shaped the decade.

How Akira Kurosawa and Takashi Shimura/Toshiro Mifune changed the 1950s

Films made: Scandal (1950), Rashomon (1950), The Idiot (1950), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), I Live In Fear (1955), Throne Of Blood (1957), The Lower Depths (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Probably the most famous actor-director partnership outside Hollywood, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune made 16 films together. Their films outside the 1950s still include Yojimbo, High And Low and Stray Dog.

Incredibly, Kurosawa’s partnership with Takashi Shimura proved even more productive, the latter starring in 21 of the director’s 30 films. Naturally, on many occasions both actors were on screen together while Kurosawa sat behind the camera. Classics such as Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Throne Of Blood were made this way.

From their earliest collaborations in the late 1940s, Kurosawa could see what he had when the two played off one another. The hangdog Shimura and the hot-blooded Mifune sparked, whether cast as a pair of detectives or mercenary samurai.

Although Mifune usually got the limelight, Shimura took the lead in Ikiru, playing a city bureaucrat determined to leave a legacy. His performance makes it clear how lucky Kurosawa was to be able to call on two of the era’s greatest leading men.

Their combined range meant Kurosawa could shift between samurai films, film noir, Shakespeare and contemporary character dramas, confident he always had someone capable of carrying the film.

Ikiru is the only film Kurosawa made in the 1950s without Mifune. In a decade of astonishing cultural impact, it might even be his best. Mifune couldn’t claim to be short-changed, though. Either side of Ikiru he was stealing scenes in two of the most influential films ever made – Rashomon and Seven Samurai.

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A screenwriter and sometimes a writer of other things, living in York.